By Br. Jesus
When Christ is spoken of as the groom of the Church, most people immediately connect it to religious nuns. They never think of themselves as the bride of Christ. However, all members of the Church are the bride of Christ, including men and women united in marriage. For a man it is more difficult to see himself as the bride of Christ especially nowadays with so much talk about different genders. It does not make us less manly. No one is his right mind would say that the saint John Paul II was not manly for example. We must perceive the mystery that the term “bride of Christ” indicates. Obviously we must not project the human upon the divine but rather to perceive the kind of relationship to which Christ invites us. A spousal relationship with Christ is so essential to our Christian life. It is the context of a mystical life.
Marriage was invented by God. The marriage of the first man and the first woman was a natural sacrament, that is, a living symbol of the kind of relationship that God wants to have with humanity. He gave that symbol pride of place because there is no greater friendship on earth than between a holy husband and holy wife. God’s desire to have humanity as his bride remained even after the disobedience of Adam and Eve and all the sins that mankind committed and is committing. The different alliances of the Old Testament: the first covenant with Adam and Eve, the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, and the alliance with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai should be understood in reference to the spousal relationship God desires with humanity. The spousal alliance mustn’t be understood as a kind of plan B after plan A failed. The spousal alliance has always been GOD’s main plan. It is our vocation. We have been created for this. To live life ignoring this marriage proposal from the Lord is to miss out on the meaning of our life.
It would be worthwhile to study how the vision of God as the groom unfolded from Genesis to the first coming of Christ and how God’s people progressively became aware that they are the bride of the Lord. And then how that spousal relationship culminates with Jesus and the Church. For lack of time I cannot do it here but you can do it on your own by reading your bible.
Paul wrote: “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6; 17). This is the goal of the spousal covenant which God so desires to have with each one of us so that he can be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15; 28). He desires to fill each one of us with his fullness (John 10, 10). That does not mean that we lose our identity, on the contrary, we become more our true selves. What loses its identity is our disordered ego, what St Paul calls the “old man”. The “new man” is what we are meant to be and live as. The “new man” is the bride of Christ (Romans 6; 6) (Ephesians 4; 22 – 24) (Colossians 3; 9 – 11).
The Lamb of God
The sending of his son into the world reveals to what extent GOD wants a marriage covenant with us. The spousal alliance with Jesus is the culmination and purpose of all previous alliances. It is the spousal alliance par excellence.
Saint John the Baptist first revealed Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1; 29) and then as the groom of Israel (3; 29). That surely provoked questions in the disciples of John the Baptist because only God is the groom of Israel. The Old Testament does not speak of the Messiah as the groom of Israel. John attributed to him a divine name by calling him the groom at a time when the people were flocking to Jesus who by the way was single. The same happened with the disciples of Jesus and the disciples of the Pharisees when Jesus called himself the groom (Mark 2, 18-20). By pointing to Jesus as the lamb first and then to him as the groom, John the Baptist indicates that Jesus is the groom because he is the Lamb. St. Paul even if he does not use the word lamb developed the subject in his letter to the Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her to sanctify her … that He might present himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but holy and without blemish “(Ephesians 5: 25-27). He presents the covenant between Christ and his Church as a model for the spouses. This means that the covenant between Christ and his Church is a spousal alliance and therefore a model for the spouses. He says he “gave himself up for her,” this is the action of the Priest and the Lamb. Jesus is both. The Lamb deposited in his bride a divine seed (1 Peter 1; 23) that makes her glorious, spotless, glowing so she can be and live as his bride. He raised her up to share in his divine nature (2 Peter 1; 4) so that there can be between them a divine friendship. Without that divine seed there can be no friendship between man and God since the difference between them is just too large. The resemblance of nature is a foundation of all friendships.
In every mass the marriage between Jesus and the Church is renewed. The priest raises the host and says here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And then the bride (us) receives communion saying “amen” meaning “yes I accept you as my groom”. The Mass makes present sacramentally the wedding between Jesus and his bride (us). The Mass makes present the mystery of the cross because it was there that the wedding took place. But the Mass also makes present the heavenly wedding that will happen with the second coming of the Lamb. It is the same wedding which begins on Earth and culminates in Heaven.
As mysterious as it may be, Jesus’ wedding day is the day he was crucified. Most people would not call their wedding a crucifixion. A wedding is usually an event full of interior and exterior joy, celebrated with dancing, laughter, music, etc. The wedding between Christ and his bride did not. It was done in the most intense suffering that ever existed. The alliance made on Mount Sinai prefigured the wedding day of Christ. The Lord consumed his marriage with his bride Israel by the blood which was sprinkled upon the people and the gift of the law that the people vowed to obey. The marriage took place in the desert, after the Lord delivered them from Egypt but before reaching the Promised Land. He did it knowing fully well that Israel had a very strong inclination towards idolatry, was an ungrateful people, and unfaithful. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea consider the covenant made at Mount Sinai as a marriage covenant. They compare the infidelity of GOD’s people with prostitution, fornication, and adultery. Jesus consumed his marriage in a similar manner, by his blood and the gift of new law–the Holy Spirit. The prophets Ezekiel (Chapter 36) and Jeremiah (Chapter 31) had prophesied that the Lord would put His law, the Holy Spirit within us, and wash away our sins. In the time of Jesus, a bride would prepare for her wedding through a ritual bath. Jesus assumed this cultural custom by washing the feet of his disciples signifying he was preparing his bride the Church, made present by the 12 apostles, for the wedding at the cross.
Hanging on the cross and in excruciating pain Jesus said: “I am thirsty”. He directed those words to his bride. The gospel says that there was a vessel full of vinegar and that they soaked a sponge in the vinegar and put it on a hyssop and held it to his mouth (like a kiss). Vinegar is not a delicious wine that rejoices the heart of man (Psalm 103). It is a wine that has become putrefied. That episode expresses well how we respond to the love of Christ. With a love that is already rotten. But Christ did not reject it. The gospel says he received it. They did not offer it with an ill will. It’s what they had. It’s all they had. It is the sinner who tries to respond to the thirst of Christ. It prefigures the sinners (me and you) of all time. It is the bride saying yes to his marriage proposal. Christ accepts that “yes” of his bride. When he took the vinegar he said “it is finished” which means that the marriage was made (John 19; 28 – 30). Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. That means that he died but it also has a hidden meaning: The gift of the Holy Spirit to his bride. Christ does not despise the putrefied love with which we love him for he received the vinegar. He knows it is sincere unlike the kiss of Judas. And he know that it is all we have in our heart though we wish we had something better. He does not want us to refuse him our love in spite of the fact that it is impure and rotten. Moved by the Holy Spirit, St. Charles de Foucault wrote this prayer, a part of which I translate into English here. In this prayer he put these words in the mouth of Jesus. It contains a very great truth.
“Love me as you are.
I know your misery, your struggles and tribulations of your soul; the weakness and infirmities of your body; I’m aware of your cowardice, your sins, your faults; but I tell you: “Give me your heart, love me as you are”.
If you wait to be an angel in order to give yourself to love, you will never love me. Even if you fall often in those faults that you wish you never committed, even if you are a coward in the practice of virtue, I do not permit you not to love me. Love me as you are.
At each moment and in whichever situation you are in, in fervor or dryness, in fidelity or infidelity. Love me as you are.
I want the love of your indigent heart; if you wait to be perfect to love me, you will never love me. Couldn’t I make of each grain of sand a seraphim radiant with purity, nobility and love? Couldn’t I with just a simple act of my will bring forth thousands of saints, a thousand times more perfect and loving than those I created? Am I not all powerful? And if it pleases me not to create those marvelous creatures but to prefer your poor love to theirs!
My child let me love you, I want your heart”
The Virgin Mary
The danger is that we become complacent and simply install ourselves in an imperfect way of loving the Lord and use it as an excuse to not make sincere efforts to love him as he deserves. We know ourselves. We know we do it. Love must grow. Our love for Jesus has several stages. The first stage is to simply have some love for him. The second is to love him with a sincere love. The third is to love him for himself. The fourth is to love him as he deserves. The last is to love him as he has never been loved before. For that the Holy Spirit has to purify our hearts and transform our love into a qualitative love. It has to transform our water into wine. The wedding of Cana in the Gospel of St. John (chapter 2) does not mention the name of the groom or the bride. It was on purpose. To signify that the true groom is Christ and the true bride is the Virgin Mary. At the moment in which she lives her mystery of compassion, Jesus gives her to us as our mother. She is to teach us to live as Christ’s bride. If Christ gives her to us as a mother, it means that there was fruitfulness, a new birth, regeneration. To be a mother you have to be first a bride. The spiritual union between her and her groom Jesus is fruitful. Jesus did not give her to us as mother after she was taken up to heaven nor when she gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. He gave her to us as mother at the time she was united to Jesus in the most intense suffering that has ever existed on earth. There is the fatherhood of the Lamb and the motherhood of the Virgin. There was not only a new birth represented by the apostle John but a deeper mystery: the gift of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. She is one with Jesus crucified when he gave us the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. Which means she participated in the gift of the Paraclete. The abundance of wine at Cana maybe signifies the gift of the Paraclete or at least is related to it. Abundance signifies an excess of love. If the Virgin was entrusted to the Apostle John who represents the Church, it is so that the Church safe guard the mystery of the Virgin until the return of Christ because if the Church loses sight of her mystery she loses the awareness of what she should be. When we see a tree we know in view of what the seed is. The Virgin is the tree; the Church is the seed. The seed must never lose sight of the tree. The Church is also the wife of Christ. As Eve was formed from the side of Adam so the Church from the side of Christ crucified. But so that she can live as a fruitful wife, as a mother, she needs to learn from the Virgin Mary and not Eve. Learn what? Learn to respond to the love of Christ. No one responded to Jesus’ love like her. We do not know how to respond to Jesus’ love. A sincere love for the Lord is already good but it can still be vinegar. Sincere love does not equal a qualitative love. A sincere love must progressively be transformed into a pure love. St Faustina wrote that an act of pure love towards the Lord is worth more than a thousand good deeds. Eventually we need to desire to love the Lord as he has never been loved before. Saints like Mother Teresa, St Faustina, St Therese of the Child Jesus and others spoke like that. It is not a sin of presumption or arrogance. It is simply a way of speaking. It is not about comparing oneself to others. It means to love the Lord with the most intense love our heart can muster. For that we must accept to stand at the foot of the cross as they did. We need to learn from the Virgin Mary to remain at the foot of the cross and not run away so that our water can be transformed into wine by the Holy Spirit. We need to learn from her how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Normally we would think that a bond of friendship with Jesus is enough to love him with all of our heart. But mysteriously that does not happen. The mystery of the cross inside the bond of friendship with Jesus is needed so that all the love our heart is capable of can be exerted. Suffering has the power to squeeze all the love from the human heart to the last drop. It twists and squeezes it until the last drop spills. All the saints suffered. And the very beloved saints suffered a lot. That does not mean we seek suffering. We seek a closer union with Jesus. But that union takes place through the mystery of compassion as happened with the Virgin Mary meaning united to Jesus in his suffering. The cross is the bed where our heart and the heart of Jesus unite.
The spousal meaning of our body
I will not develop this theme since the saint Pope John Paul II did so in his theology of the body. I just want to mention a few things. The spousal meaning of our body is not limited only to the sexual union in marriage between a woman and a man. This is because the spousal meaning of the body is first with regards to the Lord. If we are all created to be his bride then it means that our body shares in that vocation and not only our soul. Our body is made for the Lord and not just for the goods of this world. Our body is a medium of communion not just between us and other people but also with regards to the Lord. It gives a substantial character to the gift of ourselves; to have only good intentions do not suffice. It allows the gift of ourselves to become concrete, inscribe itself in time and place. The body makes the gift of ourselves effective.
Canon law specifies that a marriage is ratified (valid by formal consent) but not consummated (complete) until the mutual gift of the body takes place. Once there is the mutual gift of the body then it is consummated meaning complete. There is something similar from a spiritual point of view in the spousal bond with the Lord. Our marriage with him is complete when we receive him through the Eucharist at the mass. To the gift of himself through his body (the Eucharist) we respond by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to GOD, which is our spiritual worship (Rm 12; 1-2). We do this first of all by eating the Eucharist. Maybe you expected something more spectacular but don’t forget that divine love implies great simplicity. It is our sensory-emotional dimension that requires the spectacular but not our deep inner self.
Prayer is another way we present our bodies as a living sacrifice for it demands time and place and that requires our body since it is by our body that we are in time and our body is the first “place” of prayer. Our body is a temple of the Lord (1Corinthians 6; 19-20). We can always encounter the Lord within us. You might say: he is in our soul not our body. Yes he is in our soul but our soul is not in our body like a driver in a car. Our soul is distinct from our body but they are one substantially. Prayer also includes our body through gestures and body postures like kneeling, standing, sitting, holding our hands together, etc.
Our body is also a medium of communion with Jesus by helping our neighbor for he said that what we do to the least of his brothers we do unto him (Matthew 25; 39).
Our body is also a means of communion with the Lord when we freely choose to abstain or deprive our body from certain goods or legitimate pleasures like fasting or through a vow of chastity made by those consecrated to the Lord. In another words by the sacrifices we perform through our body in view of a deeper communion with the Lord. It can also happen when we offer our health or biological life (when an accident, sickness and death occur) for the salvation of others as Jesus did during his passion in view of rejoicing the heart of Jesus who so desires the salvation of all (Colossians 1; 24). It intensifies our communion with the Lord
Finally by not using our body in performing evil actions through our senses, hands, our imagination like when we fantasize in a lustful or violent way (Romans 6; 12). Our imagination is part of our body since it implies an organ (the brain) in order to function. Our body belongs to Jesus not to Lucifer.
The heavenly wedding
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory for the marriage of the Lamb has come and the bride has made herself ready. It was granted to her to be clothed with fine linen, pure and resplendent; for the fine linen is the righteous actions of the saints. “(Rev. 19, 7-8)
In Matthew 26; 29 Jesus said he would no longer drink the fruit of the vine until the day when he would drink it with his disciples again in the kingdom of heaven. The risen Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father waiting with a burning desire for his bride. In his 2007 Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI revisited the theme of the eros in God of which he had written about in Deus Caritas est:
“God’s love is also eros. In the OT the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom he chose a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman (cf. Hos 3, 1-3); Ezekiel, on the other hand, speaking about God’s relationship with his people Israel, is not afraid to use an ardent and passionate language (Ez 16: 1-22). These biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God’s heart; the Almighty awaits the “yes” of his creatures as a young groom awaits the “yes” of his bride.”
The desire of the risen Christ seated at the right hand of the Father is made present to us through the mystery of the Eucharist. When we are in presence of the Eucharistic Christ, we are in the presence of his desire for us. His desire to have his mother with him in heaven was so intense that it brought about the mystery of the Assumption. I think his desire is accelerating earthly time. We often hear people say that time is going faster. Earthly time is undergoing the influence of his desire.
In John 14 Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them but he would return and take them with him so that where he is they can also be. In the time of Jesus a wedding was complete when the groom took his bride into his home. It happened as such with St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary. Mary was first betrothed to Joseph and after some time he took her to live with him in his home. Jesus will return at the end of time to take his bride home where he prepared a place for her. When we think about the end of time we fix our thoughts on the apocalyptic events: earthquakes, the battle against the antichrist, the tribulation, etc. The return of Christ is in the first place the groom who comes to take his bride home. It is an event full of joy and not fear for bride who is waiting for the groom in eager expectation and a deep burning desire.