Immaculate Conception Chapter
Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic

Friday to Sunday, April 22-24, 2016
San Damiano Spiritual Life Center. White Post, Virginia (directions)

Retreat Master: Rev. Christopher Alar, MIC
Subject: The God of Mercy


After answering the Lord’s call, Fr. Chris studied philosophy at Franciscan University in Steubenville and earned his Masters of Divinity from Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. While in Seminary, Fr. Chris was assigned as a member of the band of missionaries who traveled far and wide to share the good news of God’s mercy. He lives and works on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, MA, home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, where he serves as the Director of the Association of Marian Helpers. Fr. Chris continues to be a sought-after speaker for the Marians.


Check-in for Retreat: Friday, April 22, starting at 3 p.m. Retreat begins with Mass at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and concludes in the early afternoon on Sunday, April 24.

Use the link below (red text) to download the retreat form and return it with deposit or full payment to “College of the Immaculate Conception,” c/o Mr. Donald Mayse, Jr., O.P., Treasurer, 9502 Buck Lodge Court, Adelphi, MD 20783.

30 sleeping rooms are available at the retreat house. Priority is given to chapter members and spouses. Non-members must contact President Ms. Therese Errigo, O.P. ( or 301-704-9117) to request permission to attend. Children are not permitted. The entire fee must paid by March 22.


2016 Chapter retreat flyer (check your browser’s downloads folder)


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Advent Reflection: Names of God

TELL ME YOUR NAME: Finding God In Our Lives

 2013 Advent Reflections on the Names of God


Jacob then asked him, “Please tell me your name.” [God] answered, “Why do you ask for my name?” With that, [God] blessed him. (Genesis 32:28-31)

Catholic theological tradition refers to God not as ‘a being’ but rather as ‘being itself.’ St. Thomas Aquinas writes that God is not in any genus, and so it follows that he cannot be defined. God is a mystery, existing outside of human descriptions, transcending the constrictions of human language; and beyond the comprehension of human thought.

Even so, since the time of Creation, humanity has struggled to name God—to identify that which is responsible for our world and our lives. The bible presents a plurality of names for God, none of which define God fully. Instead they offer a series of lenses through which we can better understand God’s interaction in our lives.

The ‘names’ in this resource offer us images of God which we can turn to in times of joy and need. Just as a parent can offer compassion, discipline, and delight in their child’s lives so can God in ours. They are ways in which God interacts with humanity, offering each of us companionship on our life journeys wherever they may take us.



The name we are given at birth is unique to us regardless of how many other children share it. As we grow, we may receive additional names which further describe and identify us. Some, like Jr., are assigned at birth; others are based on our physicality, behavior, intelligence, vocations, and interests. Some are fleeting, while others remain with us through adulthood. Positive or negative, the (nick)names we acquire help us and others understand who we are.

Humanity has been assigning God names since the time of creation. These names reflect varying experiences of God in our lives: Creator, All-seeing, Eternal, Master, etc. They provided reassurance and comfort to the Hebrew people as they tried to articulate their understanding of the world and a God who promised to be with them. These names are not all-inclusive, nor do they fully define God. They are humanity’s attempt to describe their relationship with God, and more importantly, God’s relationship with them.

This book contains reflections on seventeen “names” of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures with an additional seven Messianic prophecies from the book of Isaiah. Each name/prophecy offers a glimpse at God’s face “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). While the reflections are assigned a number for purposes of continuity, they can be read in any order depending on how you are most longing for God in your life.

We encourage you to take time each day to reflect on how these ‘names’ of God resonate with your image of God in your life: when you awaken, thankful to God that you are alive to greet the morning; during the day when you want a moment of solitude; or at night when you give thanks for God’s grace which was bestowed on you during the day. As you read through the ‘names’, perhaps you will find one or two which cause you to pause and reflect more deeply on how and where you experience God in your life.

May your family have a sacred and peaceful Advent and a joy-filled Christmas.



1 – Creator God (Elohim)

In a society which focuses on success and wealth, it can be hard to fathom creation as freely given. Yet in creating man and woman, God didn’t file for trademarks or patents, seek licensing fees, nor attach rights and regulations. God created humanity out of infinite love and asked for nothing but love in return.

We, and everyone we encounter, are the product of that love, born of parents but created in God’s image. When you look into a mirror, you are seeing God’s image. You are also seeing God’s image in the homeless man on the exit ramp, the welfare mother using food stamps, or the teenage gang member on the corner. These individuals were created in God’s image—a God who continues to love and care for creation. Shouldn’t we try to do so as well?

 2 – God Most High (El Elyon)

With creation completed, God stuck around. Even after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, God didn’t desert humanity. To this day, God continues to be engaged in the world which he created, even if at times this may not appear to be true.

Like a parent, El Eyon is watching over us, allowing us the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. God is standing by us to celebrate and comfort, continually offering us unconditional love and unending grace in our successes and failures. God has never given up on or abandoned us; can we say the same about us not abandoning God?

 3 – God Who Sees (El Roi)

God sees the entirety of who we are and still loves us. Take a moment to reread that first line. God knows our darkest secrets, our deepest fears, our innermost thoughts and desires and yet continues shower us with unconditional love and grace. God see us in our hurt, our pain, and our failures and loves us all the more. While this can be intimidating, it is also incredibly freeing to know that we won’t and can’t be rejected by El Roi who knows us best. Yet if God sees us as we are and loves us then why can’t we do the same?

4 – Eternal God (El Olam)

God was present before creation and will be here after it passes away. Humanity as it exists today is simply a link in the chain of events stretching back through history and forward through eternity. Through it all, God has been, and will be, present in the world.

There is a comfort to knowing God is eternal, a constant presence throughout past, present, and future generations. El Olam, who has witnessed and overcome all adversity in the past, is in our lives to comfort us and assure us that we too will overcome our current struggles, fears, and stresses. The question is not if God is present but rather will we allow ourselves to recognize and take comfort in El Olam in our lives?

5 – Covenantal God (El Berith)

Covenants are different than contracts because while contracts can be voided by either party, covenants cannot be voided without joint consent.

God made a covenant with Abraham, promising to love and care for his family and his descendants. So while past generations have ignored or defiled the covenant, God has remained El Berith, bound by his promise to Abraham.

As the rightful heirs of Abraham’s covenant, we have the choice to affirm or ignore God’s promise to be with us. Regardless of our choice, God remains El Berith, committed to loving us unconditionally throughout all time. It is our choice: what will you choose?

6 – Sustaining One (El Shaddai)

What gives you sustenance? Physically, you are sustained by food and drink; mentally, you are hopefully sustained by meaningful purpose and goals; but what about spiritually?

El Shaddai is the image of God whom you can turn to when you need nurturing and nourishment—the God who will always be there, offering comfort when you are sad, courage when you are scared, and strength when you are exhausted. Just as food and water are required for our physical existence, El Shaddai is a necessary part of our spiritual well-being. And while we all know that denying ourselves food and water would be foolish and self-destructive, how many people no longer worry about sustaining their faith?

7 – Lord, Master (Adonai)

Who or what is your master? In a culture which praises self-sufficiency, the idea of us having a master seems ludicrous and uncomfortable. Yet each of us probably has several masters in our lives—-people (employers, teachers, parents) and things (money, pleasure, power) that direct our lives, inform our decisions, and limit our choices.

Abraham first understood God as Adonai. When asked to move his family to a new “promised” land, Abraham could have refused. Instead he accepted and trusted God as Master and moved his family to an unknown distant land. Moses recognized God as master and returned to a country where he was an outcast; and Jesus trusted God enough to suffer death on a cross.

If we truly view God as Adonai, we must submit our life to God’s will. How many Christians call God ‘Lord’ yet are unwilling to be inconvenienced by having an actual relationship with Adonai?

8 – Self-existent One (YHWH)

YHWH delineates the Hebrew Scriptures into before and after. When God told Moses Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh—I Am That I Am, it forever changed how God was understood by humanity. YHWH is a Tetragrammaton (4 letters) which is unpronounceable though Christians added letters and pronounced it Yahweh or Jehovah.

The challenge of YHWH is the challenge of this resource — how to understand something that defies understanding, something that can’t be easily identified, or called out to. It is not easy for us to accept “mystery”—to recognize that there are things beyond our grasp, beyond our explanations, beyond our ability to describe or articulate within the limits of our language. But that is exactly what YHWH calls us to do.

9 – Lord Who Provides (YHWH-yireh)

The solution to a problem which comes to us in the middle of the night; the eureka moment when clarity sets in; the moment when everything seems clear and obtainable. Our culture defines these ‘aha’ moments as flukes, coincidences, good timing, or karma. Yet God has a history of appearing in people’s dreams, explaining the unexplainable. Why is it so hard to believe that God may offer us the same grace. The Hebrews referred to this as YHWH-yireh—the God who provides.

It is hard to believe in things that cannot easily be explained. Yet God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would always be there for us. Perhaps, all we need to do is let go and open ourselves to YHWH-yireh.

10 – Lord Who Heals (YHWH-rapha)

At the time of the Council of Jerusalem, people viewed illness and deformity as signs of God’s displeasure; at the Council of Trent, leeches were state of the art medicine; and at the time of Vatican II, transplantation of organs was an emerging procedure. As science progressed, so did our understanding of God in our lives.

Many people feel that science and faith are opposing forces when in fact they share a lot of common ground. God’s presence is found as much in the healing hands of the physician as it is found in the compassionate hands of the priest. In understanding YHWH-rapha, we recognize one of the many ways that God interacts with humanity as it continues discovering new answers and, in doing so, revealing new, deeper questions.

11 – Lord, My Banner (YHWH-nessi)

The role of the standard bearer is to rally the troops, to raise the banner high on the battle field as a sign of encouragement to continue fighting towards victory. The soldiers knew that as long as they could see their banner, all was not lost.

In the battle between good and evil, YHWH-nessi is the standard bearer for good. He leads us into battle, protects us from the enemy, and assures us that our fight is not yet lost even when it looks like it is. God is with us, helping us, supporting us, and encouraging us to keep fighting. Who is the standard bearer in your life?

12 – Lord Who Sanctifies (YHWH-mekoddishkem)

Through sanctification we are made a holy people—we are transformed and we are sent forth to transform others. Through sanctification, we begin a domino effect in which God’s grace moves through our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our countries, and our world.

YHWH-mekoddishkem is a powerful facet of God’s existence. It is the name that looks beyond our trespasses, that showers us with God’s grace. Yet, while God’s grace is freely given, it requires that we accept it. Sanctification is not a magic show which happens with to us through smoke and mirrors; it is a relationship which we choose to have with YHWH. It is our choice.

13 – Lord Is Peace (YHWH-shalom)

Experts suggest that in times of stress, people take a 10 minute ‘vacation’ during which they move away from the tasks of the day and go for a brief walk, visualize themselves in an exotic locale, or play a game on their tablet.

YHWH-shalom is the peaceful presence of God in our lives, the one who is there for us to turn to in times of stress and anxiety, the one who offers us a brief respite, a warm embrace, an encouraging word. As you travel through the chaos of the holiday season, be sure to schedule a moment or two to spend in the presence of YHWH-shalom.

14 – Lord of Hosts (YHWH-sabaoth)

It is widely accepted that before addicts can begin their journey back to wholeness, they need to hit rock bottom, and when they do YHWH-sabaoth is there to greet them.

YHWH-sabaoth is there when we are at our lowest, when we have exhausted our options, when we are too tired to continuing running. YHWH-sabaoth is found in the complete release of ourselves to God’s mercy and compassion. It is where we find help to overcome our trials. It is surrendering our lives to God’s protection.

With YHWH-sabaoth’s help, even the smallest person can achieve mighty things.

15 – Lord My Shepherd (YHWH-raah)

Most people in the 21st century do not fully understand what a shepherd was. A shepherd is more than someone who babysits sheep. The sheep place their lives in the hands of their shepherd who protects, nourishes, and cares for them. He sleeps with them, guards them from predators, and makes sure they have grass to feed upon.

Jesus spoke of God as YHWH-raah in order to help people better understand God’s infinite love and grace. Jesus used the example of the shepherd to invite us to place our lives in the hands of YHWH-raah. Though unlike the sheep, it is our choice to trust in God’s care.

16 – Lord Our Righteousness (YHWH-tsidkenu)

YHWH-tsidkenu was first used by the Hebrews as they were exiled into Babylon. As they were being sent out of Israel, sent away from the Temple—the center of their faith and identity, separated from all that they were familiar with, the Hebrew people were confident that God remained with them. And it was YHWH-tsidkenu which eventually returned them to the Promised Land and rebuilt their temple.

God remains with us in our darkest hours offering hope and assurance that we will find God’s kingdom no matter how lost we may think we have become. God remains at our side, fighting our demons, soothing our wounds and leveling the path ahead. Yet, while God remains next to us, it is up to us to acknowledge his presence.

The O Antiphons

While the exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known, there are 5th century references which suggest their presence at that time. The seven “O Antiphons” are ancient prayers based upon Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming Messiah. Each antiphon highlights both a Messianic title and a prophecy of the Lord’s arrival on ear

17 – O Wisdom (O Sapientia)

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2-3

The greatest commandment, “Love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself”, tells us that wise decisions are those which deepen our relationships with God, the world, or ourselves while unwise decisions demean them.

Wisdom seems simple—who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I will make bad decisions today.” Yet that is exactly what we do. We choose unwisely because the unknown seems more exciting than the known. In Advent it is easy to get trapped by holiday materialism and make unwise decisions which lead to post-holiday dread. The solution is right in front of us; we just have to open our eyes and hearts to God’s wisdom.

18 – O Lord (O Adonai)

“For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

The ability to make judgments based on particular situations can be a life-saving skill. In emergencies, it allows us to address and resolve issues quickly. It can protect us, remove us from danger, or help us to save others.

It is when we become judgmental that we risk demeaning and degrading others. Judgmental people tend to see themselves as God-like with the ability to decide who is and isn’t worthy. When we view another person as less worthy of God’s love than ourselves, we have started sliding on the slippery slope of judgmental-ism. Christ makes it clear that we should not judge others lest we miss the good that may be hidden inside them.

19 – O Root of Jesse (O Radix Jesse)

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” Isaiah 11:10

The Jesse tree is a listing of the generations before and after King David, from Adam to Jesus. It is the history of God’s salvific connectedness to humanity and the world. It is the story of our faith ancestors, those who came before us and passed on the faith through word and deed.

Though Jesse lived thousands of years ago, his actions, his belief, and his trust in God, continues to resonate within us as we continue to journey towards God’s kingdom. Our faith is not dead, it is not resting, it is alive and active through the actions and presence of Jesse’s descendants.

20 – O Key of David (O Clavis David)

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Isaiah 22:22

“If you want peace, work for justice.” In 1992, Los Angeles witnessed riots costing the community millions of dollars. The riots were fed by the resentment and anger the African American community felt as they were continually denied justice and equality by the courts and civil authority.

Institutional injustice causes frustration and anger, and often leads people to view violence as the only viable resolution. It exists because it is profitable and because treating a person as an object is cheaper and easier than recognizing their dignity. Jesus challenges us to fight against our materialism and stand up to institutional injustice wherever we find it so that everyone living on our planet can come to know true justice and peace.

21 – O Morning Star (O Oriens)

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Isaiah 9:2

Evangelization is simply reflecting God’s light—the morning star—to those we meet. It can be active or passive, verbal or silent. It is living life so that others can witness Christ within us, the Christ we receive at baptism and nourish through Eucharist.

During the last two thousand years, there have been many great people who evangelized others through their peaceful nature and calming influence: Dominic, Francis, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius, Benedict, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and Mother Theresa to name just a handful. Granted, these were ordinary people with extraordinary callings, but they started out just like us — simple people trying to do God’s work in the communities where they lived; or as Mother Theresa believed, ministering to Jesus in disguise.

22 – O King Of Nations (O Rex Gentium)

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4

It is easy to feel helpless when you begin to address world peace. It is kind of like trying to stop global warming or nuclear proliferation. It just feels too big and too complicated for one person to make a difference.

If we want a peaceful world, we must first create peaceful communities in our home, our neighborhood, and our city. As we expand from one community to the next larger one, we will meet others who will encourage us and whom we can encourage. The peace movement grows exponentially and world peace is achieved.

Our first attempts at building a peaceful society must start at home—mending a broken relationship, re-connecting with estranged friends, or changing our attitudes about the annoying person who moved in down the street. These small acts of peace-making, lead to stronger relationships which in turn build peaceful communities. All we have to do is start.

23 O With Us Is God (O Emmanuel)

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

God is with us in our homes, our offices, and our communities. If we truly believe Emmanuel—God is with us!, then we must begin to treat others as though they are the embodiment of that presence.

24 – Lord Is Here (YHWH-shammah)

And we saved the best for last. Tonight we celebrate YHWH-shammah, a simple yet powerful God is here! God is with us in good times and bad, in our joys and our sorrows, in our defeats and our hopes. Throughout all of our lives, God is here!


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The Master of the Order visits DHS

The eighty-seventh Master of the Order, Bruno Cadoré, O.P., recently visited the House of Studies in Washington, D.C. In addition to the personal interviews he had with each member of the community, he also generously made time to offer a few pearls of wisdom about Saint Dominic in the video interview below.

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Charity and Government

Congress is considering significant cuts in the food stamp
program.  Our bishops and many Catholic social service organizations,
including Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul are urging
Congress to leave the program intact.  Although I understand the
reasoning for the need for food stamps, my conservative political view
balks at the basic tenants of the program and my Christian world view
balks at designating the government as the primary provider for the

It is my impression that the food stamp program is
bureaucratic, expensive, devoid of human dignity and riddled with
fraud.  Having spent most of my professional life in the non-profit
world, I find it difficult to support this enormous program when those
federal dollars could be much more effectively by local hunger groups
who would deliver food in a caring, human environment.  Many of these
groups are secular, but many are faith based.

The monthly food card provides temporary nourishment
for the body.  Food received from a food bank also provides
nourishment and the human touch.  As an example, Meals on Wheels
provides that temporary nourishment along with human contact.  For
many seniors, the highlight of their day is the person who brings the

And then there are the faith based organizations that
provide food, clothing and shelter, accompanied by the loving and
saving words of Jesus.  Catholic Charities in DC now has a program
called “A Cup of Joe” that provides breakfast in DC and it is served
by volunteers who can look the recipients in the eye and greet them as
a son or daughter of God.

What is lacking in these options is the individual who
reaches out and does the corporeal works of mercy in his or her
neighborhood or community. As a society, even Christians have become
so used to giving money to organizations, or depending on government
to provide for the poor that we are no longer directly involved in the
corporal works of mercy.

In the Psalms, there are numerous references to
“stretching out our hands” to God. Recently the daily Gospel reading
was from Luke 6:6-11.  In it Jesus cures a man by asking him to
“stretch out your hand”.  Saint Ambrose in his Commentary on Luke
writes: “Stretch out your hand often by doing favours for your
neighbor, by protecting from harm one who suffers under the weight of
calumny; stretch out your hand to the poor man who begs from you;
stretch out your hand to the Lord, asking for pardon for your sins.
This is how you stretch out your hand, and this is how you will be

How often do I stretch out my hands?  If more people
stretched out there hands to the local poor, how much better would our
communities thrive? How will God look upon my activity, or lack of it,
with the poor on judgment day?

ms. Mary Ellen Barringer,O.P.
Immaculate Conception Chapter


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Fr Rui Lopes is the New Promoter for the Laity

Rui Carlos Antunes e Almeida Lopez

The Master of the Order, fr Bruno Cadoré has appointed fr Rui Carlos Antunes e Almeida Lopes as the new General Promoter of the Laity. He is from the Province of Portugal. His appointment is for 6 years.

Fr Rui who was born at Harare, Zimbabwe made his first religious profession in the Order in 1981 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1985. He has a PhD in the Science of Documentation and Archives.

Before his appointment, he has been the Archivist and the Promoter of the Dominican Laity in his province. He was also a Military Chaplain, chaplain of the Sovereign Order of Malta and the Secular Institute of Caritas Christi.

Fr Rui succeeds fr David Kammaler, who after serving in the office for 6 years, will be returning to his home Province of Teutonia. He is going to continue to serve as the Assistant Promoter of the Dominican Family in his province.

On behalf of the Master of the Order, fr Bruno Cadoré and the entire General Curia, we wish fr David the best in his future endeavour.


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Main decisions of the General Chapter of Trogir

Check out the wealth of information on the General Chapter available at its website.

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Lord, send us miracles!

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The General Chapter of the Order of Preachers has opened!

2013-07-22-Capitulum_Trogir-02-sOn the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, patroness of the Order of Preachers, little over a hundred Dominican friars from all over the world, elected by their brothers to represent them, celebrated holy Mass in the church of the Holy Cross on the island of Čiovo and thus started the General Chapter of the Order of Preachers in Trogir, Croatia.

The Master of the Order, fr. Bruno Cadore, OP, celebrated the holy Mass together with his predecessors fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP and fr. Carlos Aspiroz Costa, OP. All the members of the Chapter, diffinitors, guests, and hosts alike participated in the liturgical celebrations. The church of the Holy Cross and the Dominican convent of the same name were built on the 15th century. The builders of the church could have never imagined a General Chapter being held inside its walls.

During the first plenary session, the Provincial of the Croatian Dominican Province, fr. Anto Gavrić, OP, welcomed all the members of the Chapter. The Mayor of Trogir, Mr. Ante Stipčić, also welcomed the capitulars on behalf of all the citizens of Trogir and the surrounding area. The chapter’s work started in good spirits.

During the afternoon session Msgr. Želimir Puljić, Archbishop of the city of Zadar and President of the Croatian Bishops Conference visited the chapter and in a short address welcomed all the delegates to Trogir and to Croatia.

Some of the important topics that will be discussed by the delegates during the various plenary and work group sessions are: Jubilee of the Order in 1216, preaching, formation, study, common life, government and continued renewal of the Order.

The first day of the General Chapter ended with the solemn notes of vespers spreading through the hallways and the cloister of the convent of the Holy Cross. After evening prayer there was a Rite of Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration.

The Chapter is expected to convene and continue its work until August the 8th 2013.


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The Sound of Barking Dogs: Meister Eckhart and Thomas Aquinas

Video of the 2012 Aquinas Lecture.  This is the 29th iteration of the Lecture.

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The Spiritual Journey of the Nuclear Family

JUDEO-CHRISTIAN faith has always been thought of as a journey. The earliest biblical creeds sum up Israelite faith not in terms of a list of doctrines, not in ten commandments, but in the form of a journey. “I brought your father Abraham from the region beyond the River and led him through the entire land of Canaan . . . . Afterward I led you out of Egypt . . . . I brought you into the land of the Amorites” (Josh. 24:3, 6, 8). Exodus, exile, return form the leitmotif of Old Testament salvation history. And Yahweh is the Lord of all history. “Did I not bring the Israelites from the land of Egypt as I brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Aramenians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7). In and through the history of Israel, and not apart from it, the Lord was disclosed to the chosen people. By a faith-informed meditation on its national story, Israel came to understand who God is and what the destiny of Israel was meant to be.

Many classics of the spiritual life, from St. Augustine’s Confessions to Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, were conceived in the form of a journey. St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God, St. Teresa of Avila’s Way of Perfection, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and many other spiritual masterpieces are worked out along the lines of a journey. In fact, for medieval theology life here on earth was essentially in via — “on the way.” Vatican II, echoing the words of St. Augustine, says “the church, ‘like a pilgrim in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,’ announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes.”  The Christian family too, the “domestic church,” shares in its own ways in the great journey of faith, God’s people marching toward the kingdom of God. All Christian life is a participation in the great passover of the Son who came out from God, proclaimed the kingdom of God, suffered and died, and then was raised up by the Father.

happy-familyIn the following pages I would like to meditate on four themes from biblical tradition that illuminate the special spiritual journey of Christian marriage and family life. I will begin with the ideal suggested in the very first pages of Genesis, then move to the more prosaic Israelite reality of marriage as evidenced in Proverbs. Next, I will take the ecstatic dimensions of married love alluded to in the prophets and celebrated in the Song of Songs. Finally, I will point out how Christian marriage participates in the eschatological vision of Christian faith.

The first of these themes relates to the creation of the first couple recounted in Genesis, chapter 2. After the author has set out the delightful story of the formation of Eve from Adam’s side, and after Adam has recognized in her “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” the text concludes: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body’ (Gen. 2:23-24).

Several things about this passage are striking. First of all, there is the fact that the man is said to leave his father and mother, whereas in actual fact, just the reverse is what usually happened. That is, normally, the woman left her father’s household and joined that of her husband. The Old Testament world was very patriarchal, not to say male chauvinist. The woman passed from being part of the property, admittedly of a very special sort, of her father or guardian and became part of the possessions (almost) of her husband and his clan. But the text here says that the man leaves his parents, as presumably the woman does as well, and together they form a new “body.” In terms of the economic and social facts of ancient Israel, there is no question here of the new couple’s literally moving out of the patriarchal household and settling into an apartment in the Jerusalem suburbs. The leaving involved is metaphorical. Husband and wife do leave the dominant sphere of their parents and create their own new center of life.


This image speaks to the first stage in the spiritual journey of every new family, every marriage. Spouses must leave behind large aspects of their past lives. To some degree they have to get out from under mothers’ skirts; they must stand up on their own apart from fathers’ security. Young couples imagine this is easy. They think nothing more attractive than to get out from under the burden of parental authority. But it is not very long before they begin to realize that they have brought a great deal of their parents along with them. It is the classic story of “but my mother used to make Sunday breakfast this way” and “my father used to do jobs like this as a matter of course.” Naturally not all of this is bad. If every couple had to invent the wheel all over again, marriage would be a hopeless proposition. We learn from our parents and our family’s traditions and experience. We grow out of the nurture we have all received. Good families lead to good families, and shaky families do not readily produce strong new ones.

Still, it remains true that spouses have to make a serious journey when they get married. They have to go out of something comfortable in a thousand ways that they never really noticed and start building another world. This surrender demands a level of self-abnegation that challenges all couples in the first few years of marriage. When novices enter religious life, it is made very clear to them that they are leaving “the world” behind. They give up their possessions to a degree, they put on new clothes, they assume a wholly different discipline. Marriage too has its novitiate, its period of testing and surrender of worlds now past. As a Christian couple enters a new life together, as they take on a new Christian vocation, they are called to go out of other houses and into a new one. They are addressed as Abraham was: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your fathers house to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).

Another aspect of the Genesis account that evokes the spiritual journey of marriage is the writer’s saying that the man and woman “become one body.” The one body, the unity of marriage and of family love, is not something achieved in an instant. As the Genesis story is set up, Eve is indeed created for Adam, but the Bible does not just leave it at that. Adam and Eve are suited to each other in a large sense, but they do not constitute some sort of automatic, mechanical “fit.” A popular theory assumes that marital happiness depends on finding the right mate. It is as if one were going to a hardware store, looking for the right size fixture to go with what one already has. “We are right for each other.” Across the crowded ballroom of the world one catches sight of the perfect match for oneself, a person who just fits one’s personality. Or there is the tabloid write-up on the movie star’s marrying for the umpteenth time and remarking, “I think it’s the right one this time.” Surely there has to be a certain basic commonality for a realistic marriage; but in the final analysis, marriage and family unity is something the couple creates, not something it discovers. Spouses have to become one body. Of course, this growing together is something that should have started during courtship. There should be a great deal of oneness before the wedding. But unity does not just sit there. When it comes to interpersonal relations generally, and certainly when it comes to families with children, change is the rule, not the exception. Unity is something that has to be constantly nurtured. Becoming one is a lifelong task.

Finally, Adam and Eve become one body. This phrase touches on the fundamental antinomy of married life. Adam is still Adam, Eve is still Eve — they are even more fully themselves through this relationship — but at the same time they are also one. Many young people are afraid of marriage because they fear losing part of their autonomy, part even of their authentic selves. In many ways spouses do surrender things. Each takes a vow of obedience not altogether different from that of religious. There is a sense in which both consent to “obey” the other. Love, honor, and obey are reciprocal. Each agrees to be led by his or her spouse, to be open to the other’s needs and aspirations and to make them part of their common life project. Of course, no one can or should cease t be a unique self. No one should enter marriage abandoning that personal spiritual journey each person begins at birth and Christian baptism. Each spouse has a unique voice to contribute to the chorus of creation. Marriage simply means that each spouse undertakes to carry out that personal project, develop that unique melody, in concert with this special other. One’s own tastes, one’s own preferences, must be modulated to harmonize with those of one’s spouse. This adjusting at times means surrendering private preference to integrate family values into a greater whole. A husband tailors his career, his use of free-time, the way he spends the family purse in cooperation with, after discussion with, and sometimes in a difficult process of give-and-take with his wife. She too structures her own evolution, her own projects, her fulfillment of her own needs in relationship to, and in dialogue with, those of her husband. And both husband and wife constantly adjust their lives to cultivate the growing needs of their whole family. So being “one body” is not an easy task. It demands a level of generosity, of sympathetic insight, of sacrificial love that challenges the best of Christian spouses.


Another part of Old Testament tradition that helps us work out some of the dynamics of Christian family spirituality is the Book of Proverbs. This book is a part of a biblical wisdom that grew out of people’s practical experience. A good deal of it touches on aspects of marriage and family life. There are many passages, for example, that talk about the importance of marriage fidelity, though not always in terms we would today find wholly adequate. Adultery is bad, not because it goes against God’s law or is a violation of the marriage covenant, but rather because it leads to trouble and more trouble. Besides, adultery is an offense against the other husband’s property. Still, according to Proverbs, a happy marriage is one of the greatest goods of life. “A worthy wife is the crown of her husband,” and we would add, “A worthy husband is the crown of his wife.” There are also many passages in Proverbs about the proper formation of children, and this too is a great part of the journey of the Christian family. The famous advice, “He who spares his rod hates his son,” comes from Proverbs (13:24).

But I would particularly like to reflect on the concluding chapter of Proverbs with its picture of the ideal wife (31:10-31). We generally get a rather one-sided picture of the role of women from a quick reading of the Old Testament. It seems that men do all the legislating, all the ruling, most of the prophesying. Of course, there are important figures like Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was actually far more significant historically than the present state of the Bible lets on. There is Deborah, the heroine of the Book of judges; there are powerful queen-mothers, fleeting glimpses of soothsayers and the like, brave Esther in the court of Ahasuerus, and the marvelous if rather bloody story about Judith who chopped off the head of evil Holofernes. So, given a suppressed tradition of female heroism in biblical history, pretty generally the Old Testament is a male dominated book. The fact that it was written exclusively by men (the Holy Spirit had to work with what the culture provided) is probably not incidental to this fact.

Proverbs_ideal_wifeBut when we look at this picture of the ideal wife in Proverbs, we see something else. Here is a woman who is no abject wallflower, no mere appendage of her husband. She feeds and clothes her household with great skill and industry; she negotiates real estate deals, plants vineyards, engages in trade and generally runs a fairly complicated outfit. Furthermore, she is no fool: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel” (31:26). So she is obviously a very competent person and charged with substantial family responsibilities. She is no harem slave nor does she merely derive her identity from her husband. Of course, in our view, she seems to work like a demon, while her husband is pictured “prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land” (31:23). Finally, she is presented, not as some sexy Ms. Israel, but as a religious person with dignity deriving from inner values and not from standard sexist conventions. “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (31:30).

The point is that, when we look at the Book of Proverbs as a whole, there is a certain tension in the way the wife-husband relationship is presented. On the one hand, the woman is said to be either a worthy crown of her husband or as “rot in his bones” (12:4). Frequently woman is presented as temptress: “The lips of an adulteress drip with honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil” (5:3). In any case, in these passages woman is presented as deriving meaning from her relationship with men. The ideal wife of Proverbs’ thirty-first chapter, however, though doubtless a blessing to her husband, is riot — simply his profitable servant and compliant flatterer. She has dignity because she is a creative person in her own right. And her ultimate meaning comes from her relationship with God, not from her service to a husband.

Now an important part of the spiritual journey of Christian families today is connected with the women’s movement. To the consternation of some men, women are more and more insisting on growing up. They are not content with being a “total woman” when that means being a sycophant and toady to an egocentric husband. Though it is not a wholly new phenomenon, women more often today are striving to discover their own collective and individual personhoods, aside from their relationships with men, whether husbands or fathers. Becoming one body, as Genesis recommends, today demands something different from a woman’s becoming submerged in the personality and career of her husband. This evolution in contemporary culture demands growth in women, requires them to assume responsibility for their lives, but it also calls for at least as great growth on the part of men. Of course, there are those passages in Paul and the Pastoral Letters where wives are urged to “be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). But it is also Paul who insists that “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Whatever may have been true in the patriarchal world of ancient Judaism, Paul insists: “If anyone is in Christ, he [or she] is a new creation. The old order has passed away; now all is new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). That change ought to include the end of wives considered as family chattel.

But if in Christ all has been made new in principle, the fact is we have not worked that all out in the realities of our daily lives yet. There is a work of redemption within the structure of the family unit that still needs to be accomplished. Christian wives must be able to affirm all that is positive in the women’s movement today, without having to fight an antiquated world view dolled up in Christian slogans about “God’s chain of command” and the like. Here in another form we have the theme already touched on earlier — the need for spouses to develop as individual persons and their need to do that growing in union with each other. This process of growing together, when women are more and more assuming their rightful places in the worlds of work, politics, church, and family life, is a call to mutual growth that earlier generations of Christian spouses did not have to face quite as starkly. How to give women and men their Christian liberty without jeopardizing the “one body” of family unity is a journey of faith too.


The Song of Songs is surely one of the most astonishing parts of the Bible. Here is a whole book without a single mention of God, Moses, covenant, law, or any other typically biblical theme. In fact, to all intents and purposes, the whole thing is florid love poetry. Many scholars think the Song of Songs is a gathering of traditional marriage feast songs. When the rabbis of the early Christian era determined the canon of Jewish sacred scripture, the Song of Songs is said to have posed serious problems. Then, the story goes, Rabbi Akiba, after many days and nights of pious meditation, concluded that this love story was in fact a celebration of the love relationship between Yahweh and Israel. There can be little doubt that some such understanding is at the bottom of the Israelite will to include this text in the Bible. In fact, long before the composition of the Song of Songs in late biblical times, beginning with the prophet Hosea, it was considered especially apt to compare God’s love for Israel with that of a faithful spouse. Yahweh says to Israel: “I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord” (Hos. 2:21-22).

The point is, if we want to know something about what God is, we should reflect on the nature and meaning of a good marriage. The more we come to really know, to experience in our bones, as it were, what human love really is, to that degree we can come to understand what God’s inner meaning is as the great lover of humanity. As the First Letter of John puts it: “Everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God . . . for God is love” (4:7-8). When Christian spouses, in fact when all members of a Christian family, grow in love, make love a tangible reality in their lives, they are growing in their knowledge of, their experience of, what God really is deep down within. The journey of love in family life is at the same time a journey of faith.

But it works both way Just as our knowledge of human love tells us something special about what God is, so our reflection on God’s love gives us some notion of what human married love ought to be. Spouses should have the same faithful, forgiving, constant, creative, intimate, selfless, patient, everlasting love for each other as the history of God’s dealings with Israel displays. God’s love in biblical tradition, culminating in the sending of his Son, is the supreme model and goal of all Christian family love.

There is another dimension to the biblical notion of married love and its religious implications here. The Song of Songs is a very sensual book. It begins, “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth” (1:1), and goes on from there. One of my favorite passages is: “Your navel is a round bowl that should never lack for mixed wine” (7:3). A contemporary novelist might have some difficulty beating that. What I mean is that the love which constitutes married love and which mirrors God for us is not just some sort of ethereal, spiritual love. It includes a very earthy, sensual, even erotic, sexual love. Human married love becomes fully human, flowers as an earthly reality, when it vibrates in every fiber of the spouses’ selves. One of the tasks of the journey of married love is to make Christian married love reverberate in the very fleshly life of marriage too. Ever since St. Augustine at least, there has been a tendency to look on sexual love with suspicion in Christian circles. St. Augustine connected original sin with concupiscence, which included the all-absorbing tendencies of human sexuality. He thought that if it had not been for original sin, sexual intercourse would have transpired with the same calm indifference with which a farmer sows seed in a field.

Still, there is no gainsaying the chaotic tendencies of human sexuality. Perhaps these tendencies as well as Canaanite fertility rites lie behind the sexual overtones of the story of the fall in the third chapter of Genesis — the business about nakedness and the serpent symbol. Paul, too, inveighs against pagan sexual excess and warns Christians against slipping into that world. Certainly there is no need for proof that sexuality in our contemporary world is often deliriously out of kilter. Integrating sexuality into a truly Christian life is not an automatic or easy task. Orchestrating sexuality into married love, making erotic love an authentic extension of the spiritual communion of the spouses, is a considerable achievement. It is not just suppressing animal instincts; it is a matter of humanizing them, training them to dance to the music of human love.

He that finds a wifeToday there is a whole, mostly wrong-headed technology of sexual love which labors under the illusion that good sex depends on good technique. Reality is otherwise. The quality of sexual love in marriage depends directly on the quality of the love relationship overall. Though I do not know how reliable they are, some statistics seem to show that religious couples tend to have markedly more satisfactory sexual relations than nonreligious ones. I would not claim this universal, but it does stand to reason. Mature, religious spouses see their marriage relationship as an aspect of, or an implementation of, their total vocation to married love. The better that love is, the more highly motivated, the more satisfactory sexual expression of that love is likely to be. Several years ago journalists had a field day when Pope John Paul II suggested that Jesus’ saying from the Sermon on the Mount, “Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts” (Matt. 6:28), applied to married couples as well. Big joke — the celibate pope is against erotic love even in marriage. The fact is that the pope was defending a good feminist position. Women (and men for that matter) should not be treated as sexual objects in any circumstances. Even in marriage, sexual love ought to be a celebration of the unity of the married couple. Sexual love ought to echo the inner meaning of God’s own self. Egotistical, self-centered, exploitative love will not do.

But here too there is a marriage journey. No one has it all together in an instant. Lower life, insects and the like, have their whole sexual identity at the moment of maturity, but human beings have to grow into sexual integration over a long period of time. In fact, this too is a journey never totally complete. Sexual experience sometimes radiates divine love in the texture of Christian marriage; at other times it seems much less. Here too marriages are always on the way to becoming all they should be.


Finally, Christian marriage has an eschatological dimension. It points toward the final reconciliation of all creation in the kingdom of God. In the Book Revelation, heaven is pictured as one grand wedding feast: “Let us rejoice and be glad, and give him glory! For this is the wedding day of the Lamb” (12:7). Jesus too defends his frequenting banquets by picturing himself as a bridegroom at whose feast all should celebrate: “How can wedding guests go in mourning so long as the groom is with them?” (Matt. 9:15). Jesus in his parables speaks of the kingdom of God in terms of a wedding feast to which all are invited, at which all should be wearing their wedding garments, and the like. Marriage, a good marriage I hasten to add, is a fitting image of the kingdom of God. The joy, intimacy, and ecstasy of human hearts in marriage will be universal characteristics of the end-time. Authentic married love is for Christians a foretaste, a proleptic sign, of the eschaton.

It is, of course, frequently said that consecrated virginity is an eschatological sign too. Jesus himself says that in heaven people “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt 22:30). Those who have chosen celibacy as a life-style “for the sake of God’s reign” (Matt. 12:12) show forth in the world the absolute universality of God’s love. Celibates try to share their love with all as equally as possible. In this way they anticipate the community of paradise where each will be tied to all others without excluding any. But both celibacy and Christian marriage mirror differing aspects of the end-time. Celibacy shows the selflessness, universality, and fidelity of God’s love. Married love, on the other hand, celebrates the intimacy and intensity of the love that will bind the universe together when “Christ is everything in all” (Col. 3:11).

Here on earth we can only gradually realize all that we will be. But Christian families, each in its own unique way, are traveling along that journey to the kingdom of God, becoming ever more and more one, radiating the inner reality of God in human flesh, and anticipating here below the final state of all creation, “beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband” (Rev. 21:2).

The article above was written by Dr. Francis, W. Nichols, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Louis University.  It was published in the Spring 1984 issue of SPIRITUALITY TODAY, Vol. 36, No. 1, pp. 4-14.

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