With the secular New Year just around the corner, some of us need to refresh ourselves about what we have committed ourselves to. As you know Jesus called himself “the way and the truth and the life.” And he went on: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) So his very person is the Way.
His way of using his intellect and will, the way that his lower physical powers were ordered to his higher spiritual ones is what has become possible for us in him. When early Christians were persecuted, their persecutors were looking for “men or women who belonged to the way.” (Acts 9:2) Pope Emeritus Benedict developed the point that Catholicism is therefore a way and not a religion, meaning it cannot be reduced to a mere checklist of things to do.
Catholicism is rather the complete and total way of life embodied in Christ – the one who lives through each day following the Father’s will. In contrast, in a religion one completes one’s duty to God once the last thing has been checked off. A religion allows time off from religion! I have time for secular activities – as if anything is truly secular.
People who get sucked into “religions” usually have a couple of them: they might include dipping into Christianity when emergencies strike; obsessing about shopping; being fascinated with sex; fixating on a baseball team or a political party; being dependent on this social circle; being preoccupied about getting ahead in business. Being a religious person in this sense means life as jumping from one religion to another.
Now being on the way, on the other hand, is being humbly subject to situations because they are God-given. So for example, “a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the [beaten] man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Matthew 10:33, 34) This is the selfless gift of oneself to the other in love. This is the heart of the way.
Following this point a little further: marriage can either be a “religious” marriage or a marriage on the way. In a “religious” marriage, in the sense that we are working with here, I imagine a list of duties that make up “marriage” and once I have checked off the items then I have done everything that I imagined. Of course, if completing the list does not make me happy then divorce is an option because I have done everything that I expected to do. Notice how often the word “I” appears. This “marriage” is my construct not God’s reality. The “marriage” is my project and it is closed to the other person or to God.
However if I am in a marriage on the way, then my wife and I will spend every second learning selfless giving in love. (Here love is understood as working for the good of the other person.) We learn how from Christ who accompanies us. We will discover what this means at twenty-five-years old, and then more at fifty and still more at seventy. The marriage between Christ and his Church is the ground and source of life for the marriage between my wife and me.
Life on the way to God has no self-imposed imagined limits. We are on the way into the infinity of God and as a result we cannot even begin to imagine what being loving is like or how loving my wife or I may become. To do this is to limit God and to settle instead for whatever man-made ideology is running through the culture at the moment.
Being married on the way, I am open to becoming more than I can ever imagine. As husband and wife we discover the meaning of life as we go. When love reaches this point then it actually is selfless love. This is why marriage is for life. This is why marriage is salvific – we help each other and our kids towards God.
Listen to the meaning of marriage on the way in the words of Tertullian:
Where the flesh is one, one is the spirit too. Together they pray, together prostrate themselves, together perform their fasts; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining. Equally (are they) both (found) in the Church of God; equally at the banquet of God; equally in straits, in persecutions, in refreshments. Neither hides (anything) from the other; neither shuns the other; neither is troublesome to the other. The sick are visited, the indigent relieved, with freedom. Alms (are given) without (danger of ensuing) torment; sacrifices (attended) without scruple; daily diligence (discharged) without impediment: (there is) no stealthy sighing, no trembling greeting, no mute benediction. Between the two echo psalms and hymns; and they mutually challenge each other which shall better chant to their Lord. Such things when Christ sees and hears, He enjoys.