Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Marriage and Holiness

Father John J. Lombardi

"They are no longer two flesh, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together no one must separate."

We Catholics are in the world but are called to be not of the world. How so today, regarding our Lord's counsel above? Think of same-sex unions versus Christian marriage. The culture of divorce against the Christian covenant. Casual commitment versus sacrificial couples. Me-ism against sacrifice; the world versus Christianity.

Do these antipathies sound familiar? Probably so if you live in America, or are keen to the challenges of Catholics and Christians today.

The family is under attack today and one of the main fronts is Christian couples. In this Sunday's Gospel reading, Jesus Christ defines Christian marriage as established by God, and unbreakable by man. From Jesus' admonition we surmise people will try to break or change the covenant between a husband and wife. Witness the culture of divorce and same sex unions. This priest is therefore always impressed when couples chose this reading for their wedding Mass or service-it goes so against the grain of our culture today and, besides, some of their friends or family at the service are likely to be divorced.

A year ago Pope John Paul had the clarity and compassion to challenge lawyers and those in the legal profession- calling them not to promote the culture of divorce. He said they should not automatically accept cases of illegitimate divorce and thereby promote anti-Christian values. Neither should we-laypersons, priests or Catholic- Christian couples-idly sit by and tolerate a culture of divorce--we need to promote the Civilization of Love built upon sacrifice and truth-the truth of Christian marriage today, instituted by God and preserved by the Catholic Church.

Our biggest need today is stronger Catholic and Christian families, which means more spiritual and sacrificial couples to head them and keep them together. I am always impressed by couples-young and old who honor the Lord's command and each other. Recently an elderly couple visited the Grotto. We talked and visited and, at the end of cour conversation, I asked them if they wanted a blessing. They were-to put I mildly, ecstatic for the offer. Mind you, now, they were married sixty years and were about age 75. They knelt on the parking lot, humbly received the blessing and hugged me upon leaving. They sought, embraced and appreciated God's favors to them Are you?.

Another couple recently needed a break from the stresses of life. They have six children (and one dog!). So: they got a babysitter, went out to dinner and spent some quality time together. They were maintaining their marriage. .Another couple makes a holy hour together-praying in front of the Holy Eucharist in silence-this is how they "spiritually glue" their covenant so "no one may break what God has joined".

These days, Catholic and Christian couples need to be pro-active to stay together or else the world will part them. And so, what are some of the biggest challenges to marriage and family life today?

Pope John Paul lists some negative factors impacting couples, in Familiaris Consortio-The Family in the Modern World-: mistaken concepts of the independence of the spouse; misunderstanding authority with children; difficulty of transmitting values; growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; sterilization; the appearance of contraceptive reality.  "At the root lies a corruption of the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing God's plan for marriage and family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation."

Greg Alexander, co-founder of Alexander house, a non-profit marriage apostolate in Texas, said in Zenit news interview (May 28), said that marriage today has been eclipsed by secular values and has swayed far from God's design for it. He said that couples may drift apart from loving one another and that love, rather than being a feeling, must be a decision.

Let's face it, because western society is bent on multiplying wants and desires-often antithetical to marriage and families--couples are distracted from traditional ways of sacrificial love-by the "you can have it all" mentality. Manic work schedules become laborious treadmills to support a larger home and more possessions, and so insidiously break down couples and families. Also, there is, among some younger couples, a lack of rootedness in the Church, in the sacraments and sacrifice: people today are pulled by so many forces and sometimes not steeped in the Faith, and may not be as disciplined and sacrificial in love-to choose to love even when it hurts. Contemporary commitment is challenged and coagulated. We need, amongst our Christian couples and families, a new sense of commitment and sacrifice. We can gain this from Mass-Jesus shows us how to sacrifice for Love; from the Bible (read the Books of Tobit and Proverbs); and lives of the saints-great married saints show us in action and everyday reality, how to be heroic. Couple by couple we need to re-claim the culture, and the covenant of marriage.

I recently asked the following questions and received the these answers from some married pilgrims:

What are the biggest challenges to Marriage today?

Putting God's Will first. Changing the attitude from "making time for God through prayer" to "making time for everything else." Secularism challenges us--will we pursue secular goals to the exclusion of God's will? Do we ask what is God's will before using our will to choose the right house, car, recreational sports, savings? Seeking out and following God's Will for our family, but loving His plan that results in peace and joy. The culture devalues stay-at-home moms and promotes selfishness, convenience, a "if you can't make it get out of the marriage" mentiality. Job stressors are difficult and pressure couples.

What are your biggest needs in Christian marriage?

Learning the laws of God so that we might have what Jesus came to bring: life more abundantly. We need to bring Jesus into all interactions through prayer and the three evangelical councils: poverty, chastity and obedience.

We need humility of spirit toward each other, showing patience and kindness. We need to more often notice and thank family members for patience and kindness.

We need to give our bodies for the sake of the family; and not hold back due to selfish reasons (don't want to read, teach, play with the kids because of fatigue); lack of openness to kids can adversely affect us.

What suggestions do you give to others?

Learn how to be a disciple of Jesus to become a better spouse/parent through prayer and obedience with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Learn from your spouse who, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, helps to sanctify your soul. Be more charitable than your spouse and children in a healthy competition to avoid selfishness. Just as we cannot "out give" God, we should work so that others cannot "out give" us in terms of love, time, etc. .Children are blessings in marriages, and also when both spouses are on similar spiritual levels. When times are difficult lean on and into God and use every single gift to get to Heaven. Make a consecration to Jesus and Mary and keep praying thru all difficulties.

Besides rampant materialism, one of the biggest on marriage today is contraception. This means the contra-cepting of life-literally, being and acting against life by use of toxins, devices or pills to prevent pregnancy or, in some cases, actually abort a new pregnancy (RU 486). Most couples today contracept-and many of them will divorce. Most couples today who use natural family planning, on the other hand, will not divorce (only 4%). The Catholic Church is not against pleasure (after all we love incense, smells and bells and jubilant Masses). But she is rather against people who are against God's plan-for human life. In the marital act the couple should be open to the transmission of life

When they shut out one the fullness of one another, they are more likely to cheat on each other, shut out each other in conversational, ways, also. This way of acting is a counterfeit language to God's natural-nuptial plan for couples. There is a way out of this ploy-natural family planning and working with God to trust him no matter what children come along, or don't. The abandonment we give to Him will help spouses surrender to each other.

Ways to renew your marriage and commitment:

  • Look at elderly, successful couples who have survived-even thrived-amidst the culture of divorce-learn form them the traits to healthy holy marriages.
  • Put up icons or holy pictures
  • Listen, listen deeply to each other about issues and problems-job, home, children-help one another
  • Renew the sacrament-get your wedding blessed by a priest, perhaps at a Mass or prayer service with children and relatives present
  • Make a list with your spouse, of: "The Five Biggest Blessings of Your Marriage" and the Five Challenging Things to Work on". Then give thanks keep working.
  • Sacrament of Reconciliation-confess your sins, your frequent sins to one another and to a priest-seek forgiveness
  • Spiritual Reading: read and discus spiritual materials-the bible, or Pope John Paul's "Familiaris Consotio. Read the readings form your wedding day.
  • Second honeymoon-make one or simply go out to dinner alone once a month-call a baby sitter
  • The Cross: sometimes marriage and ongoing sacrifices simply mean "carrying one's cross daily (Lk. 9:23). There's no other explanation-no psychiatrist, priest or friend can explain away only that which the Cross will

How the Church helps the divorced:

Listen-your family needs you married, your Church needs you married, your culture and country the world needs you married. A lot of forces are against you but keep the commitment.

Vatican II said: "Since the Creator of all things ahs established the conjugal partnership as the beginning and basis of human society, the family is the first and vital cell or society."

Keep sacrificing, Keep praying. Keep loving.

Prayer: Jesus, Mary and Joseph-Holy Family-help us, guide us, protect our families thru the storms of life. Help us to Heaven by sacrificing and doing what you always did: staying together. We love you, we need you, we trust in your protection.


Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi