In 1805 explorers of Franconia Notch in NH were amazed to see an outcropping of rock formation on the side of a mountain that resembled the profile of an old man. This “old man of the mountain” became the icon of New Hampshire, appearing on license plates, toll tokens, and road signs. Suddenly in the middle of the stormy night of May 3, 2003 the tons of rock forming the icon collapsed. The resulting ruins left the state’s icon unrecognizable!
Committees met to discuss what could be done about the calamity. Restoring the rocks to their original appearance seemed impossible. Eventually a brilliant solution was proposed. The state created a viewing area at the base of the mountain and designed six steel profilers. These poles were installed on May 11, 2011. By standing on a marked stone and looking through one eye at the side of a steel profiler a person can now see a restored view of the Old Man on the Mountain!
The recovery of an icon is a great gift. In our society the icon value of marriage has been devastated by the vast increase in divorce and the skewed view of marriage propagated by such entities as the United States Supreme Court. Marriage between man and woman is intended by God to be an icon of the marriage of Divinity with humanity that occurred through the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 5:31-32). How can we once again begin to recognize the beauty of this icon?
When the Pharisees asked Jesus why Moses had allowed a man to divorce his wife and marry another Jesus said, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). The first 23 Theology of the Body talks that Pope St. John Paul II gave beginning in 1979 focused on what Jesus meant by saying “from the beginning it was not so.” It was John Paul II’s goal to restore in the minds of the people a perspective on the icon of marriage as an expression of mankind’s call to eternal communion with God. Through being created male and female in His image and likeness and called to self-giving love and fruitfulness man and woman were called to establish the family as a communion of loving persons reflecting the Triune God. John Paul II went on in his subsequent 106 talks to explain how Jesus Christ, Redeemer, has come as Bridegroom and united through Baptism and Eucharist His Bride, the Church to Himself as One Body. Jesus has given us His own Spirit and allowed us to call God “Father.” He has made His Bride, the Church exceedingly fruitful. Marriage between man and woman continues to be the icon of this reality.
If a person looks only at the ruins of the current culture’s view of marriage it is difficult to imagine how beautiful was the gift of marriage in God’s original creation before the fall. The icon value of marriage has been shattered by original sin and centuries of subsequent sin—but not beyond redemption. In his brilliant presentation of the Theology of the Body which can be found in the book Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II has given humanity a renewed perspective on God’s original plan for man and woman before the fall and on God’s re-establishment of the integrity of marriage through Jesus Christ the Redeemer. The icon of earthly marriage is meant to lead us toward the deeper Reality which alone can satisfy our hearts forever. It is the invitation to eternal communion with the Blessed Trinity and the whole communion of saints. It’s all a matter of getting the right perspective!