The recent encyclical from Pope Francis, “Lumen Fidei” which for those readers who slept through Latin in high school means “Light of the Faith”, had a plethora of profound wisdom on faith and morals. For me the following section is especially poignant, though you have to read a bit to get there. It got me thinking about the example Christ set, and how it relates to marriage.
52. In Abraham’s journey towards the future city, the Letter to the Hebrews mentions the blessing which was passed on from fathers to sons (cf. Heb 11:20-21). The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. So it was that Sarah, by faith, became a mother, for she trusted in God’s fidelity to his promise (cf. Heb 11:11).
Loosely translated, a marriage without God is rudderless and adrift. Doomed to aimless drifting searching for land while dying of thirst, or doomed to be dashed on rock and reef when salvation seems within our grasp. Harsh isn’t it? This passage applies to marriages in relation to God, not just Catholics, but people of all faiths who recognize Him. This is the part where people tend to rebel, it’s all about playing your part in HIS plan as he intended from the beginning by making the moral choices in the situations in which you find yourself. Free will allows you to cut away from the path he intends for you anytime you want to. If you truly have felt his mere presence and peace even once in your life, you will never want to be apart from it again. The same is true of marriage – once you have found and nurtured true love into a burning fire in your heart, you never again have a desire to go back to darkness and cold.
The Holy Bible is replete with references to the church as the Bride of Christ. I’m not big into quoting chapters and verses or playing the Sophist with semantics so I’m referencing key stories and concepts. If these are unfamiliar to you then you need to read the Bible. Let us examine a few examples to see how Christ’s example for marriage is relevant to our own lives:
He sacrificed himself for the Church, that all of its members might have eternal life (this includes non-Catholics). We must be prepared to do the same in our marriages, it is what we are called to by his example. In almost all cases the sacrifices required of us to preserve our families are pedestrian in comparison to his sacrifice, but we are not perfect. However, our free will allows for us to overcome imperfections. Humans are capable of emulating Christ in this. Mere men step between assailants and their families and the families of others facing almost certain death during robberies and home invasions. Father Maximillian Kolbe was sainted, in part for asking if he could please be brutally murdered in place of a man with a family in a German concentration camp (the man he saved was a Jew). Military men sacrifice themselves every day to ensure the safety of not only their families, but the families of their whole country. No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for another, said Jesus. Now, think honestly for a moment of your wife. If you are not willing to die for her, are you truly in love? Platitudes about how your wife does this or that or doesn’t love you are meaningless. Jesus’s example was clear as a bell, he died even for the sake of people who despised him, proving that great love is not always returned. Take another moment and consider what might change in your wife if she had no doubt that she was so important and loved by you that you would willingly die for her – if you are honest with yourself you will know that her feelings and actions toward you would change. So lead, make the change first and love with all your heart and soul. Would you die for a home, a car, or a raise? For any earthly thing? After all what would be the point! If you cannot love your wife, then neither can you truly receive love – because it is in learning to give that we learn to receive. Love is also one of the few things that transcends death, along with regret, and your memories. Love with all your heart and soul, make sweet your memories, and do not make any choices, or fail to make choices, which you know will cause you regret.
Jesus forgave. Not only did he forgive, but he refused to condemn. Think of his conversation with the adulteress at the well, he forgave her and condemned her not. Now consider your reaction to any failings of your spouse. Do you forgive and refuse to condemn her? Have you stopped to consider that humans are their own harshest judge? By forgiving her, refusing to condemn her, and continuing to love her she will only feel her remorse more deeply than if you lash out at her. Reaching out with love is the most effective thing you can do, and often one of the hardest. Keep in mind that you too have failings and that you are setting an example for both her and your children in how to deal with such adversity. Follow the example Christ sets for us, that your wife, your sons, and your daughters might emulate your example. This is, no doubt, the second hardest thing to do.
Jesus suffered. It is the nature of man to suffer and die in this existence. In fact, we can only be sure of 3 things in this life: Gods love, Suffering, and physical death. Suffering can be alleviated by sharing the burden. God provided a help-mate to Adam to ease his suffering as he would in turn ease hers and provide comfort to each other. He as our creator reminded us that it s not good for man to be alone. While the suffering associated with life is unavoidable, the way we deal with that suffering defines whether we are overburdened or not. In married life the suffering is increased by the fact that there are two now living as one. If you keep secrets hidden from your wife those become burdens she cannot help carry – and the same is true for her. Such burdens tend to weigh on you more heavily as time passes if unshared until eventually their weight crushes you, and you spouse with it. Wisdom is in changing the things you can, and accepting those you cannot, what remains are burdens you must work together to carry to their destinations. Don’t let selfishness push a burden onto you spouse alone, nor allow pride to facilitate refusing her assistance, and you will be surprised at the results. This is the easiest of the three to address and the most pervasive in our progressive and secular society which teaches a “do what feels good or makes you happy for the moment” mentality. Long on instant gratification and very short on lasting happiness.
All this from just paragraph 52 of “Lumen Fidei”, goodness knows what other pearls of wisdom are waiting for you to discover in Pope Francis’s latest encyclical. You can read it or download it FREE here direct from the Vatican (shame on the USCCB trying to charge for an electronic copy):
**Please feel free to write or comment on this post, I’d really like to hear from those that are able to have this experience and how it is changing their marriage, their wives, and their lives.