Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 6 May in St Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In our series of catecheses on the family, today we touch directly on the beauty of Christian marriage. It is not simply a ceremony carried out in church, with flowers, the dress, photos. Christian marriage is a Sacrament that takes place in the Church and that the Church also does, starting a new family community.
It is what the Apostle Paul summarizes in his well-known expression: “This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul affirms that the love between spouses is an image of the love between Christ and the Church – an unthinkable dignity! However, in reality it is inscribed in the creative design of God, and with the grace of Christ innumerable Christian couples, although with their limitations and their sins, have realized it!
Speaking of the new life in Christ, Saint Paul says that all Christians are called to love one another as Christ has loved them, namely “subject to one another” (Ephesians 5:21), which means at the service of one another. And here he introduces the analogy between the husband-wife couple and that of Christ-Church. It is clearly an imperfect analogy, but we must gather the spiritual sense which is very lofty and revolutionary, and at the same time simple, within the reach of every man and woman that entrusts himself/herself to the grace of God.
The husband – Paul says –must love his wife “as his own body” (Ephesians 5:28); he must love her as Christ “loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). But do you husbands who are present here understand this? To love your wife as Christ loves the Church? These are not jokes but serious things! The effect of this radicalism of the dedication asked of man, for the love and dignity of the woman, on the example of Christ, must have been great in the Christian community itself.
This seed of the evangelical novelty, which re-establishes the original reciprocity of dedication and of respect, matured slowly in history but in the end prevailed.
The Sacrament of Marriage is a great act of faith and love: it witnesses the courage to believe in the beauty of God’s creative act and to live that love that pushes one to always go beyond, beyond oneself and also beyond the family itself. The Christian vocation to love without reservation and without measure is what, with Christ’s grace, is also at the base of the free consensus that constitutes marriage.
The Church herself is fully involved in the history of every Christian marriage: she is built on its successes and suffers in its failures. However, we must ask ourselves seriously: do we ourselves, as believers and as pastors, fully accept this indissoluble bond of the history of Christ and of the Church with the history of marriage and of the human family? Are we prepared to assume this responsibility seriously, namely, that every marriage goes on the way of love that Christ has with the Church? This is great!
In this depth of the creaturely mystery, recognized and re-established in its purity, a second great horizon opens that characterizes the Sacrament of Marriage. The decision to “be married in the Lord” also contains a missionary dimension, which means to have in the heart the willingness to be so through the blessing of God and the grace of the Lord for all. In fact, Christian spouses participate in as much as spouses in the mission of the Church. Courage is needed for this! That is why when I greet newlyweds I say: “See these courageous ones!” – because courage is needed to love one another as Christ loves the Church.
The celebration of the Sacrament cannot leave out this co-responsibility of family life in regard to the great mission of love of the Church. Thus the life of the Church is enriched every time by the beauty of this spousal alliance, as it is impoverished every time that it is disfigured. To offer to all the gifts of faith, of love and of hope, the Church is also in need of the courageous fidelity of spouses to the grace of their Sacrament! The People of God is in need of their daily journey in faith, in love and in hope, with all the joys and efforts that this journey entails in a marriage and in a family.
The route is thus marked forever, it is the route of love: one loves the way God loves, forever. Christ does not cease to take care of the Church: he always loves her, he always guards her, as himself. Christ does not cease to take away from the human face stains and wrinkles of all sorts. Moving and beautiful is this radiation of the strength and tenderness of God that is transmitted from couple to couple, from family to family. Saint Paul was right: this is in fact a “great mystery”! Men and women who are sufficiently courageous to carry this treasure in the “clay pots” of our humanity – these very courageous men and women are an essential resource for the Church, also for the whole world! May God bless them a thousand times for this!