If anyone was wondering about that when they attended a recent talk by Bishop R. Walker Nickless in Sioux City, they may have gotten some surprising answers:
He provided several examples of his experiences dealing with marriage.
“I am one of 10 children. I watched my parents grow in their married love for 57 years,” said Bishop Nickless, whose mom died 10 days after his ordination as a bishop. Being the oldest, he noted that he saw both good and challenging things in his parents’ married life. He called them “a very normal couple with a normal family.”
After his mother died, Bishop Nickless said he experienced five years of watching his father miss his wife. “In some ways I think my dad died this past September of a broken heart,” he added.
Bishop Nickless mentioned that eight of his siblings are married and he witnessed seven of the marriages. In those relationships he has seen not only blessings but struggles, and despite challenges all remain married.
As a priest, the bishop noted, he had prepared hundreds of couples for marriage.
“I really loved to prepare couples for marriage and communication was at the center of everything we had to do,” he said. “They really needed to know each other and share things with one another.”
While the bishop didn’t shy away from talking to the couples about cohabitation, Bishop Nickless acknowledged that he wishes he would have spent more time educating them about contraception and natural family planning. He also wishes he would have stressed the importance of spending time in prayer as a couple.
“Those are some of the reasons why I have some knowledge about marriage, but there is another reason – I’m married,” he said. “I am married to the church, you are my beloved and I am called to lay down my life for you. Priests represent Christ and his bride is the church.”Using a Scripture reference, the bishop said that in marriage a man and woman are united with each other and the two become one flesh.
“They love each other as they love themselves and cherish each other’s bodies as their own,” he said. “This union is an image of the relationship between Christ and his church.”
The bishop quoted St. Paul, “He who loves his wife, loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it even as Christ does the church because we are members of his body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife and the two become one flesh. This is a great mystery but I speak in reverence to Christ and the church.”
Bishop Nickless pointed out that St. Paul used this image of marriage to help understand the relationship between Christ and his church.
“All of you who are in the sacrament of marriage, reflect that for us,” he said. “You are reflections of what Christ’s love for the church is all about. The way you lay down your lives for each other just as Christ did for us is a great example to the church and especially to us as priests.”
Priests, the bishop noted, have the advantage of seeing many, many married couples. They can experience the couple’s pains, sorrows and disappointments. But they can also see the many joys.
“It is wonderful to be in a happy marriage,” Bishop Nickless said. “I want to thank all of you who struggle everyday to make your marriages work. It is not only work, but it can become a real source of grace and holiness.”
He told them that God called them to the vocation of marriage so that they can help each other get to heaven.