| By Pete Burak

The gift of grace flows in a sacramental marriage

As Cait and I exchanged our wedding vows, her father lay dying from pancreatic cancer back in her family home. Soon after we promised to be true “in sickness and in health,” we went to his bedside to receive the nuptial blessing and pray with him. I remember being struck by the beautiful irony of our life together being newly established as her parents’ marriage of 40 years neared its end.

A few days later, having received the last rites and a final confession, her father died, with all 11 children and his loving wife at his side. Cait’s parents had relied on supernatural help (grace) not only in the hour of greatest need, but in their everyday struggles, joys, anxieties and hopes. They weren’t perfect, but no one could deny the grace of the sacramental marriage at work to make them holy and ultimately ready for heaven.

Sacraments, by their very nature, are designed to increase our holiness. God is holy, and the sacraments are a primary means by which we participate in his life, receive his mercy, are fed by his body and become his temple. This is why a sacramental marriage, not just a legal one, is so important. The catechism describes this unique union this way: “This grace proper to the sacrament of matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they ‘help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.’” (1641)

The Church recognizes the free and intentional exchange of vows between two baptized persons (if Catholic, celebrated according to the rites of the Church), and consummated in the marital act, as a special opportunity and moment for God’s power to unite two people more purely and more concretely than any other human moment.

It’s amazing to consider that the Church promotes sacramental marriage not just for the procreation of children, the stability of society or the holy expression of our sexuality, but because married life can make us holy.

Certainly, some are called to different vocations, which are also a means of sanctification, since we all need supernatural assistance to obey the Father, love the Son and live in the power of the Holy Spirit until the end of our lives.

But here’s the secret about the grace of marriage … it doesn’t run out. The divine assistance we receive on our wedding day doesn’t disappear when the toasts are over and the cake is finished. Rather, an endless, immeasurable faucet of grace flows to every sacramentally married couple. All sacraments are a gift, and while the crystal stemware from Aunt Susan may never get used, the grace of a sacramental marriage can change everything – until death do they part.

Pete Burak is the director of i.d.9:16, the young adult outreach of Renewal Ministries. He has a master’s degree in theology and is a frequent speaker on evangelization and discipleship.

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