Deacon Rohrbacher

Sacramental mystery in the covenant of marriage

World Marriage Sunday • Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time • February 10, 2013

Along the Way
A monthly column in the Southeast Alaska Catholic
By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

Christ calling the disciples.
Christ calling the disciples.

Our readings today from sacred scripture all speak of the call by God to holiness and to mission. We hear of Isaiah, caught up in the vision of the radiant glory of the Holy One of Israel; of Paul, recounting his personal encounter with the Risen Lord and of how Simon Peter fell at the feet of Jesus after the miraculous catch of fish. Each was overwhelmed by his unworthiness and sinfulness in the light of God’s glory. Yet this was just the beginning of God’s invitation to them to enter into the mystery of the covenant of love which God has established with them, with Israel and with the entire world.

But they were not simply invited to gaze upon the saving, healing and transforming love of God, but sent to witness to the good news of this divine love and to themselves proclaim it as heralds and disciples.

On this World Day of Marriage, it is appropriate, I think, to reflect on how marriage is the usual way most of us respond to God’s invitation and call to know Him, love Him and serve Him and to participate in what the Fathers of Second Vatican Council spoke of as the “universal call to holiness.”

As a married man and as a father, I am drawn to the incident in today’s gospel when Jesus directs Simon Peter to “put out into the deep for a catch.”

What a profound and compelling image of married life! Isn’t that just what we do when we get married? A man and a woman resolutely launch the vessel of their love for each other, so frail and small, out in to the deep and together lower their empty nets into the unknown. Neither know what they’re going to haul up as their boat is carried along through the currents of a life together.

But as a couple they can be sure that they will haul up joy and sorrow, anxiety and peace, ecstasy and anguish, sin and healing grace, death and new life. And there, as they put down their nets each day into the deep, they will encounter the mystery of Jesus Christ and his saving death and life-giving resurrection.

As married men and women, despite our frailty and weaknesses, the limitations of our knowledge and our abilities, and our daily struggle with selfishness and sinfulness, the grace of the sacrament keeps afloat that tiny vessel that we launched in love as it passes through the deep waters of our shared life. Together, we lower our nets,trusting that whatever we haul up comes from that deepest place of God’s infinite mercy and love for us.

The sacramental mystery of marriage, that is, the covenant of love in which as husbands and wives we give ourselves to each other and become “one flesh” is our unique mode of participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. As Jesus teaches us, this communion of love that we call marriage is both grounded in the order of creation itself and was, and remains, instituted by God from the very beginning of human society. In the beautiful words of the nuptial blessing: “by Your plan man and woman are united and married life has been established as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away by the flood.”

This sacred covenant between a man and woman who in marriage become husband and wife gives order, stability, healing and meaning to the divine gift of male and female sexuality, tragically wounded by the Fall and by humanity’s alienation from God. Marriage provides the best and the most suitable context within which children, the fruit of the union between husbands and wives,can grow and flourish in a loving family and learn how to become mature men and women, husbands and wives and mothers and fathers.

As I reflect on the image of that fragile boat shared by husbands and wives, I can’t help but think of another place where they put out into the deep in trust – the marriage bed that they share as a couple. A place indeed, where they lower their nets for a catch so deep and so intimate that it is beyond words.

The marriage bed shared by husbands and wives is traditionally sacred in every culture. Why? Because it is there, in that deep center of self giving and trust, where as men and women we become physically, emotionally, and spiritually one with our spouses.

Putting down their nets in the solitude of that deep place, spouses give and receive joy, comfort, consolation, affirmation, pardon and forgiveness. Yet, in that intimate, sacred solitude, their world and our world is transformed and renewed. For it is there that children are conceived, a family begins and increases and the human family to which all of us belong is renewed for another generation.

Yet the marriage bed and the marriage it symbolizes is also a place of great risk and vulnerability. Because we live in a fallen world and because husbands and wives are subject to the power and effects of of selfishness and sin, even the most devoted spouses wound each other in various ways and fight and hurt each other.

Tragically in too many instances the intimacy and trust symbolized by the marriage bed and which are indispensible for marriage can become a place of conflict and estrangement. Sometimes that bed becomes a place of betrayal and violation due to the drug or alcohol addiction, infidelity, or violence of a spouse. The, at times, unavoidable and even necessary breakup of such marriages causes great pain and hurt not only to spouses but to their children and to our society.

As disciples of Jesus there is much that we can and should do to support and encourage couples who are struggling with difficulties in their marriages as well as to reach out with compassion and understanding to those whose marriages end in divorce.

The present era is proving to be a difficult and challenging time for marriage. For many contemporary people, including friends, family members and neighbors, marriage is no longer understood or experienced as a sacred lifetime covenant, instituted by God, between men and women. An increasing number of young people, many of whom, in a society with such a high divorce rate, doubt their ability to make a lifelong commitment, and are no longer getting married.

Among those couples who do desire to marry, most have the best of intentions and high hopes for enduring love, but uncritically accept the secular understanding of marriage as a civil partnership of mutual affection which no longer has as its purpose the natural conception and birth of children by the union of their parents; nor expects lifelong fidelity and permanence or even requires marriage partners to be of the opposite sex.

As Catholics and as a Church we regard marriage much, much differently: not as a human invention, but as a natural and revealed gift bestowed on us by our loving Creator. Therefore we uphold and defend marriage as the fruitful, life-long union of a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a mystery so profound and holy that it symbolizes the eternal union of Christ and His Church.

The grace of matrimony, as with all of the sacraments, when received and embraced in humility and faithfully lived out over a lifetime, gives us as a couple enduring joy, peace and charity, and the strength and fortitude to persevere as disciples.

This transformation in holiness is the miraculous catch which fills our nets as husbands and wives to overflowing. Our nuptial love for each other both participates in and symbolizes the self-giving, self-sacrificing, self emptying love of Christ the Bridegroom for his Bride, the Church.

But the overflowing grace of that miraculous catch is not intended for us alone as a couple or even for our families. Instead, filled with divine grace and blessing, it is as husbands and wives and as mothers and fathers that we are called to mission. It is in and through our lifelong fidelity to our beloved spouse; our openness to the gift of new life; the moral formation and example we give to our children; our repeated willingness to forgive and seek forgiveness and the generous way in which we live our lives as a couple and as a family, that the gospel becomes incarnate, credible and attractive.

As married men and women, it is in the daily gift of ourselves and of our simple acts of love for each other that we testify to the extraordinary gift of Jesus to his redeeming death and life-giving resurrection and to the new way of life that he invites all people to enter into.

Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau.
Phone: (907) 586-2227 ext. 23. Email:

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