Recently I heard two young women chatting in line at the grocery store about marriage. They debated the advantages and disadvantages, pondering whether it was responsible to bring children into a world full of hate, and plagued by climate change. They discussed the economic woes of our country such as unaffordable housing, rising gas and food prices, and the cost of rearing children. They listed various trendsetters in Hollywood, wondering if they are right - that marriage is merely a social convention passé in modern times.
As a wife and mother with 27 years in the vocation of marriage, I had difficulty remaining silent. I had much to say, but not in line at the grocery store while holding a carton of vanilla ice cream! I sense their viewpoint is widespread among young adults today, so I asked Our Lady to speak to their hearts, praying silently for all young people to see marriage as a calling and a gift to treasure.
As we enter the summer wedding season, I've been thinking about the conversation I overheard. I could not say all of this in line at the grocery store, but if these young women were my daughters, or other young women I cherish, here is what I would have told them about marriage:
A Beacon of Hope & Promise
Our world is not perfect. It is disordered and filled with painful and complicated problems, most of which have existed for generations, and few of which mankind has managed to solve.
War, famine, poverty, injustice, violence, and other great sufferings have been with us since the beginning of time. They are terrible consequences of man's sinful and imperfect nature. They should sadden us to the point of prayer, fasting, and responsible and compassionate action.
A marriage is a beacon of hope in a dark and disordered world. It is a sign of faith - not in frail human love - but in God who is Divine Love.
Marrying is your declaration of hope to the world, because you believe the Lord will carry you through whatever may come.
The Marriage of All & Nothing
Marriage is hard to do well. It requires a level of selflessness most people are incapable of sustaining on their own. God's grace fills in the cracks. Your spouse cannot fill you. That's God's role in your life.
If you hold your partner to that standard, you will never be happy in marriage. Do not leave God out, replace Him with your spouse, or treat Him as an afterthought in your marriage.
You two are the
nothing, and God is the All. We bring what we can into marriage, but our contribution is rather pathetic on its own! It is God who lavishes us with the graces required to love one another generously and suffer collective hardships well.
Together with Him, when He is a part of your married life, you can draw on His grace, rely upon His mercy, and trust in His providential care for you, regardless of what is happening in this moment.
Signs to One Another
The world teaches us to put ourselves first. In your marriage, strive to be a beautiful contradiction to the ways of the world, especially this one. Be a living sign for one another, and for those around you, of God's infinite and incredible love. Witness to sacrificial love as you reflect the ultimate gift of self, given by Jesus on the Cross.
“This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1615)
You have chosen your spouse, above all others, to share your entire earthly life. Reflect God's love in your care for your beloved. The world can be painful, cruel, and difficult, so be the image of God's tenderness and compassion for the one you love. Be a safe harbor in the storms of this world.
Your Mother's Instructions
Our Lord and the Blessed Mother always act in unison. She is the Mediatrix of All Graces. As a couple, you are her spiritual children, given to her by Jesus on the Cross. The first miracle of Jesus, at the behest of His mother, was the Wedding Feast at Cana.
At the feast, the Lord was obedient to Mary's request for help. The servants were obedient to her as she told them to "do whatever he tells you." There is no greater intercessor for you before the throne of God than Our Lady, to whom even Christ was obedient.
Follow her advice. Do whatever He tells you, and allow Him to turn the water of your marriage into the finest wine. Invite Our Lady into your marriage, and ask her to intercede for you always. Pray for her help in the cares and joys of married life.
An Eternal Perspective
Family members and friends will pass away. Jobs will be won and lost. You will make your home in different places, and be called to uproot yourselves and start anew. Children will be born and grow up. Sickness and death will come for each of you. Joys and hardships will unfold. You will endure all of this - and more - together.
Your marriage is not just about how you feel in this moment. In fact, much of marriage is not how we "feel" at all. It's about what we know is true. Feelings are fleeting; they turn on a dime.
The earthly life and the spiritual life are a series of peaks and valleys, and the landscape is ever-changing. There is one unchanging element in your marriage. Cling to that. It is God.
When you join yourself to another in Holy Matrimony, you become a stepping stone to God. Consider it your job to get your spouse to heaven. Work for it, pray for it, sacrifice for it, and embrace it. There is no greater way to show your love than to work for the sanctification of your beloved.
Open and Fruitful Love
Your union will be fruitful when you are open to His plans for your married life. These fruits may come in the form of children born to you, adopted by you, or fostered by you. They may be spiritual children, who are not your own, but need you in ways you cannot yet imagine. Entrust your marriage entirely to Him and He will make it fruitful, even if it is not in the ways you expect.
Should God bless you with children, recognize them as a supreme gift of marital love. He has asked you to cooperate with Him as He speaks a soul into being, and unites it to Himself! He has chosen you to nurture and care for an immortal soul alongside Him.
No one is promised a life free of worry, obligation, debt, or hardship. When these things come, remember that life has its seasons, and by entrusting yours to God, you will see the joyful ones again. Have faith. God is near. He will not leave you. Stay open to His desire for your marriage to be fruitful, and He will bless your openness.
Instituted by God
According to Sacred Scripture, the Lord instituted marriage on the sixth day of Creation.
“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:27-28).
“...it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him” (Genesis 2:18).
This special helpmate was formed from the very rib of man. Woman is “flesh of his flesh.” (Genesis 2:22-23).
She is man's equal in dignity, and she is the one creation of God the Father closest to man's heart. God established marriage. It is not a human institution, but a divine one.
Just as man was made new in Christ, marriage was also recreated in Christ. Because it is placed within the salvific mystery, Catholics honor it as a sacrament. We understand it as a means through which men and women grow in their love for others, participate with God in the coming of His Kingdom, and become holy so they can attain eternal life.
Refined by Love
Selfless generosity is not a natural inclination for any of us, but married love calls us to go beyond what is natural, in order to image the supernatural. Profoundly respect each other. Be grateful for, and to, one another. Humbly offer apologies and forgiveness in your marriage. These dispositions anchor your love in His.
Marriage is rarely "equal" in the short term. It's a marathon, not a sprint. There are times when more is required of one spouse, and times when the other must step up to a greater degree. There is no perfect marriage. They all have their complexities, because all spouses have their own unique flaws, experiences, wounds, and gifts.
Keep learning about your spouse. Allow yourself to be refined - radically changed - by love. Keep charity and humility as you grow together. Work to understand yourselves and each other, and recognize that your spouse will also change. One day, you will look back and be amazed at the speed of this life.
Time passes more quickly than you can imagine as the story of your life together unfolds. It is a story of your love as a couple, but it is also a unique and incredible story of God's grace, love, mercy, and generosity. It is a story of His faithfulness and His sense of humor. It is an incredible lesson in His providential love. It is one of the greatest adventures two people can share.