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Fatima - July 13, 2006



The spirituality of the married man and woman means that they live according to the Holy Spirit. My homily will elaborate on this conjugal life according to the Spirit. I will develop three parts: 1) conjugal spirituality is based on the mystery of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ , the Bridegroom of the Church; 2) the archetype of conjugal spirituality is the relationship of Christ and the Church; 3) the concrete realization of this mystery can be found in the marriage of the first couple ever to be beatified by the Church: Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi.

1) Conjugal spirituality is based on th mystery of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church. The substance of the first reading from the Book of Genesis repeated and deepened in the reading taken from the Epistle to the Ephesians, “‘And the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” Here, St. Paul illumines the mystery of Christ’s communion with the “holy ones” of the Church by means of a nuptial sign: the being of ‘one flesh’ of man and woman. He thereby indicates that nuptiality is an essential property of love. He insists that the mystery of the Incarnation has a particular logic. It means that the invisible God has been made visible through a genuine unfolding of himself in the world of man and his history. The First Preface of Christmas conveys beautifully God’s self-representation in the Incarnation, “Through the mystery of the incarnate Word the new light of your brightness has shone onto the eyes of our mind, that knowing God visibly, we might be snatched up by this into the love of invisible things.”

2) The archetype of conjugal spirituality is discovered in the relationship of Christ and the Church St. Paul uses the form of espousal love in Genesis to illustrate “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Eph 3: 9). Here he is speaking of the nuptial sacrament of Christ and his Church. Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is his Bride. The mystery of the nuptial logic of Jesus and the Church assumes that the Christian man and woman joined n sacramental marriage as husband and wife are set in a distinct and personal relationship with one another. In the prophetic writings, in the Hebrew wisdom literature and in the psalms, the characterization of Israel as ‘bride’ remained principally an ethical and juridical image.

In the New Testament, moreover, this characterization is radically altered by the Incarnation of the Word: the character of the ‘bride’ is now based wholly on the ‘being one flesh’ of the Incarnate Word (“One Person in each nature. Una Persona in utraque natura” - St. Augustine). St. Augustine insists that a human nature was assumed to the personal union with the eternal Word in the very moment it was created. His human nature was created by the very assumption (ipsa assumptione) in such a way that “from the time he began to be man, nothing other than the Son of God began to be man”.

Thus the ‘Bride/Church’ draws her origin and identity from Christ’s human nature. Because the Word is identical with the human servant whose nature he assumed, the subject, ‘the Bride/Church’, together with the baptized, who each receives the revelation in their own particular way, must necessarily accomplish an incarnation that is analogous to the Incarnation of God’s Word.

In the first reading we heard that in the beginning of human history there existed a created nature with a unique correspondence: a man and a woman. Thus the original human datum was not identity, but relation. When Adam was introduced to Eve he saw beauty, truth and goodness in her and sang the first love song: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.”

Consequently, man must not resign himself to a universe that is deaf to his music and indifferent to his hopes, to his sufferings, or to his crimes. It cannot be defined in terms of material progress, for we are discovering to our sorrow and dismay that the price of progress is the death of the spirit. The universe is not simply evolutionary; it cannot be based on the survival of the fittest in a globalized economy. The universe is not brutish and hopeless; it is not more similar to a battlefield than to an orchestra. The fact of man and woman from the beginning alone renders credible the nuptial vision of the end which is really the begriming, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men’” (Rev. 21; 2-3).

3) The concrete realization of this mystery can be found in the marriage of the first couple ever to be formally beatified by the Church: Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi. We see this reality of the meaning of the beginning realized in Christian marriage. I am thinking of the goodness, truth and beauty revealed in the relationship of Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Blessed Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. In 2001 the Roman Catholic Church beatified the first married couple in her history. The Church considered the Quattrocchi couple to be an extraordinary witness of the profound mystery which the sacrament of marriage is. Thus this modern Italian couple was promoted to the ranks of the "blessed" - one formal step from sainthood - after being deemed a model of "Christian spirituality, (who) lived heroically through marriage and family.

Pope John Paul II said on the occasion of their beatification in 2001: "Dear families, today we have a singular confirmation that the path to holiness, followed together as a couple, is possible, is beautiful, is extraordinarily fruitful and is fundamental for the good of the family, of the church and of society." He gave special words of encouragement for those couples who experience the drama of separation, illness or the death of a child. The only previous married couple to have been given such status were the martyrs Aquila and Prisca, who became saints in the very early days of Christianity before the formal process of beatification was established.

The Beltrame Quattrocchis both were born in the 1880s. They married in 1905 and spent their entire lives in Rome. They had four children, three of whom became religious. Their two sons were ordained to the priesthood. One of their two daughters became a nun. The two priests were concelebrants with the pontiff at the Mass celebrated at the beatification of their parents. The fourth child also attended the service. If the fourth child, the youngest had entered religious life, Luigi and Maria had determined themselves that they would also enter consecrated life. Newspapers quoted the sons as saying the couple decided to sleep in separate beds after 20 years of marriage, living like brother and sister for another 26 years. Luigi, who died in 1951, was a lawyer who worked for the government and banks and who was active in several Catholic groups. In 1939, Dino Grandi, the Italian minister of justice under Mussolini, offered to Luigi the high position of Advocate General of the Italian State. But he refused in order to avoid being associated with the hierarchy of fascism. His wife, who died in 1965, was a teacher and writer. She comforted soldiers during World War I and later studied nursing and accompanied invalids travelling to shrines in such places as Lourdes, France.

"Ours was a normal family that sought to live its relationships on a plane of high spirituality," Don Tarcisio Beltrame Quattrocchi, one of the couple's sons, said in an interview. The couple initially supported dictator Benito Mussolini's regime, but later rejected fascism and opened their home to resistance fighters, sometimes lending their priest sons' vestments to help partisans escape controls by Nazi occupiers. Detailed records of beatifications only began to be kept five centuries' ago. Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi became the 1,273rd and the 1,274th Catholics to be beatified by the pontiff.

In light of what has been said I wish to make an explicit mention of the characteristic of Christian marriage which is, in a certain sense as Cardinal Angelo Scola has written, foundational for the sacramental bond uniting man and woman in the nuptial bond: its indissolubility. One of the the visions of Ezechiel (37: 15ff) has been central for me in understanding marriage. It deal with the sign of the two separate sticks of wood which are made one by God’s miraculous intervention. This divine action symbolizes God’s miracle in uniting Israel and Judah again into one nation. Over the decades this vision has been for me a central interpretation of the God-given indissoluble communion of husband and wife in marriage. Sacramental marriage is indissoluble only because it is a participation in the total and irrevocable communion of Jesus the Bridegroom for the Church, his Bride.

For the man and woman who enter into Christian marriage the implications are clear. They both must be involved in the transfiguration of that which at first is primarily a kind of grasping love, eros, to that kind of love which knows itself to be grasped by God’s self-emptying love, agape.

I will end with a magnificent insight of Pope Benedict XVI into sacramental marriage. He writes in his encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est, “From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice-versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (12) .

J. Francis Cardinal Stafford
Major Penitentiary