God calls Christian spouses to ‘be perfect,’ which means to love in every way
May 1, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Psalmist implores us to love the Lord’s house: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Ps 26:4).
How marvelous to think about St. Joseph, the last of the Jewish patriarchs, who so perfectly asked and sought after the Lord that he was granted the singular privilege of dwelling in the very house of the Lord Jesus, or rather, of offering his own house to be the roof over the Savior’s head—He who, in His public ministry, would later have nowhere to lay His head (Lk 9:58). Joseph beheld the Lord’s beauty and inquired in His temple by caring for the needs of Him whose Body was the new temple (Jn 2:21).
Christian matrimony beckons a man and a woman to treasure each other in the recesses of their home, to receive with peaceful heart the consolations and trials of their common life, to place all joys and sufferings at the foot of the Cross—for from the Cross alone comes the strength and dignity of their calling (cf. Eph 5:21–33). They are called to love, ever more and more, the Lord, to Whom each was originally and eternally espoused in his or her baptism, which makes the Christian one spirit with the Lord (cf. Hos 2:19; 1 Cor 6:17). This spiritual marriage of each to their heavenly benefactor endows their own marriage with the protection of the Lord’s holy temple.
The poet Wordsworth beautifully expresses the need for human love to remain rooted in its divine origin and to aspire to it as the final goal:
Unless this love by a still higher love
Be hallowed, love that breathes not without awe;
Love that adores, but on the knees of prayer,
By heaven inspired; that frees from chains the soul,
Bearing, in union with the purest, best,
Of earth-born passions, on the wings of praise
A mutual tribute to the Almighty’s Throne.
Without embracing the holy and life-giving Cross through daily prayer, self-denial, good works, and sacramental worship, marriage is left exposed to the tempests of the world, the temptations of the flesh, and the machinations of the devil. Spouses fall prey to sensuality, sloth, indifference, despair—even hatred, if they start in subtle ways, then more openly, to view and treat one another as enemies, opponents of real or imaginary needs and wants. The only real “pastoral program” the Church has ever had and ever will have is the Cross of Christ.
The command Jesus gives is not merely to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, though we might have thought this difficult enough, and work for a lifetime! No, His advice is more radical: “You are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). To be perfect means to bring everything within oneself and within one’s marriage and family under the yoke of love, into the kingdom of heaven. One has to learn to be humble in one’s love, for it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man, a person in love with what he is and has, to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
We are to become perfect—that is what the ancient pagans missed before the coming of the Lord. They thought it enough to be virtuous, to do virtuous things, to fulfill one’s duties and agreements, to be a “good citizen.” That was the whole shape of a good life. The Christian aims for more: taking up his cross, dying to himself, living for others, taking their sufferings and struggles as his own. Community life is a kind of crucifixion, as Blessed Columba Marmion said, but having an outcome not of defeat but of victory. For the worst defeat is selfishness, the greatest victory unselfish love.
“Be ye perfect” is equivalent to saying: Love in every way, do not love only what is convenient or easy or natural to be loved, but cast yourself into the furnace of love who is Christ, who died for men while all of them were still sinners and outcasts—who died to make men worthy of love by the worth His precious Blood restored to them.
The only way we can begin to love as we should is to ask God unceasingly for the grace to be transformed from within, where the enemy still lurks and tries to hide under a million excuses and disguises. By making this prayer in all earnestness we are already making progress towards the goal. If these things are done, if they are persevered in, “Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your health shall speedily arise, and your justice shall go before your face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather you up” (Is 58:8).