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Saintly Marriage: Why it Matters | Catholic Life

Saintly Marriage: Why it Matters

The ideal of celibate marriage is not one that should be accepted by most couples in the form of renunciation of conjugal intercourse. Instead it should properly be understood as a challenge to examine one’s love for one’s spouse in comparison to one’s love for God.

Sexual activity isn’t what really matters. Love is. What is the honest answer to the question of whom one loves? It should be God. And then when someone asks about one’s love for one’s spouse or children, the answer should be a declaration that obviously one loves them appropriately since one loves God. Yet in comparison to one’s love for God, one’s love for one’s spouse must look like hatred.

The greatest challenge of marriage for me so far has been to learn to love my husband more than myself, and yet still less than I love God.

This week has been a great reminder of how very far I am from that. On Monday night I set the alarm so that I could get up in time to go to Mass before work. On Tuesday morning I turned the alarm off and stayed in bed for another half hour. It was lovely to be there listening to my husband’s breathing. Prior to getting married I could make myself get out of a cozy bed while it was still dark in order to go to Mass. But now the hard floor is too wonderful to leave when my husband is there beside me.

Thankfully God loves me more than I love God and I got the unexpected opportunity to go to Mass later in the day. But there could not have been a clearer indication that my love for Josh won out over my love for God. Yes, there are times in marriage when one needs to put service of spouse above spiritual practice, but it was not as if my sleeping husband cared whether I was there beside him. It was all about me.

Today I walked into a Mass that had started two minutes early. As I checked to insure that my cell phone was silenced I noticed that I had new voicemail from three missed calls. I did not check to see whose calls I had missed even though it was unusual to have new voicemail from the morning.

Then suddenly during consecration I realized that it could have been that something was wrong with Josh. I hadn’t seen him online in the morning. I had assumed that meant that he had closed Gmail in order to work without interruption, but it also could have been a sign of something wrong. Perhaps he was locked out of the apartment and his only way of contacting me was the cell phone which I ignore while at work.

I realized that I was being silly. I also realized that the priest had finished the prayer while I had been thinking about Josh rather than God. Unlike earlier in the week, I had not consciously chosen Josh over God, but Saint Paul might as well have been standing beside me with an “I told you so” look.

Marriage is a great gift and beautiful path of salvation. But it is also one of the most alluring temptations of damnation. Women in particular are especially vulnerable to spiritual damage in marriage because many of us are naturally inclined–and all of us our taught–to pour ourselves entirely into marriage. And the harder we work on our relationships, the more we give ourselves to our spouses, and the better our marriages are, the less we are drawn to the Triune God. For our energy is directed to our spouses and we are satisfied with something wonderful; something dreadfully less than God alone.

One obvious help for many married women Saints was wretched husbands who drove their wives constantly back to the arms of God for solace. That is not exactly the sort of aid to salvation that I desire!

And yet as I look at my life it is clear that I am constantly in danger of damning myself through “love” of my spouse! I am not worthy to be the disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, I continually pray “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word…” but so often I am not really aware of how unworthy I am. For I am too busy loving my husband to notice that I hate my God.

This is why I must look to the ideal example of Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph and all the Saints who followed after them in the most perfect of marriages. It is not that sexual intercourse is bad, but rather that forgoing it for the glory of God is emblematic of the pure devotion to God which characterizes all the Saints. And the great love for God which makes spousal love seem like hatred by comparison is precisely what I lack.

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25 Responses to “Saintly Marriage: Why it Matters”

  1. practicinghuman 16. Sep, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    Lord have mercy. Thank you for this beautiful reflection.

    • Rae 17. Sep, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

      Thanks. :-)

  2. Michelle 16. Sep, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Wow. This is quite powerful. Thank you.

    • Rae 17. Sep, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

      Thank you. :-) I wonder whether daily Mass is one of those things that one has to appreciate for oneself in order to understand how huge it is to choose something else over it.

  3. Kathleen 17. Sep, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    I have to admit to mixed feelings about this. Really I think you’re being far too hard on yourself. Maybe this is my own lack of love for God, but look at this way: God is not here, in physical form Himself, to shower with acts of love. All we can do is act with love toward God in everyone around us. I get your point about staying in bed instead of going to Mass. But as for the rest, loving Josh *is* how you love God.

    I’ve also been quite frustrated over the years that there seems to be a lack of married saints. We tend to hold up the priests & religious, without recognizing the holiness that comes through marriage and parenthood, both of which require heroic self-emptying at times, but which don’t really get credit for it in beatification. I’m quite sure that the priests & religious who we revere as saints had temper tantrums and moments of selfishness; they just didn’t have people to report on them the way that married people/parents do. I don’t think there’ s anything wrong with celibate marriage, but I also think that marriage in its traditional sense–involving sex, and kids, I mean–is a true path to sainthood, and one that doesn’t get credit for it, usually. (St. Gianna being the marked exception.)

    • alison 17. Sep, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

      I had a comment written and deleted it after I decided I missed the point of the post (which I think I did a little). But I agree that because marriage is a sacrament, being together and cooperating, loving each other, etc, is a way that God shows He loves us and us Him. Its probably easier for women to give more to marriage than men (I think the ways we give are intrinsically different though) but we grow holier by growing together.

    • alison 17. Sep, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

      I agree with that last part too, because while a married couple’s prayer life will intrinsically look different than a priest’s, so will a parent’s prayer life look different than someone without children. Their daily actions in caring selflessly for their children is a form of prayer that is a necessary part of their vocation. Can you imagine if parents abandoned their children’s basic needs for as much prayer in church as priests have? What’s sad is I actually have a friend who’s parents did this to her and she has since turned from the Church. I can’t believe that a church would tell a mother to value her relationship with God more than caring for her children (and I’m glad ours doesn’t) and I know this is why marriage is a recognized sacrament.

      Once I reread your post though, I believe that you’re trying to say we should do these things with the end goal of growing closer to God and not for the end goal of just caring for our spouse/family, and I think that’s extremely important to remind ourselves of (and why we shouldn’t react emotionally when things don’t work out right away). (Ok, that last part was for me, not you :) )

      • Rae 17. Sep, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

        “I can’t believe that a church would tell a mother to value her relationship with God more than caring for her children (and I’m glad ours doesn’t) and I know this is why marriage is a recognized sacrament.”
        But the Church *does* say that a mother should value God more than her children! It is just that caring for one’s children is one of the primary ways that one lives out one’s love for God.

        “we should do these things with the end goal of growing closer to God and not for the end goal of just caring for our spouse/family, and I think that’s extremely important to remind ourselves of (and why we shouldn’t react emotionally when things don’t work out right away)”
        Exactly. :-)

        • alison 17. Sep, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

          Oops, I think I didn’t make my point as I had wanted to…I meant God wouldn’t want us to love Him more at the expense of our children’s direct needs, barring some direct revelation (such as Abraham received).

          • Rae 22. Sep, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

            I don’t think that loving God can ever come at the cost of loving others (especially family) correctly. :-)

    • Rae 17. Sep, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

      ” But as for the rest, loving Josh *is* how you love God.”

      I guess it is one of those things that only I can know because only I know what I am actually thinking and feeling and what really influences my choices. I agree that we love God by loving those around us, and most of the time no one can tell whether our love for others is rooted in love of God or love of self.

      I firmly believe that different people have different spiritualities and thus need different levels and forms of devotion. So holiness will look different for all of us.

      I completely agree that “I also think that marriage in its traditional sense–involving sex, and kids, I mean–is a true path to sainthood, and one that doesn’t get credit for it, usually” and I’d even go further to say that St. Gianna was only “the marked exception” because she *died*. Otherwise she too would have been ignored. And really, I think that is okay. We need both the ordinary holiness of very real people in our lives, and the extraordinary holiness of those who are called to a particularly set-apart life. And all claims to sainthood aside, the extraordinary will always be more interesting. :-)

      • alison 17. Sep, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

        I’m curious, do you think loving your husband is different that loving everyone else around you? (or not for you in particular, but for “one” in general) I was under the impression that that’s what makes marriage “sacramental”, because it is different…

        • Rae 22. Sep, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

          Yes, it is certainly different. But that does not mean that one’s spouse is God!

  4. David 17. Sep, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    I agree with Kathleen that you are being way too hard on yourself. Feeling a sudden pang of concern for a loved one during Mass — worrying that something might be wrong with your husband or your children etc — is not even a freely chosen act, and so certainly cannot be some serious sin or fault as you seem to be saying it is. I certainly do not believe that it means you are “too busy loving your husband to notice you hate your God” and that you are in danger of “damning yourself” as you say.

    I think it’s significant that Jesus’ “greatest commandment” was to love God with one’s whole heart, and then to “love” our neighbor as we love ourselves. He did not say to hate our neighbor as we hate ourselves. I think that we can afford to love both God and our spouses, and I think there is something wrong with the idea that the call to love one’s spouse is “one of the most alluring temptations of damnation.”

    Other than that, I think your blog is excellent. :)

    • Rae 17. Sep, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

      I did not say that thinking about Josh was a mortal sin. I said ” Unlike earlier in the week, I had not consciously chosen Josh over God, but Saint Paul might as well have been standing beside me with an “I told you so” look” including a link to “An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.”

      My understanding of damnation is “not God.” So whenever I am drawn into focusing on something in competition with God I am damning myself here and now.

      Are you a C. S. Lewis fan?

    • Joshua Michael 20. Sep, 2010 at 7:51 am #

      “He did not say to hate our neighbor as we hate ourselves.”

      Hmm…

      “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26

      :-)

      • alison 20. Sep, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

        looks like ya’ll could quote scripture back and forth to support both claims, huh? one says God says to ‘love your neighbor’ and the other says ‘hate your wife’. what are we to do now?

        • Joshua Michael 21. Sep, 2010 at 6:06 am #

          Well, I don’t think that “hate” is meant literally. I just wanted to point out that the verse is in scripture (contra the original claim).

  5. Melody 17. Sep, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    “It was lovely to be there listening to my husband’s breathing…” You two are sweet. I wish one could save the loving feelings in a bottle against the times when it is a struggle to love. Honest, I don’t think God is worried that you love your husband “too much”. I agree with Kathleen that loving him is one of the ways you love God.

    • Rae 17. Sep, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

      “I wish one could save the loving feelings in a bottle against the times when it is a struggle to love.”
      Now that would be nice! I agree that the problem is not that I love Josh too much. The problem is that I don’t love God enough so that that love is greater than the love I have for Josh.

  6. Claire 17. Sep, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    I read this and was thinking, “Right on!” and I still am.

    After reading Kathleen’s comment, though, I do wonder how your analogy with the “temptations of married love” would work for parents. Some commenters already mentioned that loving spouse and children are ways to heaven. I am going to be reflecting more on this because I do believe there is such a thing as a form of “excessive” love for family–if it causes you to close in on yourself or your little world too much (Edith Stein wrote about this and used it for many of her theories of the nature of womanhood, if I am not mistaken).

    At any rate, I think that your story of staying in bed a little later to enjoy Josh’s presence, and then being able to go to Mass later in the day after all sums it up for me: by sleeping in you did not neglect to fulfill a mandatory religious devotion (had it been Sunday Mass you would have). Instead, you spent time in a different kind of thanksgiving.
    And so the opportunity to go to Mass later in the day seems, to me, to be a beautiful expression of the lavish love of the Father who has given you not only his Son in the Eucharist, but also in Josh.

    To me, the lesson here is one of divine generosity and one’s ability to receive everything that is given–whether joys or sorrows. You wrote, “One obvious help for many married women Saints was wretched husbands who drove their wives constantly back to the arms of God for solace.” This is the gift some women have been given. Still others have been given widowhood, or perhaps an extended forced separation from their beloved spouse. The point is to accept with joy what we have been given, I think, and realize that God is only and always generous toward us.

    • Rae 22. Sep, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

      Ah yes, appreciation or divine generosity is ideal. Unfortunately I’m not yet to that point! I’m still at the “what is not of faith is sin” point. ::sigh::

      Thank you for your thoughts!

  7. Philippus 18. Sep, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    Oh boy! What a way to end the evening for me! Very wonderfully put. Being as honset as you have been here helps those of us struggling in similar ways to turn back our attention to the God who loved us even before we were born.

    • Rae 22. Sep, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

      Thanks.

  8. Tara Meghan 30. Oct, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    Yes! Yes. I just saw this post right this minute. That is exactly it.

    I am so, so, so lucky to be totally unsuitable as a wife and mother. I’m hasty, self-absorbed, single-minded, overly-sensitive etc. My marriage would be just terrible if I didn’t constantly lean on God, because He’s the only one that gives me the strength to live a married life. No husband could ever be perfect enough to make me happy, if God wasn’t my first love and the source of my love.

    I always think of that poem “I could not love thee half so well, loved I not honour more.” If I loved my family first, and above God, that love would be so weak and circumstantial. When the love I have for them “looks like hatred” compared to my love for God, it still looks like absolute, total, pure devotion…compared to the love I would be able to give them without God.

    You have absolutely got it.

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