The two sides of a Sacrament
Any sacrament has two aspects in it: the “objective” grace of the sacrament, and the “subjective” one. They are both operative within the human being who receives the sacrament, but they operate differently. The “objective” one is the core of the sacrament, what constitutes it. The “subjective” grace is the capacity in us to handle the “objective” one. Let me explain that aspect with an example. Don’t be surprised since I’ll take the example of Priesthood, the Sacrament of the Order, it just helps us “see” better the double aspect.
When a baptised human being is ordained priest, he receives two graces of different types:
1- one is the “seal of Priesthood”, which is Jesus’ objective and active presence in him, Jesus as the “head of the Church”, the “Leader of the Community”: it is a service to his brothers and sisters.
2- the other one is the “grace of Priesthood”, a specific grace that helps the Priest, in his weakness, handle the weight of this "active Presence of Jesus in him", and bare fruits.
Remember that the Presence of Jesus in the Priest is unique for it allows him to act “in the Person of Christ”: Celebrate Mass, consecrate the bread and wine (by repeating Jesus’ words) into the Body and Blood of Jesus, lead the Community, give the Absolution from sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation and manifest in a more specific way the Presence of Jesus-Priest amongst us.
This "active Presence of Jesus" in the Priest is something much higher/bigger/heavier than the normal human capacity (the natural side of the man who is a priest). Therefore, in order to carry it, and perform his tasks in a well-fashioned manner, the Priest needs to be able to handle this “divine weight”.
To a degree, we can say that the person of the Priest has two sides, or two “beings”:
1- one is his “divine” side: the Sacramental Presence of Christ-Priest in him, head and leader of the Community;
2- the second is the “human side”, the way he lives and handles his Priesthood. The presence of a specific Grace in his human nature helps him handle the “weight” of this Presence of Jesus in him. This specific grace is given jointly with his Priesthood. The ordination in fact (like any sacrament, including Marriage) is a double grace. God gives all together “a Gift” and “the power to handle this gift” (to hold it, to manage it).
We often focus our attention on the greatness of the Priesthood and we forget that this greatness is put in a normal person, a weak human being, that needs help to handle this greatness. The greater the Gift, the greater the graces given to help handle it. God's gifts are holy and they require holiness to be able to handle them. The Gift comes with the necessary help to become, step by step, holy in order to handle the Gift.
When we look at a Priest - any Priest - with the eyes of faith, we need to remember these two sides/aspects in him. When a Priest “looks” at himself “in a mirror”, he “sees” these two sides in himself.
Therefore, it is not enough to focus only on the Presence of Christ in the Priest (the Seal of Priesthood), since it can lead us/him to forget all the personal work he has to do in order to be able to receive the grace that help him handle the Grace of his Priesthood. This grace will lead him to the necessary and specific holiness he needs in his call to Priesthood.
I would say that the Sacrament of Marriage has as well these two aspects in it. I call them, with a little exaggeration: the “divine side” and the “human side” of the sacrament (any sacrament). Forgive the exaggeration, and please try to see why I am using it. I am not splitting the atom, or splitting the sacrament, on the contrary I underline all the human responsibility in order to handle the sacrament. God doesn’t give us a great sacrament (each sacrament is great) and leaves us with it to deal with it. We would be helpless… holding with “weak” hands a very precious Gift.
We have everything in the Sacrament of Baptism (the central sacrament of our life): through it we receive all the Life of the Trinity in us. It is like a Divine Seed, and we are supposed to make it grow. But we hardly hear about the second (“subjective”) aspect of the Sacrament, that deals with the “human side” of it: the specific grace that God gives us in order to help us feed this Divine Seed in us, and take care of it, until it reaches fruition.
Sacrament of Marriage
I am sure that, by now, you can visualize, in a better way, the Sacrament of Marriage. On one hand, God puts this “Fountain” of graces at the reach of the hand of the spouses, and on the other hand He gives them the needed help to “handle” this “Fountain”, to draw from it everyday. (see this Blog, that speaks about the Fountain)
One has to learn how to “use” the sacrament, and how to do so on a daily basis.
This brings us to what I want to say: “look at the Fountain, and look as well to the Grace that helps you make use of the Fountain”.
God doesn’t leave the couple, in their marital life, alone without help. Within the Sacrament, God gives a grace to help the couple remain alive, capable constantly to rely on the Grace of God they find in the Fountain.
Therefore it is important to acknowledge the fact that God offers us His Help in order to make use of the Grace of the Sacrament.
Let us take one example: if the couple doesn’t learn to pray together on a daily basis in order to ask for the Grace of God and learn to rely on it, if the couple doesn’t draw from the Fountain God made available to them, they’ll end up by looking similar to any other marriage. Because of our weakness and lack of spiritual transformation, it is much harder to deal with the “burden” of Marriage. Indeed it becomes a “burden” instead of a “help”, a “stimulus” in our way toward holiness.
Marriage is a real way toward holiness. For this reason God is ready to give all the needed graces to the couple, to their family (children), in order to reach holiness.
I hope you start to see the dynamic aspect of Christian Marriage.
“Ask and you shall receive.”
“Ask” is the grace that helps the human side of the Sacrament.
“and you shall receive” is the Grace of the Sacrament itself.
Very often we have the Fountain at the reach of the hand, but we don’t activate the grace of “asking” in order to Receive Water from the Fountain. “Asking” is a simple basic grace given to any human person who received a Sacrament.
The Sacrament is still alive, like a new Fountain installed in the middle of our inner Garden. The Spring is capable of giving water, but we need to draw from it. It becomes then operative, dynamic, in us.