Madeline Roe, Managing Editor
Monsignor Michael Heintz, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and rector of St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, delivered a talk entitled “The Nuptial Nature of the Spiritual Life” to a large crowd in McKenna Hall as the 2013 Edith Stein Conference drew to a close on February 9. The conference theme was “Modern Beauty: Unveiling the Mystery,” and Msgr. Heintz discussed the complementary nature of Matrimony and the Eucharist within the Church.
“Only in two sacraments is the giver loved as the gift: Marriage and the Eucharist,” stated Msgr. Heintz. To elaborate this profound point, he asked conference attendee Peter Flores, a senior at Notre Dame, if he valued the gift of his watch more than its giver, his fiancée.
“Of course you didn’t, because you wouldn’t be sitting next to her if you did,” joked Msgr. Heintz, evoking laughter from the audience. “However, there are two examples where that is untrue, where the gift and the giver are the same thing. One is marriage and the other is the Eucharist.”
In both sacraments, “the giver and the gift are the same,” for the giver is the gift. Married life calls each person to “exchange themselves,” “not 90 percent, not 95 percent of your being,” but totally. Christ gives us his whole body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. In return for these great gifts, both sacraments demand “nothing more, nothing less of you,” than the recipient’s entire person in return.
Msgr. Heintz contextualized the interplay between marriage and God’s love for the Church within the spousal imagery between God and Israel in the Scriptures. Throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Song of Songs, Israel and God share a love that is notably “erotic in a noble and beautiful way.”
“It is not as if God and Israel have a sexual relationship,” said Msgr. Heintz, “but they do have a relationship that is intimate, that is special.” Images of intimate love from Old Testament covenants reverberate in the New Testament and Church dogma in which Christ is described as the Bridegroom of the Church.
Marriage, like Christ’s relationship with the Church, requires communication and communion. Communication is an obvious requirement for a successful marriage; communication with Christ is called prayer. Communion, however, is a deeper presence with your loved one. Msgr. Heintz pointed out the discrepancies between “seeing your beloved and talking with your beloved” via Skype, noting that the latter is “not the same thing as the kind of intimacy of being present to one another and being in the same place.” The goal of such communication and communion is “perfecting our identities by grace” to achieve union with God.
While Christians may feel comfortable with both these conventional elements of successful marriage and the Scriptural ways of understanding God’s nuptial relationship to the Church, we often romanticize or underestimate the true depth of the covenant’s call for daily, personal sacrifice.
“We have all these romantic notions of death,” Msgr. Heintz noted. We should not pick our crosses. Sometimes we fantasize about our own martyrdom, but such wishful thinking runs contrary to authentic self-sacrifice.
A major point of Msgr. Heintz’s talk was that “none of us can escape the cross. But it is never what we expect. It is going to involve genuine dying to self, stripping away. But that loss is in fact the condition of possibility for a resurrection. That type of grace and renewal that you experience as a creature of God [allows you to be His even more fully] than you are now. That’s why purgation is always part of the Christian life.”
Many Christians have the misconception that concupiscence disappears once a couple is married. But this is not the case, just as the temptation to sin always plagues our relationship with God. “[Life] is a continued purgation, but the goal is to constantly get better,” Msgr. Heintz said.
The vocation of marriage offers a particularly apt structure for the opportunity to grow in grace.
“There’s no other vocation where you have the opportunity to die to yourself day in and day out,” said Msgr. Heintz of marriage. “When you have a wife, husband, children, you don’t call the shots. Again, there is constant purgation. It’s not like purgation lasts [the season of] Lent and that’s it. There are always elements of who we are that need to be dismantled by grace; it is never done by ourselves but by grace. We more deeply enter the relationship [with God] so we can actually flourish.”
Msgr. Heintz prefaced the scope of his talk by defining different meanings of spirituality in the modern age. Referencing Henri de Lubac, the twentieth century French cardinal and theologian, Msgr. Heintz explained the differences between interior, spiritual and distinctly Christian life. “The essence of a Christian life is that we are not in a relationship with something, but with someone, and at the heart of the Christian existence is a sense of living in a relationship with a divine person,” Christ himself. Keeping this personal relationship at the heart of the Christian life is critical for growth within a communally professed faith.
Moreover, the goal of Christianity is not primarily to be helpful, to live in a state of goodness or to practice virtues, but to love in truth. “We help people because it’s true, because the truth is liberating,” said Msgr. Heintz. “Living such a life is hard. We cannot escape the cross.”
Msgr. Heintz called the “great paradox of Christianity” “that moment of self-gift that seems like loss, that seems like death… which is actually the condition of possibility for life—the flowering and flourishing of your love and your own self is rooted in that dying. That is the mystery. The heart of marriage is the Christian mystery.”
About midway through his talk, Msgr. Heintz unsuccessfully tried lifting the massive projector to write a few key words on the board behind. The audience laughed with Msgr. Heintz, who welcomed all interruptions with wit and called it a “Marx Brothers movie” scenario. But the prevalence of good humor throughout the speech was more than merely comical: It was a genuine spirit of joy in new life that, as Msgr. Heintz said, “comes with a genuine dying to self,” “a wonderful exchange” of God’s life for yours, of dynamic love in truth.
Madeline Roe is a senior double majoring in English and art history. She is grateful to those who made the Edith Stein Conference possible and can be reached at email@example.com.