By Diane Freeby
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades opens diocesan marriage conference
NOTRE DAME — Marriage is a vocation, a specific call from God, that provides a path to holiness.
According to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who opened the Diocesan Marriage and Family Conference March 20 at the University of Notre Dame, we need look no further than Christ’s presence at the wedding feast of Cana. He says that’s when God elevated marriage to a sacrament.
“Our Lord was teaching us by His presence there,” said Bishop Rhoades. “Perhaps the most fundamental message of the wedding banquet at Cana is Our Lord’s presence, His active presence. And this was at the very beginning of His messianic activity, a significant point to ponder.”
Reflecting on a talk he recently gave to married couples while on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, Bishop Rhoades spoke about the great dignity of marriage and the countless graces that correspond to the vocation of marriage. He pointed to the transformation of water into wine as Christ’s visible sign that He was raising the natural institution of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament.
“Water, our most common drink, acquires a new character through Christ’s action,” explained Bishop Rhoades. “It becomes wine, a more valuable and richer drink!
“So marriage as a sacrament becomes the way for a baptized man and a baptized woman to participate in God’s life,” continued Bishop Rhoades. “Christ has redeemed their marital union! He has changed the water into wine! Marriage bears the mark of holiness. We thus can speak of ‘holy matrimony.’ Thanks be to Christ, couples can be sanctified through marriage. It is a way of holiness.”
Pope John Paul the Great echoed the Second Vatican Council, which taught that marriage goes beyond each individual couple.
“Pope John Paul II constantly reminded us that the future of humanity depends on marriage and the family,” said Bishop Rhoades, also adding that the United States Council of Catholic Bishops recently placed strengthening and protecting marriage as one of its top five priorities. He pointed to the USCCB’s publication of a pastoral letter entitled “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.” Part one addresses “Marriage in the Order of Creation — the Natural Institution of Marriage. Part two treats “Marriage in the Order of New Creation — the Sacrament of Matrimony.” (An excerpt from this letter appeared in last week’s edition of Today’s Catholic, and extra copies are available through the Office of Family Life.)
“Besides presenting the Church’s rich teaching on marriage,” explained Bishop Rhoades, “which we must communicate with charity and conviction in all our catechesis, the pastoral letter also looks at disturbing and troubling trends: high levels today of cohabitation and divorce, the denial or abandonment of a couple’s responsibility to be open to children and a certain individualistic mentality that sees marriage as a mostly private matter and not so related to the common good.”
Bishop Rhoades also addressed world views that seek to redefine marriage so that it would no longer be exclusively the union of a man and a woman as God established and blessed in the natural created order.
“One of the most important things for us to recognize is that marriage is a divine call. It is a true vocation. To understand all authentic vocations, whether marriage or the priesthood or diaconate or consecrated religious, we must situate them within the primary vocation which is to love.”
While marriage is a path to holiness, it’s not an easy road. But, according to Bishop Rhoades, these challenges can be met with God’s grace, which we receive through the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist. Bishop Rhoades spoke about gratitude as an important virtue in marriage.
“The very word ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving.’ We thank God at every Mass for the supreme gift of His Son. It is also a good time to thank God for one’s vocation and, in the case of marriage, for one’s spouse, and if applicable, for one’s children.”
Bishop Rhoades said one of his favorite parts of the bishop’s pastoral letter is the part on growth in the virtues. They refer to both the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the moral virtues. The moral virtues are grouped around the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good,” said Bishop Rhoades, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1803. “They play a pivotal role. They are acquired by good education, by deliberate acts and by perseverance. With God’s help, they forge good character.”
Megan Vera teaches a class on sacraments at Saint Joseph’s High School. She said this was the first time she heard someone talk about virtues and how important they are for married life.
“I was excited at how Bishop Rhoades sees marriage as essential for furthering the Church and evangelizing. … We need to focus on marriage and the family for the good of the whole Church, not just for married couples.”
One of Vera’s students, also in attendance at the conference, said he appreciated how Bishop Rhoades combined what he’s learned in two classes at Saint Joseph’s — morality and sacraments — into one talk.
Others, like Debby Blum of South Bend, liked hearing in greater detail how other sacraments help strengthen the Sacrament of Marriage.
“There is something so nurturing about that,” said Blum. “Confession offers such an important opportunity to take the time to examine our relationships, and then have Christ … through the priest, persona Christi, show us how we need to adjust our thinking and actions. It was such a powerful talk, and so much was included in such a short time period.”
According to Lisa Everett, co-director of the Office of Family Life, around 200 people registered for the day-long conference and dinner that followed. She said many more dropped by to hear individual talks given throughout the day.
“Father Bob Lengerich’s workshop on ‘The Theology of the Body: What the Pope couldn’t say’ was highly praised, and Suzy and Dave Younger’s workshop, ‘Dealing with Infertility in Marriage’ was apparently very powerful, and had many participants moved to tears.”
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