Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Spotless Bride

by Ryan

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." 
– Ephesians 5:25-27

If a list of "top readings at any wedding you are likely to attend" were compiled, this reading would probably take a backseat to only one other reading: 1 Corinthians 13 ("love is patient, love is kind...") and you know the rest. Yet, when reading all of Ephesians 5, another view becomes more clear — marriage as a mystery that is ultimately revealed in the relationship between Christ and the Church. The husband, of course, represents Christ, and we are the Bridegroom, the Church, which is presented to Him "...holy and without blemish."

That is a hard pill for the modern Catholic to swallow — if the number-one challenge for the Catholic (or perhaps this Catholic) is to be joyful in these often bleak times, then number two has to be the ability to view the Church as holy. After all, how "difficult" would it be for us to enumerate the scandals that have befallen us in the last ten years alone, let alone our entire history? And that doesn't even count the abuses in the liturgy and Catholic education and ... you get the picture. We have lots of problems, and we are right (as individual Catholics) to not turn a blind eye, but rather to face these scandals when they occur in our communities.

In light of these bleak realities in the Church, I would like to present another reality often neglected (or purposefully ignored): any human institution, across a long enough time line, will disappoint. The members of such-and-such political party and such-and-such religion will provide fodder for criticism if given enough time. The seemingly utopian, secular ideologies of the last two centuries have resulted in some of the greatest bloodshed yet witnessed by mankind. Even through his best-laid plans and well-meaning ideas, the human desire for power, control and prestige always sneaks in the back door of the crystal palace, turning our dreams into the substance of nightmares.

So who do we trust? If God exists and is the source of our life, then we must trust God. If God does not exist, then we must continue to try to solve what has confounded us since the dawn of our existence — what meaning or purpose do we have in a world where our lives are the result of some random, cosmic event or other seemingly unexplainable phenomenon? And if we cannot define or discover this meaning, to what end do we live our lives? To be successful? In what way? And how can we even say that what we have done has true meaning? Not everyone can make a scientific discovery or win a lifetime achievement award ... many of us just cut hair, or launder clothes, or pump gas, or work toll booths, or at Wal-Mart (see, purgatory does exist!).

A life in Jesus gives us meaning — we are children of God. We are to love and worship God, who has given us our being, and to take care of his creation, be it other men, animals, the environment, etc. Life in Christ gives us purpose — to help all of creation return to the God who created them out of selfless love. This is a life that anyone can take part in — it does not exclude the least or greatest among us, but challenges us all in ways appropriate to our calling. We can be called the Spotless Bride because God, who is Love, loves us into existence and sees our merits even when we cannot. Peter Kreeft expresses this sentiment more beautifully than I can in his book, Heaven:

"When you read a verse from the Song of Songs in which the bridegroom says "Behold, you are all fair, my love; there is not a spot or wrinkle in you," (Song 4:7) do you think this is delightful but foolish? That love is blind? Then you are looking at love, not with it, and looking at it as something pathological: a blindness. The lover insists on exactly the opposite: that he is not blind, that he sees something that is really there. Not the lover but the loveless one is blind; he sees only the caterpillar, while the lover sees the butterfly... God believes in our butterfly, hopes for our butterfly, loves us as butterflies. We see the present sinner; God sees the destined saint. Dare we call God a fool? His judgments are not blind but clear-sighted, accurate and exact. Love is the highest accuracy. How can love be blind? God is love. Is God blind? (p. 37)"
While we tend to focus on our faults, and often the faults of others, the above image is greatly encouraging, as well as intensely challenging. Can we, like God, view the world through eyes of love, when so many terrible things have happened? If God can, then we must try. We must truly love all, regardless of race, beliefs, orientation, and — perhaps most importantly — whether or not they love or respect us. That is our charge, to love God's begotten back into His everlasting arms: to stop viewing man as the caterpillar dwelling near the soil, but as the butterflies of the meadow, gliding on the gentle breeze of God's presence.

See anyone you know? Give it a shot!

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