Faith & Family (September Column)

I’m writing a small monthly column for our school newsletter. I’ll be plagiarizing (and maybe expanding/editing/commenting on) those columns for my blog 🙂 Small changes/edits will look normal. Longer edits will be demarcated for your reading pleasure.

Marriage and family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2201)

A basic human experience is that of two people meeting, dating, falling in love, getting engaged, and getting married. It’s the seed from which all families sprout, and, as our Catechism teaches, it is a good thing [sheesh – I sound like Martha Stewart!]. Since marriage is the basis of the family in Catholic teaching, we’ll look at how the Catholic faith approaches marriage in this first column on the family.

Marriage is between one man and one woman. It unites a couple in faithful and mutual love and service [as a lengthy aside, I’d like to pontificate on the fact that love and service go hand-in-hand. “Falling in love,” that rush of emotions that heralds the beginning of a potential relationship, is but the first phase of a life-long relationship. Just as we expect different behaviors from 5th graders and 5  year olds, or 40 year olds and teenagers, we should expect a relationship to grow and change, not stay exactly the same. People who get married and then complain that they have “fallen out of love” probably never took the time to really get to know themselves and their potential spouse. That first blush of overwhelming emotions will settle down, and if that’s all there ever was between a couple they should never have gotten married in the first place.] Husband and wife are called by God to this vocation—this state of graced living—as a way of becoming holy, as a means to bring new life to the world, and as a challenge to be a sign of Christ’s life in and for the world. [Lenghty aside #2: A married couple’s road to sanctity – to holiness – is through the normal ups and downs of married life. Everything we do – from changing diapers, to taking care of each other when one is sick, to doing the laundry, to going on vacation, to simply sitting and watching TV together – everything is a potential vehicle for grace (God’s life, love and creative energy) to enter more fully into each person individually and into the family as a whole]

That’s a pretty big job description! So the Church provides resources to make sure that each married couple can weather the storms that inevitably crop up. During the engagement period, couples are asked to meet with more experienced married couples from their parish to take a pre-marriage relationship inventory and talk about the results. The inventory asks questions related to finances, children, intimacy, family, etc.—the goal is to make sure that a couple has talked openly about all areas of their relationship before deciding to commit to the sacrament. [Personal aside: It was great doing this with my wife. We had done out best to talk about lots of things before beginning this process, but it was still incredibly humbling to find that there were areas where we just didn’t agree, or areas we hadn’t even thought of. Being able to sit down with our great sponsor couple (thanks Lydia and Morris!) and talk over the areas where our results didn’t match up really helped us cement our relationship and more fully prepare us for the great adventure of marriage!]

In order to strengthen the bond between husband and wife after marriage the church encourages participation in retreats, workshops, Mass, and small groups. Date nights, time alone, shared interests and time spent with other adults are also ways to keep a strong marriage bond. [It’s instructive to remember that your spouse is not supposed to be your only point of contact with the outside world. Even for introverts like my wife and I (thank God our son, while not as introverted as us, is still on our side of the field!), there are times when we are apart with friends or extended family. Being able to experience things separately, and then bringing those disparate experiences back into the relationship, helps to strengthen the bonds of love and trust. Time together is great, but time apart is needed as well!]

In keeping that bond strong, a couple gives to their kids and all of their acquaintances a great gift—a strong, Christian example of what a loving, sacrificing, servant-oriented love can look like. [Again I’d stress that a relationship built primarily upon physical attributes, excessive emotions, and/or sexuality is going to quickly burn out. Tempering that “falling in love” euphoria with a selfless, sacrificial, servant-oriented mentality towards your partner is, as far as I can tell, the best way to keep a relationship life-giving over time.] They participate in and reflect the kind of love that Jesus has for us. And in doing so, they provide their kids with an example to follow, and a safe place in which to grow up and explore the wider world.

Blessings & Peace,