By Rose Sweet
I was in my forties when I realized that all my life I had only been “dating” God when he had been waiting for my full “marital” surrender. I thought I was intimate with God; I prayed regularly, went to Mass and received the Sacraments. I could still recite the ten commandments in order and name the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. But he wanted more; he wanted all of me. Gulp!
Marriage is an image that points to how deeply God longs for each soul and how—like a husband—he wants to woo us into a life-giving, loving union, to provide for and protect us and bring us home to “happily ever after” with him. If we’re not ready, he waits and even tenderly withholds until we are willing to say, “I do.” God wants us to go all the way with him.
But dating is easier; you get the guaranteed companionship, the great conversation, the gifts, and surprises. There is no total commitment and you retain your “freedom.” With marriage your options close—until death—and that can be pretty scary. What if you wake up one day and you are no longer happy?
My submission to Our Lord had been partial and usually with an agenda. Like, “Here I am, Lord, I come to get your favor.” Or, “Here are my problems; please fix them.” He was a parent, a pal, and a repair man…but not a spouse.
I didn’t get it until I failed in my own marriage and dug more deeply into the powerful and passionate bridal imagery from Scripture—where God is “Husband” to Israel and Jesus is our Bridegroom.
The Saints and Spousal Love
The problems with sex—and the unquenchable ache for romance, passionate longings for intimacy, and the wild abandon of sexual pleasure—is that they have been separated from true love which is a share in divine love. When we infuse agape back into eros, we will be where God wants us to be.
The saints are those who have finally removed anything that stood in the way of total union with him and, following this analogy, they entered naked and unashamed into the bridal chamber. Maybe not sure on some level, but still trusting him. On fire with desire for him and even intoxicated with his love. Willing for him to love them—and to love him in return—in the way he wanted.
That is the kind of love for which we were made. But, like many, I tried to experience those joys apart from God. Having been “engaged” to God by my parents through baptism, I was like an unfaithful fiancé and, worse, a runaway bride!
With this analogy, are we sexualizing mystical experiences or too preoccupied with the natural and holy pleasures of marriage? No! We begin to look past them, seeing them as beautiful signs of something greater. We allow them to point us higher, and to integrate them once again with the spiritual and divine life that has been wrenched away from them.
Look at what some of the saints have to say about love—and the suffering that will come—in this mystical marriage:
St. Agnes said, “Christ is my Spouse. He chose me first and His I will be. He made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him whom the angels serve.”
St. John Chrysostom told married couples to remember that Christ united himself to the Church “in a spiritual intercourse.”
Teresa of Avila writes of ecstasies she experienced in “nuptial union” with Christ.
Bishop Fulton Sheen – assuring his audience that he was quoting St. Augustine verbatim – proclaimed that Christ “came to the marriage bed of the Cross, … united himself with the woman [the Church] and consummated the union forever.
Marriage always brings the cross of painful self-sacrifice (true love!) and that’s why many avoid a full commitment, even within their own marriages. When we say, “I do” and surrender ever part of our life to him, Jesus will at times ask us to pick up our cross and walk with him. But he is loving and tender and—thankfully—carries the heavier load.
Things to think about:
* If you haven’t ever really given him your all, don’t wait any longer. Ask him to show you how madly he loves you and what is really holding you back!
* If you just need to escape life’s distractions for a while and get back in the groove with him, plan a second honeymoon!
* If you want to know where you get stuck in the “Seven Stages of Divine Romance,” check out A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Romance!
Rose Sweet is a frequent guest on national Catholic radio and TV, a retreat and conference speaker, and author of twelve books on healing and strengthening relationships. Her video series, “Surviving Divorce,” has brought hope and healing into hundreds of parishes in sixteen countries. Writing for all women, her book series begins with A Catholic Woman’s Guide to HAPPINESS and A Catholic Women’s Guide to ROMANCE Rose’s website: rosesweet.com.