In our consumerist society, it seems as if anything and everything has become a commodity; disposable. Fulfillment is rooted in having the most up-to-date and advanced version of whatever is out there. We are constantly bombarded with the message that we won’t be complete unless we are in possession of the latest smartphone or driving next year’s model.
Sadly, this consumerist model also shapes the way many Catholics (lapsed or otherwise) approach the sacraments. I have sat through many sacramental parent meetings, only to have the person next to me whisper that the donation is a money-grab, followed by their best tips on how to get out of there as quickly as possible.
It saddens my heart even more when I watch people look at marriage in this same way. Once the lustre of the honeymoon wears off, it’s not uncommon to see one spouse or the other wander off, looking for a more up-to-date or advanced version. Unfortunately, the numbers the media present support this observation, and even encourage this behaviour. Even our vocabulary has moved from the permanence of ‘spouse’, ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ to the more transient notion of ‘partner’ – making our significant other more of an option or choice.
Yet, the societal ideal is the “until death do us part” foreverness of a joyful marriage. So, how is this attainable when everything in our culture (from tabloids in the supermarket to the commercials on TV) not only tells us it’s impossible, but points us in the other direction? Reflecting on over 20 years of marriage, I have come to realize that our Catholic faith has not only supported, but also strengthened our marriage.
It’s true. Our Catholic faith has given my wife and I the key ingredients for a successful marriage: Trust, Forgiveness, Humility, Service, Thanksgiving and Prayer. The longer and deeper our marriage becomes, the more keenly aware I have become of how these tenants of the Catholic faith have deepened my relationship with my wife.
The contemporary wedding invitation I have received all too often has announced: “Today I marry my best friend.” Although this may be somewhat true, if you are following God’s will, on your wedding day you marry the one whom He chose at your conception to compliment you and complete you; the person who makes you a better you. This is why Christ teaches us, “For this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Mt. 19:5)
If you cannot trust yourself, then who can you trust? Love does not call us to lock the other up in a cupboard, hoarding them to ourselves. Marriage calls us to compliment and complete the other, helping them become the person God has called them to be, helping them get to heaven. In doing this we build up trust. A trust that our spouse will support us. A trust that our spouse will be a shoulder to cry on. A trust that our spouse will be there not only in times of joy, but also in times of darkness. A trust that when our spouse guides us back onto the path towards God, it’s because they love us.
This trust in our spouse actually frees us, allowing us to become the person God created us to be.
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul exhorts us to, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32)
Like in any relationship, there will be things your husband or wife does that drive you crazy. It’s unavoidable. Whenever I come across one of these rare moments, before I say anything, I take a deep breath and realize that there are probably a hundred times more things that I do that drive my wife a million times more crazy that the small, insignificant matter in front of me at that moment. Having seen too many mountains made out of molehills, I don’t say a word, and silently forgive.
Don’t get me wrong, to forgive isn’t to look the other way; to forgive is to look at the other’s fault and say, “I love you anyway.” To forgive isn’t necessarily to remain silent either, if the issue is important enough, it could linger like a simmering pot and eventually explode. Since their pain of hurting you will be far greater than they pain they caused you, one of the more difficult things to do is to tell your spouse how they have hurt you. This said, nothing will build trust and make your marriage stronger than saying, “You have hurt me, but I love you anyway.”
Marriage is not for the selfish.
Learning to forgive is probably the easiest part of living together as a married couple, while learning to be forgiven and to ask for forgiveness are probably the most difficult. It takes a humbled heart to recognize the wrong it has done, and to ask for mercy and forgiveness.
Also, in a culture that has told us since birth to be strong, independent and to follow our dreams, it is difficult to put all of this aside and begin saying ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ and ‘me’. This is probably why Ephesians 5:21-33 is the most balked at reading offered for the marriage liturgy. Many women put a stop to the reading at the second verse: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.” (Eph 5:22) and rightfully so – no individual should be subject to another, especially in marriage. Stopping here, however, they miss out on the best line they could ever ask for: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, …” (Eph 5:25) Yes, as husband is called to die to himself, so that he can bring his bride closer to heaven. Keeping this in mind, both husband and wife need to remember that they are no longer two individuals, but have become one; and therefore need to think as a cohesive unit. Both husband and wife must check their ego at the altar.
“I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
Standing before God, and in front of friends and family, spouses make a vow of perpetual service to one another. In the vibrancy of youth, with lives and opportunities laid out before them, it’s easy for newlyweds to hear their vows as simply ‘for better, for richer and in health’ and forgetting that there could ever be a ‘for worse, for poorer and in sickness’.
Marriage is ‘until death do us part’, a lifetime. There will be moments when one spouse will be called into service for the other. This will become all the more evident as we grow old together, as bodies fail physically and financial resources are strained. Whenever work, family and household responsibilities seem to overwhelm us, one spouse will step up to help the other through. Whenever my wife or I recognize that we couldn’t do it with out the other, the response is always the same: “We’re a team.”
Conventional wisdom given to newlyweds on their wedding day is usually, “Never go to bed angry.” Yet I have heard even better advice during a homily given at a cousin’s wedding: “Every night before you go to bed, get down on your knees and say a prayer of thanksgiving for your spouse.” And I do this every night! I thank God for having the foresight to create us for each other at our conception, to both compliment and complete each other.
Marriage is also the best place to create a culture of thanksgiving. When husband and wife make the effort to thank each other for the small acts of kindness they do, they create a home of love and joy. Even greater the love and joy that is created when spouses thank each other for the mundane – washing the dishes, folding the laundry, cleaning a toilet. When this spousal thanksgiving is witnessed by children, it becomes a part of what they think is normal, helping them to go out and create the culture of thanksgiving that the world so desperately needs.
“The family that prays together stays together.”
The main responsibility of a husband is to help his wife get to heaven. The main responsibility for a wife is to get her husband to heaven. Together, their main responsibility as parents is to get their children to heaven. The route to heaven for all of us is to build up our relationship with God, through Christ in prayer.
Prayer in marriage can be as simple as saying grace before meals. A practice that has grown in our home from the standard prayer to some that are more fluid, personal and public (when we eat out). We have also developed the habit of a morning benediction, a moment of prayer asking for God’s grace as a family before we head our separate ways. At bedtime we will also pray, either as a family or individually, thanking God for his many blessings. Most importantly, we celebrate the sacraments together, regularly attending Reconciliation, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration together as a family. Through this prayer life our family has not only rejoiced in thanksgiving at the good times, but also found solace and support in the more difficult times.
Each family is as unique as its members. Each married couple will find that these tenants of the Catholic faith will permeate and support their marriage in a different way. When, as married couples, we choose to say, “Jesus, I trust in you!” allowing him to guide our marriage through our Catholic faith, we will find that our marriages can become an enduring bulwark, a beacon among the tumultuous waves of our present culture.