Last week, we looked at the sacrament of Confirmation, a sacrament that is often celebrated during the Easter season. Today let’s look at another sacrament that is frequently celebrated this time of year: marriage.
Marriage is in trouble everywhere, especially in our country where over half of marriages end in divorce. Our culture, so influenced by Hollywood and materialism, has set about creating a society which no longer values marriage and the family, but instead favors one which glorifies selfishness, greed and offers false idols for us to worship instead of God. As an author and speaker, I attempt to reach people with Christ-inspired work which will help them lead authentic and integrated Catholic lives. Many of us are called to other roles in the world that require great courage and effort, but I suggest nothing will do more to strengthen marriage and the family than men having the courage to reject the surrounding culture and embrace their role as loving husbands, faith-filled fathers and leaders in our homes.
Is it possible that marriage and the family are losing their value in the eyes of the next generation because our young people don’t see positive examples of successful marriages and Christ-centered families? If we truly offered this alternative and fought to live it, defend it, and promote it, there could be a resurgence of successful marriages, more children being born, and parishes packed with faithful Catholic families. What will it take? Men must lead.
Brothers, we must reject the lies of the culture, let go of our idols, get rid of the obstacles between us and Christ, pray faithfully, and accept the call to holiness we received at our baptism. We are not here to indulge ourselves in a world of moral relativism and personal pleasure, but instead to create Christ-centered homes, raise our children to love God, and help each other to attain heaven.
Feeling overwhelmed? This is a tall order and this would be an understandable response. However, the alternative is further disintegration of marriage and the family; the next casualties could be our own if we neglect our responsibilities. Is there anyone who can help us? Look no further than our wives.
The first time I met my wife over twenty-five years ago, I knew she was the one for me. It was a strange feeling of excitement, nervousness, certainty and peace all mixed together. As the years have passed and we have faced the roller coaster ride of life together, I still experience that same feeling from time to time. I am blessed and I thank God for placing her in my life. We don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a successful marriage and the fruit of it can be seen in our sons, in the fact that we love each other as much we did in our younger days and in the faith-filled home we have made together.
My wife and I are a team and we understand that our vocation as parents is to help each other and our children to attain heaven. We also understand our roles and know what each of us is responsible for in achieving goals for our family. My wife challenges me and helps me grow as a man, a husband, a father and, most certainly, in my spiritual life as a Catholic. She keeps my pride and ego in check, reminds me when I get off track and her quiet but passionate faith inspires me. In fact, it was my wife’s interest in the Catholic Church in 2005 that was a critical catalyst for our family joining the Church a year later.
What is so important about marriage? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Sacrament of Marriage is a “covenant,” a “partnership,” and “ordered toward the good of the spouses” (CCC ¶1601). We learn further that “‘the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage’ [GS 48, no.1]. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (CCC ¶1603). We understand that “man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love [Cf. Gen 1:27; 1 Jn 4:8, 16]. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes” (CCC ¶1604).
Most importantly, the Catechism states: “Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ [Gen 2:18]. The woman, ‘flesh of his flesh,’ his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a ‘helpmate’; she thus represents God from whom comes our help [Gen 2:18–25]. ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh’ [Gen 2:24]. The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been ‘in the beginning’: ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh’” (CCC ¶1605).
What we can glean from that is very important. God has sent our wives to us and us to our wives to assist each other in our relationships with Him and our journey to heaven. Let us consider a few important questions:
- Do we truly see our wives in this light? Do we actively seek their help?
- If asked, would our wives describe themselves as our “partners” in life?
- What keeps us from seeking or accepting this help? Is it pride? Ego? Misunderstanding the role our wives play? The role we play?
- Do we love our wives and treat them as a gift from God?
- Do our children and friends look at us and see the example of a loving and faith-filled marriage centered in Christ?
As we ponder these convicting questions and our response, let us also consider practical ideas and actions for how we can best be the leaders we are called to be, honor our wives and have blessed marriages.
- Thankfulness to God, gratefulness to our wives. It can be easy to take our loves ones for granted, especially our wives. Do we thank our wives for all that they do and mean to us? Do our children know how much we love, honor, and appreciate our wives, and are we inspiring them to do the same one day in their own families? Do we thank God each day for giving us the gift of our wives? “Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: ‘You are not her master’ . . . ‘but her husband; she was not given you to be your slave, but your wife. . . . Reciprocate her attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love’” (Pope St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio).
- Get our priorities in order. Christ first, family second, work third. If Christ is not first in our lives then we are lost. One of the reasons for the breakdown of the family is that we spend too much time competing with Him for control. I lived that life for over twenty years and it wasn’t until I put my pride aside and surrendered to Christ in 2005 that I began to understand that I couldn’t fully love my wife and children in the way they deserved until I acknowledged Christ as first in my life. “Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has Christian roots: even those born to a Christian family and formed in the faith must, each and every day, renew the choice to be a Christian, to give God first place, before the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries” (Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, February 13, 2013).
- View marriage as an apostolate and a blessed mission. “Christian couples should be aware that they are called to sanctity themselves and to sanctify others, that they are called to be apostles and that their first apostolate is in the home. They should understand that founding a family, educating their children, and exercising a Christian influence in society, are supernatural tasks. The effectiveness and the success of their life—their happiness—depends to a great extent on their awareness of their specific mission” (St. Josemaría Escrivá, Conversations with St. Josemaría Escrivá, Scepter Publishers, 2008, 91).
- Be the spiritual leader in our homes. This is not a competition. Men too often sit on the sidelines and wives take on this role while we remain detached and disengaged. We should again thank God for our wives, but we are called to be spiritual leaders and not narrowly view our roles as only the financial providers. I recall the words of a priest friend, Fr. Dan Ketter, “Scripture is clear that men in general, and husbands and fathers in particular, are to be the spiritual leaders. And spiritual leadership as Jesus defined it is not a leadership of dominance, power, or control, but leadership of sacrificial service.” The positive impact on our marriages and the faith lives of our children is beyond measure.
Just like evangelizing to others can only be accomplished by a sincere, joy-filled sharing of the Good News and setting a good example, making marriage more attractive will only be accomplished by the world seeing more men and women committed to love, selflessness, humility, sacrifice, courage, and devotion to Christ. It seems to me that one of the most important and enduring legacies my wife and I can give to our children and the rest of the world is a successful example of a Christ-centered marriage.
My brothers, we have a special and distinct role as Christian men, fathers, husbands, and leaders in the family, in the Church, and in society at large. If we don’t step up, we run the risk of seeing our families overrun and absorbed by the surrounding culture. This is not acceptable. Start with prayer. Be faithful, be consistent, have courage, show humility, and remember . . . we are made for a heavenly home and not this world.
Questions for Reflection
- This post challenges us to be the spiritual leaders in our homes. Am I leading or following, or apathetically sitting on the sidelines when it comes to spiritual leadership?
- Do I do a good job of thanking my wife for all that she does for me and my family? Do I thank God for my wife? If not, what is holding me back?
- The best way for a man to honor his wife is to earnestly strive to be the man she deserves, the man God is calling him to be. Am I trying to be the man God is calling me to be?
- There is an old cliché of marriage being a 50-50 partnership, which is completely wrong. It should be 100-100 with both husband and wife at any given time being willing to invest everything they have, holding nothing back. Do I understand and believe in the 100-100 concept that I must give everything I have to my marriage, as must my wife? Do I actually live this way?
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Randy Hain’s fifth book, Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men (Emmaus Road Publishing), with permission of the author and Emmaus Road Publishing. The book is available through Amazon.com, EmmausRoad.org or found in your local Catholic bookstore.