“Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:16)
When I was ordained a deacon 13 years ago, I was given a book by a priest friend that was written by a Vietnamese Cardinal that I had never heard of. Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was selected by Blessed John Paul II to preach the Lenten retreat to the pope and to the Roman Curia during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. It was during that retreat that more details of Cardinal Thuan’s life in Vietnam came to light. In 1975, he was named Archbishop of Saigon but was not allowed by the Communist regime to enter into the city and was placed under house arrest. He was very famous for his work as a bishop in other parts of the country and the government saw him as a threat, so he spent the next 13 years of his life in prison. He wanted to serve his people. He wanted to provide light to them amidst the darkness that enveloped his country. He began to write short catecheses on scraps of paper and found a way to smuggle them out to his people. While in prison, the people took these teachings and formed a book out of them called the “Road to Hope.” The people would also smuggle into prison a bottle of cough medicine for the bishop but it was not cough medicine, the bottle contained wine so that along with the crumbs of bread the bishop got from his food rations, he could celebrate Mass. He would place a drop of wine in the palm of one hand and a crumb of bread in the other, and in that dark prison cell he would say the Mass from memory and offer the Divine Sacrifice. Between his prayers and those scraps of paper, he was able to shepherd the people in some small way and let his light shine in that dark cell. Among the many topics that he wrote about was on the family and the importance of upholding the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as a vocation. Even while surrounded by darkness, he provided his people, and now us by extension, with an incredible teaching to illuminate our understanding of marriage and family.
With each passing day, I become more convinced that the challenge laid down by Jesus in today’s gospel to let our light shine so that others may see our good deeds must come from our families. All of us as individuals are called to be the light of the world, but when you see a shining example of a family that radiates with Christ’s love, that is a powerful witness! The Christian family must be a beacon that draws others to follow their example of love, and of course it must start with the head and heart of the family: the husband and wife / the father and mother. If the light of Christ begins to shine from the very beginning of a marriage from the love that emanates from a husband and wife, then the family is set on a firm foundation that allows it to be a light for the world. For this, young couples must understand the beauty of marriage if they are to let their light shine before all.
Cardinal Thuan’s beautiful catechesis on this sacrament taught that the first thing we must consider is that marriage is a vocation:
In our time the Church has mapped out a spirituality of marriage which allows us to see that marriage is the means by which the human race is to develop and flourish and that it is thus truly a vocation to holiness. Are you surprised to hear of the 'vocation to be parents of a family'? People are mistaken when they restrict the idea of a vocation, that is, a calling to perfection, to the priest or religious alone. When, by means of the sacrament of Matrimony, two people solemnly promise to love one another in Christ for their entire lives, is this not a profession of faith a profession of vows?
He places marriage on par with priests and religious who consecrate their lives for the sake of the gospel. If we view marriage as a divine calling, then the whole dynamic changes. We begin to see this sacrament not as a rite of passage for a relationship but as something that two people have been called by God to enter into. This is something the world does not understand as the Cardinal points out:
It is truly regrettable that the civilized world's comprehension of the Catholic doctrine concerning marriage is limited to some of its prohibitions. From these the world does not gain the slightest inkling that Jesus came to redeem humanity through love, and that through the sacrament of Matrimony humanity is enriched in an extraordinary way.
If only more couples preparing for this sacrament could understand this! If only they could approach their wedding day not as a lavish event whose spiritual meaning keeps getting dimished by all the trappings, but approach the sacrament as a religious would approach his/her profession of vows or how a priest would approach his ordinations. Oh how things would change if our young couples understood the magnitude of what they are doing so that they could in turn transform the world through their new families. The love of Christ is that light that must shine through us particularly through our families. The holier the family, the greater the light. But how does a Christian husband and wife achieve this holiness? Is it possible? Of course it is:
To love your spouse is to act according to the will of God. When you realize this, you will understand that you can fulfill your vocation in the most ordinary circumstances of your life by perceiving God's call even in the most trifling activity a response to the call of God. This is a revelation that will revolutionize your whole life… The love that exists between a husband and wife is an extension of God's love. How uplifting and encouraging for the married couple is this love! God has given you a loving spouse and beautiful children so that you may help one another to become holy. What have you done with this gift?...You must discover that you can and indeed have the responsibility to become holy in marriage and through marriage.
So being holy is not just a calling, but a responsibility when we receive this sacrament or any sacrament for that matter. But when it comes to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the love between a husband and wife is Christ’s love poured out for them which they in turn pour out to their children and to all the Church. To be the light of the world, we must recover the holiness of family and to recover the holiness of family, we must recover the holiness that must exist in this sacrament that is rightly called HOLY Matrimony. It is time for our families to reclaim the holiness that rightly belongs to them so that we may indeed let our light shine before all.