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This article was published in the Summer 1997 issue of The Journal.

 

INTAMS? No. it's not an abbreviation for INT(erchurch F)AM(ilie)S.

It stands for the International Academy for Marital Spirituality, which is an interdisciplinary initiative which brings together Christian women and men, married and unmarried, from different European countries and backgrounds. Its office and library are to be found at Sint-Genesius-Rode, near Brussels, Belgium.

Marital spirituality can have a particularly practical relevance for interchurch families. It offers a language in which to explain the deep spiritual need which some interchurch couples experience for eucharistic sharing. It is perhaps not so surprising that others (including some celibate Catholic clergy) do not really seem to appreciate the depth and seriousness of that need on the part of some interchurch couples. If a different - more "disembodied" - spirituality comes more naturally to them, they may not have fully understood that marital spirituality is a different but equally valid way to God. Interchurch families may perhaps be able to convey the seriousness of the need which some of them experience for eucharistic sharing - food for their life journey together - by stressing the nature of marriage as a sacrament, and the specific spirituality of marriage.

We are very pleased to be able to print here a section of an article by Gisbert Greshake, who teaches dogmatic and ecumenical theology at the University of Freiburg 1. Br., Germany. The article in its original French appears in the Intams Review, 2, 2, Autumn 1996, under the title 'The One Spirit and Many Spiritualities' (pp. 142-50). We give here in English translation and in slightly abbreviated form the second section of the article.

Fundamental structures of marital spirituality
1 Travelling together to God
Marriage means travelling together in faith. That implies two things. On the one hand, it involves a common life: married partners set out together in their search for God, together they try to be followers of Christ, they share their thoughts, they pray together and accomplish their mission in the world as a couple, their mission which is central to their faith. Thus marital spirituality stresses in a very special way the community aspect of faith lived out together. Indeed, the meaning of marriage is to be a sign of God's own communion in Trinity.

But on the other hand, this life together remains a journey, a process, a reality which is not complete when it begins. painfully At the heart of their love both partners have to discover often that their partner always remains "the other", not the product of dreams and projections, but a person to be respected absolutely in hislher individuality. This often requires long practice and patient perseverance. Marriage as process requires that the two partners talk about their legitimate needs, appreciate one another's desires, recognise and formulate them with clarity, without wounding or dominating. All that needs learning!

2 Reconciliation
Whenever there is a commitment to travel together in as intense a way as that of marriage, it is inevitable, given the human condition, that there will be conflicts, quarrels, confrontation. But that also means that the way to reconciliation, the willingness to start all over again, to offer mutual acceptance and endurance, is of much greater importance within matTiage than it is within the life of a single person. That is why it seems to me that living out reconciliation, drawing strength for this from the cross and resurrection of Christ, is one of the most essential focus points of marital spirituality.

3 Life-long faithfulness
Marriage is a commitment to life-long faithfulness. Each partner accepts the other unconditionally and for ever. This is a requirement and a challenge of the first order, especially today when the pace of life is so fast and it is difficult to make commitments and far-reaching decisions. When in today's society the partners live out their commitment in the light of their faith, or, better, in the perspective of God's unconditional "Yes" to their life as a couple, they become a sign of the Spirit of God at work, enabling people to live together in faithfulness. So in our society today marital spirituality involves a conscious decision to live a spirituality of faithfulness which can be a sign for all to see.

4 Living invisible things in visible signs
The sacramentality of marriage invites the partners to discover and to live the love of God in the love of each other, in their mutual love. And if we take account of the fact that this mutual love is expressed in a bodily and sexual way, in a union in which love uses bodily language, then marital spirituality gives special importance to bodily signs, which are indeed the fundamental characteristic of the sacraments. The spouses are called to see and to discover in visible signs and actions the reality of something deeper, ultimately the love of God. And note that this is not only so for the area of life which is intimate and private; it is also true for the whole of creation and history. To discover and live invisible things in visible signs: this is the spiritual dimension which married people should live with particular intensity, for they are joined together in the sacrament which is a visible sign of all invisible reality.

5 The smallest cell of the church
Finally, marriage is the basic unit of the church. So marriage and family life are closer to the church and have a more obvious reference to the ecclesial structure of faith than cloes the life of a single person. So marital spirituality means to be the church in its smallest manifestation, and that the wider church is constantly experienced as offering a particular field of work to married people.

It seems to me that these five points contain the fundamental common elements and the constitutive structures for a spirituality of marriage.  This marital spirituality can be lived out in very different ways in different married spiritualities according to the vocation of each couple, their situation at a particular time and the preferences and vocation of each partner, but nevertheless they offer a common framework and a common basis.

Gisbert Greshake

   

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