Editor’s note: Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, P.A., the administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, is writing a series of letters — on conscience, love, marriage and family life — for South Carolina Catholics.
To all priests, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Charleston:
During the Easter season we rejoice in God’s gift of his own life to us. Though a season of great rejoicing for all the baptized, Easter holds special promise to married Catholics: now Christ, the bridegroom, who has laid down his life for his bride, the church, takes his life up again and embraces her in the sacraments. Every sacrament reflects an aspect of his marriage to us.
Thus, all Catholics called to live out the image and likeness of God through marriage do well to form their own consciences by reflecting on how the inner life of the Trinity is practically lived in their own marriage.
In his great tribute to marriage and family, St. Paul reminded the Ephesians, “… I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:14-15).
With this prayer, St. Paul reminds us that though God is one, yet he is also a family of persons, a family whose life is love. Our human families are meant to model his inner life, in which each person of the Trinity pours himself out to the other two. Each human family is truly a family only when its members live the inner life of the Trinity in their own lives.
Precisely because the family must image the Trinity, the adults, the parents, must form their consciences to properly form the family in his image. And at the heart of their “crucial” work is found the central meaning: “crucis” — the cross, crucifixion. The parents together love, serve and provide for every family member, both physically and spiritually.
Parents empty themselves to become the utmost servants within the family; by their example and service, parents lead the members of the family, they live God’s own life and love towards their children and towards each other.
Christian parents know well they must offer their own lives in service to the life of the family.
They know well that this self-sacrifice, this crucifixion, this imitation of the God-man Jesus Christ, begins not just with the pangs of labor or the sacrifice of sleepless nights, rather it begins in the very conjugal act through which a child comes into existence.
From the first moment of its existence, husband and wife are crucial to forming the family into the image of God. But what is this image? How does God act?
The Holy Spirit overshadowed the Blessed Virgin. In this intimate encounter between Mary and the Holy Spirit, her divine spouse, the Son of God robed himself in flesh within her womb, permitting no third party to intrude between bridegroom and bride.
The sacrament of marriage calls us to live as God lives. The child, the immortal person conceived by the husband and wife in marriage, must come into existence directly from the surpassing love that flows between the spouses in the intimacy of the conjugal act.
Because Catholic spouses imitate God, they do not use in vitro fertilization, surrogate parents, gamete donation, or any other technique or procedure which allows any intermediary human person to intrude during the intimate act of conjugal love which conceives the child.
Such an intrusion would be a grave attack upon the image of God that the spouses are together called to live.
Similarly, as spouses reflect upon the bridegroom’s sacrifice for his bride, as they reflect upon the image and the action of God hung upon the cross, pouring out his life-giving blood for the lives of all the world, they also recognize the divine insistence on absolutely intimate communion with us.
He came down from heaven. He made a gift of himself, of every aspect of himself, down to the very last drop of his precious blood, leaving no barrier between himself and us. Through the intimate communion he established in his body and blood, we find salvation.
Catholic spouses imitate Jesus’ self-sacrifice, his trust in the Father and his freedom from fear.
They realize their own one-flesh union can image God only if it is truly open to the possibility of love incarnate, love taking on flesh in the union of their own bodies.
Couples who live the graces of their sacrament meditate on the Incarnation of the bridegroom and are led by their fearless trust in him directly to the Easter season and rejoice in new life.
Married couples also know the joy of resurrection necessarily involves a dying to self and selfish desires. For this reason, Catholic spouses abhor the drugs, devices and surgeries which are intended to place physical or chemical barriers between the bridegroom and the bride. Instead, they make a total gift of themselves, each to the other, accepting each as they are.
Catholic spouses constantly embrace the resurrection, for they are always ready to accept the possibility of incarnation, knowing, as Mary did, that the path from Incarnation to resurrection passes only by way of self-sacrifice.
Only sacrificial love will make God’s life manifest to an unbelieving world.
In this season, when the glorious divinity of the bridegroom is made manifest, I again humbly invite each of you to form your conscience through study of sacred Scripture and the catechism — to reconcile with our divine spouse through the sacrament of penance — and to again commit our lives to image the intimate inner life of the Trinity revealed through Jesus.
I call upon pastors of souls to be faithful to God and to their own ordination vows, to act with justice towards his people by passing on the fullness of the divine truth about human sexuality in all of its rigor and vigor.
May this Easter season ring out with the praises of all those who witness him in their lives.
As the Blessed Virgin Mary, fearless spouse of the living God entrusted her life to his care, so we entrust our lives to her care.
May we faithfully imitate her perfect reflection of the divine splendor, so that we, too, may enter into most intimate and divine communion with him.
Rev. Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, P.A., administrator of the Diocese of Charleston.