In today's first reading from Isaiah, the prophet consoles Jerusalem by assuring her that she will be taken as a bride by the Lord.
Jerusalem is the City of God, the capital of Israel, God's chosen people, and so symbolic of the entire nation. Since the coming of Christ, with his new and eternal covenant, God's covenant has been expanded to the entire human race, and so Jerusalem is now symbolic of the universal Church. If the Lord has made Jerusalem his spouse, then the Church is the Bride of Christ, which is in fact one of her traditional titles.For the LORD delights in youand makes your land his spouse.As a young man marries a virgin,your Builder shall marry you;and as a bridegroom rejoices in his brideso shall your God rejoice in you.
Very often God's relationship with the Church is described using the metaphor of marriage. It is a rich metaphor, one that tells us much about how God views the Church, and how we should view God. For example, like marriage (in God's plan for marriage at least), it is indissoluble. There is no "divorce" option between God and His Church. God will never abandon the Church, and likewise the Church will never abandon God. Though some of her individual members may fall away, the Church herself will remain ever faithful. As Christ promised, "the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18), and he will be with the Church always, "to the close of the age" (Matt. 28:20).
Like a marriage, our relationship with God should be fruitful. We should be open to the seeds God plants within us, and eager to nourish them until they bear fruit. This is how our Christian family and our Catholic faith grows. And we need to spend time building our relationship with God. When I prepare people for Confirmation I always tell them that it is like a marriage. They should not get so caught up in preparing for the day of the sacrament (the "wedding") that they neglect to prepare for the rest of their lives as a Confirmed Christians (the "marriage"). That's when the real work starts. For example, are you prepared to spend time each day praying; both talking to God and listening to Him? What kind of marriage would you have if, after the wedding, you never spent any time with your spouse? Are you ready to cultivate a real relationship with God?
If the marriage metaphor tells us much about the relationship between God and the Church, it also has much to tell us about marriage itself. A favorite reading at weddings is from the last part of Ephesians chapter 5.
People over the years have somehow managed to read this beautiful passage and focused solely on the wife being subject to her husband. But this misses so much! The very first sentence in this passage tells us to "be subject to one another." That alone tells us so much about the Christian life, in a nutshell! It is a life that is willing to be of service to other people, out of love. To give of its own time, talent, spirit, and heart for the good of others. Why? "Out of reverence for Christ." That is where it starts. In a solid Christian marriage, husband and wife both begin with a deep reverence for Christ, and because of that are subject to one another. It is a mutual subjection out of love.Be subject to one another our of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church... Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he may sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor... that she may be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church... (Eph. 5:21-29).
The wife is subject to her husband in the way that the Church is subject to Christ. And the husband is called to love his wife in the way that Christ loved the Church. And how did Christ love the Church? He sacrificed himself for her, so that she may be pure and holy. This is the role of the husband, to sacrifice himself completely for the good of his wife. Does this mean taking a bullet for her? Well, yes, if such a situation arises. But more than that, it means sacrificing himself every day, continually, by giving himself completely to the good of his wife. Those who read this passage from Ephesians and think the husband is getting off easy need to read it again.
One final note, shifting gears before I end this reflection. Today's gospel from John puts us at a wedding. Jesus and his mother are at a wedding feast in Cana and the host runs out of wine. Mary points this fact out to her son, and he replies, "Woman, how does your concern affect me?" (A caution, we should not read Jesus's addressing his mother as "woman" as being disrespectful in any way. In that time, it was a title of honor and respect, much like we might say "Madam" or "Ma'am").
Mary calls a servant over and tells him, simply, "Do whatever he tells you." And you know the rest of the story. Jesus tells the servant to fill six jars with water, which they did, and it miraculously turned to wine. This tells us a few things. First, Jesus liked a celebration, and thought a wedding something worth celebrating! Second, just as his baptism in the Jordan revealed Jesus as the Son of God, the wedding at Cana reveals him as the Son of Mary. Jesus was not planning on performing his first public miracle that day, but did so out of deference for his mother.
For this reason, Catholics today continue to seek her intercession. And Mary continues in her same role that she manifested for us in this Gospel reading. She points us to her son and says, "Do whatever he tells you."
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.