Sacrament

June 23, 2015 Length: 20:05

Marriage is a sacrament—as important, as able to save you, as monasticism.

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

All right, so here I am, speaking to a microphone, close to the icon of the Mother of God for another 20 minutes. I always lock myself into a room when I do this, because I imagine that if somebody passes by and hears me talking to myself, they will think I am quite entirely mad, but let’s pray nobody hears, except you, of course.

I owe you a few more words about marriage, because I said, I think two or three episodes ago, that one of the reasons that some of you have this apparent calling to monasticism has very much to do with a misunderstanding of marriage, with missing the point that marriage is a sacrament. It is as much a sacrament as monasticism. In fact, if there is to be a debate, the debate should be whether monasticism is a sacrament. I would have no doubt and no worry to claim that it is, because it has been considered a sacrament. It is only in our contemporary context somehow that it lost that title. Once we got obsessed with the number seven, we got obsessed with limiting the gifts of the Spirit to our obsession with numbers and rules and order.

But that aside, what is important for you to understand is that marriage is a sacrament as important, as able to save you, as monasticism. The end result of marriage is the same salvation that monks are striving for.

Now, there are so many definitions of what a sacrament is, and, to be honest, I believe this is just us human beings babbling about divine things. There’s no way to define a sacrament, because there’s no way to define the way the Spirit works. We all have our own understanding of how sacraments work for us, and there is a theology concerning the subject. So if you want a proper definition, assuming such a thing is possible, go and read that theology or ask a theologian. I can only tell you that for me a sacrament is the relationship you enter with Christ out of your own will, entirely free, with no other reason behind this choice, this union, except your love for Christ and your desire to save your soul. It is as if you come in front of Christ and you tell him, “This is my way towards you. This is my path. Please bless it and help me reach salvation at the end of it.”

The second you’ve done that, the second you’ve come in front of Christ and you have received that blessing through the blessing of the Church, through the blessing of the priest, then that union lasts forever, and that union becomes the context of your salvation. That becomes your cross. Another way to think about it is that you’ve chosen the tools Christ is allowed to use in order to save you. He uses certain things in relation to monks, and he uses other things in relation to married people, and a different set of tools for people who are alone in the world. The problem with changing that midway, the problem with going forth with married life for five, ten years until you discover you can’t deal with it any more, and then you decide to change to monasticism or you decide to change with another person and try in another marriage, the problem with that is that you limit the extent to which Christ can work through those tools to attain your salvation. In other words, Christ works only within the limits you allow him to do.

Marriage is such a union between you and Christ. Marriage is such a context in which Christ works your salvation. It is a cross. Now, when we talk about crosses and sacraments killing us and us losing our lives for Christ and the world, this is all gloomy, to say the least, but the whole point of marriage and the whole point of any cross is not to kill you, really; the point is for that cross to help you get to a level of self-knowledge concerning your weaknesses and your ways of falling into sin so that you may work in order to learn how to fight them. So in other words, the point of being married is not for your wife or your husband to kill you alive; the point of marriage is that through your spouse you discover your own limits. You discover your inability to love. You discover your inability to forgive. You discover your lack of compassion.

You discover all sorts of horrible things about yourself, and then you have three choices: you stay in that marriage, completely unhappy, and to me that is just a matter of spiritual suicide, so that’s the first choice: staying in the marriage, completely unhappy and just deciding, “Well, there’s nothing to do. I’m not going to get a divorce, but also there’s nothing I can do about it.” The second option is to get out of the marriage: get out of the marriage and into another marriage or stay alone or become a monk or a nun. And that is, again, a mistake from my perspective, because you limit Christ’s freedom to work in you. You just take off that cross, and you say, midway, “Actually, I want another one.” Please understand that these are principles. Please understand I’m now generalizing. I’m not talking about abusive marriages. I’m not talking about marriages in which one of the spouses has all sorts of other relationships outside the marriage. I’m talking about normal marriages, like 99% of them are.

So these are the first two options: to stay in the marriage and just accept, passively, that this is the way things are and you are just going to wait to die, basically. A second one is to just abandon it and try to move forward. There is also a third option, and that is that you acknowledge that there are problems. You acknowledge that there are things you must do in order to save that marriage, and this option, this decision to stay in the marriage and fight for it and fight for yourself, I think this is the only saving option, because when you look at your wife or your husband and you can no longer feel the love you’ve vowed to give them until the end of times, then that tells you something about your limitations; that tells you something about your weakness, about how weak and low and, well, if I were talking about myself I would use much harsher words, but I don’t want to offend you. It simply tells you where your weaknesses are.

And then you have to find ways to fight with that, because what you are fighting with really is not your spouse but yourself, and when you’re running away from that, really, you’re not running away from your wife or your husband; you’re running away from your weakness, that weakness which becomes visible in you through your wife or through your husband. It’s not their fault you no longer have patience. It’s not their fault you no longer have love. It’s not their fault you’re losing your temper or your compassion. It’s you, because at the end of it all, if you remember what we said at the beginning, this is your union with Christ. The end result of a marriage is that you are saved, and your husband or your wife as well, but this is your union with Christ, through that other human being.

It’s not about your spouse; it’s about you. When you can’t love them any more, when you can’t have patience any more, then you should stay in front of Christ and confess that as a sin. Of course they’ve done things to generate this loss of patience or of love, but it’s not about that; that’s not important. It’s not important what they’ve done. What is important is what their actions reveal about yourself to yourself, and then it’s about your choice: stay and fight with yourself in order to heal yourself, or run away. But keep in mind that when you run away, even if you run away to be alone, to be a monastic, or to get married again, sooner or later you will have to deal with the same limitations. Until you heal them, until you get rid of these diseases of your soul, they’re still there. The only thing you can do is to run away from them by always changing the scenery, always changing the context, never settling on a cross, never letting anyone expose you in front of yourself. But that’s spending your life running away from yourself.

You see, in marriage, just like in monasticism, what you get is an image of yourself. What you get is discernment. What you get is awareness of your own sins and weaknesses. If you go back at the beginning of Christianity, at the beginning of the monastic tradition, you will see that all those wonderful saints were saying that knowing, being aware of one’s sins, is the greatest gift Christ can give someone. So Christ is giving you the greatest possible gift, and then you run away because you’re afraid of it. It’s true, Christ’s gifts are scary, but they are saving as well.

Just as a last thought: if you think it’s difficult to be in a marriage, then how do you imagine you would deal with being alone in monasticism? If you think that it’s difficult to forgive and to love a human being, just imagine how difficult it is to forgive and to love yourself and to forgive and to love Christ, because for a monk the person to blame is Christ. If you are alone in your marriage, you’re blaming your wife or your husband, but when I am alone in my monastic life, whom do I have to blame? When you feel unloved, unappreciated, when you feel there’s no compassion for you, no understanding for you, when you feel abandoned, when you feel cold, you blame your husband or your wife. Whom does a monk or a nun blame? It’s much more difficult to blame Christ, and the only other option is to blame yourself. That’s why monks and nuns are, as the Fathers say, being either good angels or bad angels, but an extreme, nevertheless, because if you end up blaming yourself all the time, then that teaches you the depth of humility, and in those depths of humility, grace descends. But if you end up blaming Christ, then you risk becoming a different type of angel.

I’ve told you I’m not going to talk about theological things, and I always feel the need to say that again and again, because I don’t want you to expect something I’ve got no intention to offer. All I can tell you are the things I’ve been through myself, and based on the experience I’ve had in my own life and in the lives of all the people I’ve confessed so far. Stay where you are and fight. The sacrament is between you and Christ. It is always about you. Don’t run away, because what you’re running away from is yourself, not your spouse. Deal with yourself. Face yourself. Fight yourself. Heal yourself. And then all the doors will be open again, for another cycle, for another age in your spiritual life.

Thank you for listening, and thank you for all of you who have decided these last weeks to support our monastery. There have been many of you. Donations are, as usual, small, but because there are many of us, this monastery on the Isle of Mull is possible. Thank you. May God bless you, again and again and again.