One day, I was listening to St. Joseph’s Workshop on Relevant Radio, as I often do while running my children around in the afternoons. Fr. Matthew Spencer was reflecting on how difficult the vocation of marriage is. He said that people often ask him if he thought things would be so much better if priests could get married. He said that he responds, “Are you kidding?? I hear the confessions of married people! NO WAY!!” He said he was kidding, but I think he was only half-kidding because, let’s face it, marriage is hard!
On our wedding day, when we stand in front of our family and friends, our beloved, and our God, we have absolutely no idea what we’re saying “I do” to. As the years go by, just about anything could happen: illness (physical, spiritual, mental), alcoholism, gambling or pornography addiction, loss of a job or a dramatic change in a financial situation, post-partum or other depression, infidelity, communication issues, illness or loss of a child, a debilitating accident, stress or loneliness, disagreements on how to raise the children, etc., etc. I say all this, not to be depressing or pessimistic, but as a reminder that we were never promised that our vocation would be smooth sailing. In fact, it was just the opposite. We are promised that we will suffer and carry crosses, sometimes very heavy ones, but that, through our vocation, we will receive the graces necessary to carry those crosses.
I can’t help but think of Mary. When the angel Gabriel came to her to tell her of God’s will for her, she said “yes” without knowing what she was saying “yes” to, just like when married couples say “I do.” Remember, Mary’s intent was to remain a virgin, so she chose to forgo having children in the first place. She did not know what raising the Son of God would entail and she certainly couldn’t foresee the intense suffering she would watch her Son endure which, in turn, caused her own intense suffering. The best she got early on in this process was a prophecy from Simeon telling her that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:34-35). Despite all of the uncertainty ahead of her, she exhibited the virtue of perfect Faith and trusted God enough to give her fiat, no matter what unknown sufferings would lie ahead for her. That is exactly the virtuous response we are called to in marriage.
I have a book called The Cana Rosary, by Christopher Ebberwein, which contains rosary reflections for married couples. Sometimes my husband and I pray it together and sometimes I pray it alone for us. I want to share a paragraph from the reflection on the Scourging of Jesus because it really hones in on the heart of what we are called to in the vocation of marriage:
Could anything test our willingness to remain one? It is one thing to stay united when one of us is suffering, but quite another to stay united when one of us causes that suffering. The marriage promises are meant to sustain us when the world tried to place conditions on those promises: “Surely you’re not meant to put up with that.” No matter how well-intentioned others might be at such difficult times, it is the commitment – the vow – that allows us to respond, “Yes, we are. That’s what a promise is for.” And we must remember that the marriage in the presence of God and the Church gives us the help we need to persevere – God’s grace, his very life in us.
You see, the world’s idea of marriage is much different from our Catholic view of the vocation of marriage. The world tells you to seek out happiness for yourself and if you are no longer happy, move on. However, if happiness is our ultimate goal for a pursuit such as marriage, then we’ll all fail sooner or later. The goal of marriage should not necessarily be happiness – though you can certainly seek and have happiness. Rather, the goal is to use our crosses and offer up redemptive suffering to seek the ultimate good for our spouse which is eternal happiness in heaven. We also accept these crosses in order to grow in our own virtue for the sake of our own redemption.
The final key ingredient in a successful Catholic marriage, as mentioned in the reflection, is God’s grace. You may not have known to what you were saying “I do,” but God certainly knew and He asked you to trust Him and take that leap of faith anyway – just like He asked Mary – while promising to be with us every step of the way. Any one of the possible scenarios mentioned earlier that could be encountered in marriage is enough to push anyone over the edge. And if you are enduring more than one of those scenarios at any given moment, forget it. Our humanity just can’t handle it. We can only endure suffering like that with the help of God’s grace. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). If we are going to successfully and virtuously live out our vocation of marriage, we absolutely MUST invite God into it and accept the grace he offers us through the suffering that comes along with it.
Mary revealed to the children at Fatima that the “final battle” would be over marriage and the family. I think there is no doubt that we can see that in our world today. Make no mistake, Satan wants to destroy this vocation and he is doing everything he can to make that happen. But we, as faithful Christians, know, that despite his efforts, the war has already been won. It is our job to imitate Mary, to give our fiat despite whatever unseen crosses lie ahead for us and just pick them up with faith and trust. If we do that, we all will certainly see our spouses in heaven forever and what could be better than that?
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