St. Cecilia’s Basilica – Photograph Courtesy Lawrence OP
Inside of St. Cecilia’s Basilica in Rome, there lies a beautiful piece of first-century Christian mosaic artwork. The mosaic depicts St. Cecilia and her husband Valerian, who were both martyrs of the early Church. Standing between them is Jesus, holding each of their hands. This image beautifully illustrates one of the most important lessons about Christian marriage: It takes three to make a marriage — one man, one woman, and Christ. The man and the woman come together, giving their lives to one another, and Christ takes His place at the center of their union as the one who protects and sustains it.
Christ can take His place at the center of a marriage only when a husband and wife allow Him to do so. Just as each person is free to accept or reject the gift of God’s grace in their hearts, married couples are free to accept or reject Jesus as the most important part of their lives together. The world provides many distractions that take our attention away from Jesus, who should be the focal point of our lives. Placing Jesus at the head of a marriage requires a daily decision to follow Him and live by the teachings He gives to us through His Word and through His Church. Here are some practical ways to keep Christ at the center of your Catholic marriage.
Make God the first priority. No matter what our vocation may be, all Christians are called to place God first in their lives. As 1 John 4:16 states, “God is love, and he who lives in love lives in God, and he who does not know love does not know God, for God is love.” In the vocation of marriage, both husband and wife can love one another selflessly and unconditionally only after they have come to know, love, and have a relationship with God. Therefore, it is important for husbands and wives to take time every day to nurture their relationship with God through prayer, study of the Scriptures, and personal reflection.
Make your spouse the next priority. While God is the most important priority in each person’s life, a person’s spouse is the second most important priority. As the age old analogy of putting on one’s own oxygen mask before helping someone else illustrates, it is important to take care of our own health and wellbeing in order to be able to serve others. In Ephesians 5:28-30, Saint Paul writes, “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body.” Since husbands and wives are one with each other, nurturing one’s spouse is the same as nurturing oneself. A happy, healthy marriage is the foundation on which the upbringing of children is built. The children of each marriage ultimately make up the community of God’s people. If the foundation of marriage falters, the children and community will falter along with it. Therefore, the relationship with one’s spouse is the second most important priority because it is the foundation on which our society stands. Couples can place each other as a top priority by taking time for close communication with each other. Whether through a weekly date night, a daily cup of coffee at home, or another enjoyable activity shared alone together, one on one time with one’s spouse is an important part of keeping each other as the second most important priority.
Make sure the Church and the Sacraments are a part of your life together. With God as the first priority and spouse as the second priority, husbands and wives should keep their marriage strong by taking part in the Church and the Sacraments. Christ makes Himself present to His people in the Eucharist, and so it is important to attend Mass weekly to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Jesus. Frequent participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation also gives husbands and wives the opportunity to grow closer to God and therefore more perfectly love each other and their children.
Teach your children the Faith. When a man and woman get married, they promise to bring their children up in the faith of Christ. Parents should take time every day to pray with their children. They should also make sure their children attend church and become educated in the Faith, whether through weekly Sunday school or by attending Catholic school. They can also encourage their children to deepen their faith by looking to the saints as role models and serving others through age-appropriate church ministries.
Share your Faith with God’s people. A Christ-centered marriage is a powerful witness to the sacrificial love Jesus demonstrated by His death on the cross for our salvation. When husbands and wives love each other selflessly and unconditionally, they set an example for their children, extended family, and the community. Husbands and wives can use their gifts and talents to serve others in the community and through church ministries. By serving others, married couples can allow the love of God to shine through them as a light to all of God’s people.