It is what we all desire in the depths of our existence. Every longing we experience finds its fulfillment in heaven. Every joy in this life is but a sign of what is to come in eternity. When a joy we experience passes away, we’re reminded that we’re not yet in heaven, where our joy will never end.
Imagine going to a party and not having to leave at the end, but being able to stay at the party with all of your closest friends and family. This is kind of what heaven will be like, except we tend to interpret heaven from our own limited human experience. We think that if heaven is some sort of party that never ends, then eventually we will get bored.
Heaven is not quite like that; it is not an endless succession of days where we have to find something to do. It is more like a fixed moment of joy that is locked into our very existence–for in heaven, there is no time.
Believe it or not, one of the greatest insights we can gain into this eternal existence is by contemplating the mystery of marriage.
Married couples are a sign of God’s existence in heaven, as the Church is wedded to Christ for all of eternity. Heaven is depicted in Sacred Scripture as a wedding feast. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so. God uses this analogy to help us understand the eternal joy we will experience in heaven.
Let’s face it, wedding receptions are joyous occasions, and He is trying to awaken us to this reality. The Lord is saying, “If you think weddings are fun on earth, wait until you get here!” And that’s just the beginning.
Imagine a passionately loving couple who are approaching their wedding day. They simply cannot wait to give themselves as a gift to one another at the altar and also to consummate that relationship through the conjugal act. The joy the couple experiences through the total self-donation of intercourse is intended to be a foretaste of the bliss of participating in the union of Christ and His Bride for all eternity. This may make us blush, but it is God who came up with this analogy to describe what our experience of joy will be like in heaven.
In the Catholic Tradition, we call heaven the “beatific vision.” This description helps us understand that we, the Bride of Christ, will see Christ, the Bridegroom, face to face for all of eternity in a loving, passionate stare. As we gaze in the vision of our Savior, we are filled with His love. His love penetrates us and fills us with His very life. Having received His life, we now have a worthy gift to return to Him, and so, having received, we can now give in return a pleasing gift.
Does that description of the beatific vision sound like anything that a husband and wife experience in their earthly marriage? It should. The marital embrace of husband and wife, where the husband gives his seed of life to his wife and she takes that seed into herself and offers it in return in the conception and bringing forth of new life, is the earthly window where we catch a glimpse of the eternal embrace of Christ and His Bride!
This is but a tiny glimpse of the beautiful vision of marriage that the Church holds out to her children. So, for us it is not a matter of debating whether to change the definition of marriage. We do not believe we have the power to change what we did not create. It is not for us to change; it is for us to understand and live.
Marriage is not an entity unto itself, but it represents the One who created it because He wanted to communicate the truth and beauty of His loving reality. Is it any wonder that as marriage has declined over the past several decades that we have also seen a rise in atheism? I believe they are connected. It makes sense that as we can no longer see the sign as clearly as we should, we cannot recognize what the sign points to. It is like trying to reach a destination without having the proper signs to guide the way. Can you imagine if you went on a road trip and did not have a map, or GPS, or any road signs to tell you if you were on the right path? It may feel like an adventure at first, but it would soon turn into a frustrating ordeal. In this scenario, it would be surprising if we ever reach our destination.
I think that is what our culture is experiencing. Our society has set out on an excursion and has left all points of guidance behind. The culture thinks it is on an exciting experience of unbridled freedom and happiness, but it will eventually lead to frustration and despair. I am speaking about every form of deprivation of the truth and beauty of matrimony that I have mentioned in this series.
For us married couples, it is our duty to be the sign we are intended to be for the sake of others. When we do that, we will experience joy beyond belief, because we will be living our purpose in life, which is to lead others to Christ. I invite all married couples to intentionally focus on being the sign they are called to be in order to change the culture. Living our mission as married couples is the most effective way to awaken our culture to the beauty of marriage. To paraphrase St. Catherine of Sienna, if we were who we were created to be, we would set the world on fire!