Wednesday, June 13, 2007

the suffering of the bridegroom

There is a complete melting of identities which occurs in the mystical marriage between Christ and His Church. The image of Christ as the bridegroom is presented to us by Jesus himself in the Gospels, and elaborated on with amazing insight by the great saints, theologians, and mystics throughout history.

But within that image exists a great paradox.

Christ was the bridegroom, but Christ gave birth to the new creation. He was scourged. He carried the cross. He labored to deliver our salvation from the cross, and we are made anew from His pierced side.

But it is not the bridegroom who gives birth - it is the bride. It is not the man who suffers from the cyclical preparation of his nature. It is not within the man that the burden of pregnancy is entrusted. The man does not walk among friend and stranger as a sign of something that both ennobles and ostracizes him at the same time. Pregnancy can be seen as stripping the woman of her own independent identity and making her a vessel for another. Motherhood calls women to an intimate level of frightening sacrifice no man is able to physically experience. Women can attain a level of tangible familiarity with what is the universal call to women and men from the Father. To surrender themselves totally so that new life can be formed within them. A father can walk around undetected, but a pregnant woman whose body is a visible vessel no longer has that luxury. Therefore, it is easy to understand the temptation by woman to view this as an affront - an occupation of her identity by a foreign host.

I can never experience this. Yet, in the language of creation spoken through my body, I am called to represent the bridegroom. ????

What has become crystal clear from living with my bride is that the experience of the true Bridegroom is not physically accessible to me. Sure, men can suffer all sorts of ways, and all suffering is redemptive when given over to Jesus on the cross. I think of Maximilian Kolbe, or Miguel Pro and it is easy to see (and be humbled by) the power of declaring in the darkest hour with your entire being that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But redemptive suffering is not creative suffering. Jesus was the only man to experience that within his flesh. And while it is appropriate that the male priesthood serves as a biological sign of Christ's redemptive sacrifice in the body of a man, that is as far as a man can go in imaging the fullness of Christ's suffering. There lies the paradox of the Bridegroom giving birth to his bride. The male priesthood does not encapsulate the totality of this. I believe it can be more fully understood in the context of the Christological symbolism that existed "in the beginning" and exists once again through the sacrament of matrimony.

As a husband, I am certainly a part of my wife's pregnancy and of our children, but I am not a part of her suffering. I am only allowed to witness it as a bystander. The more I commit to sharing in her suffering, the more powerless I become. Our sexuality, as emblematic of the relationship between Christ and the Church, becomes complete. We occupy opposite perspectives of the Calvary experience.

She is up on the cross. I am at her feet in sorrow.

I would endure any pain and bear any burden for her, but in those moments I am utterly powerless to do so. Sometimes it is through her suffering that God's creation is made visible to everyone. Other times it is only made visible to those for whom the veil has been lifted. Both instances are the pure bodily expression of those words in Romans and in Revelation.

Romans 8
18: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;
20: for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope;
21: because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now;
23: and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24: For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
25: But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Revelation 12
1: And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;
2: she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.

These are not mere words. They describe the truth of our ultimate destiny in the language of a physical reality which can be experienced by women, but only witnessed by men. The power of understanding that is hidden in these moments is certainly like that mustard seed Christ spoke of. Beneath the surface of the sensory "travail" is the voice of God, calling us out of this world and into His, just as He spoke to Elijah on the wind.

The Holy Spirit makes this clearer to me each day I'm allowed to share in the life of my bride. Every time I look at this woman I breathe in humility.

Amen.