The wedding is over, the presents opened, the honeymoon consummated. Ah, now life begins day in and day out.
In those first enthralling months of marriage, life takes on a new meaning. Everything is brighter, everything is clearer, everything is beautiful, everything is a new experience because you have a soul-mate to share with.
Loyalty isn't questioned for your resolve, your intention is to love your spouse forever.
All these good and holy intentions and then slowly but surely, just as he did in the Garden of Eden, the serpent slithers in and begins to remind you in very clever ways full of half-truths how your spouse disappoints you in this way or that. He doesnt' take enough time, she's not focused on his needs; or he leaves his clothes in a heap assuming she'll pick them up, he begins to be bothered by the fact she isn't dressing to the nines everyday for him. The proverbial "squeezing-the-toothpaste-the-wrong-way" syndrome begins to set in.
There are so many finite, human ways we can disappoint our spouse that satan has a field day for he can pick and choose anything he wants to cast doubts in our minds and hearts. But this cannot happen if we keep God in our marriage every waking second.
The more we allow satan to stay, the more we are pushing God out. The more we do this either consciously or subconsciously, the more our love wanes for our spouse. We begin to see the negative traits in a light that is unappealing to us for it is now satan holding the mirror, not God. With lucifer leveling that prism of love that reflects from God to each other in a triune ray of grace, darkness can permeate the bonds of marriage. All kinds of things can happen and have. The first is a built-in, selfish need to protect itself for the flower no longer feels the strong, assuring boughs of the tree's branches. Conversely that transmits to the tree that the flower no longer is as attractive to the tree and he begins waving other branches in search of something that will replace what he had. Can you see how insidiously clever the fallen angel is?
Consider that only two kinds of beings have reason, intellect and free will. The angels and man. But, like God, the angels are spirit. Man is flesh and spirit. How could God be so good? How could we be so stupid in not accepting His Love and gifts? Yet, for some odd reason, we expect perfection when, in fact, we are far, far from it. It reminds one of Our Lord's words in Matthew 7: 1-5 and Luke 6: 41-42, "Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you. But why does thou see the speck in thy brother's eye [spouse's eye], and yet dost not consider the beam in thy own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy borther [spouse], 'Let me cast out the speck from thy eye'; and behold, there is a beam in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam from thy own eye, and then thou wilt see clearly to cast out the speck from thy brother's [spouse's] eye."
When we follow this sage advice, then we realize the only way to perfection is not through judging how our spouse may measure up to our finite standards, but how both husband and wife measure up to God's infinite standards. That is the way towards sanctity and it is not a solo journey. Once a couple has joined together and pronounced their vows, it is final! They are no longer two separate people, but one. Through the vows of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony we take on a new commitment, a new responsibility: to not only attain eternal life for ourself, but to spend all our energy in sharing this everlasting joy with our spouse - our soul mate forever. It has often bothered us that the semantics of the vow say "until death do us part." In actuality, once a couple has committed their vows they are bound for all eternity as God so deigns. It is written from a finite, legalese perspective to allow for the surviving party to enter into marriage again. But, as Christ says in Matthew 19: 6, "Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Notice Our Lord does not say "until they die" but emphasizes that God has put them together and since He is all-knowing and never-ending, and therefore, with the ultimate goal of reaching the security of everlasting life, the couple will be one forever when they accomplish this objective in Heaven. Meanwhile on this earth, this oneness most often takes a lifetime to fully develop and therein are some of the greatest joys of marriage.
While we are relative neophytes in marriage, approaching the nineteen and a half year mark, we can attest to this truth. Sharing is so special. This includes the good times and the bad - "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health." We remember the many times we shared a good laugh, special moments together as well as with our sons; we shared pearls of wisdom, poignant ideals, and physical ecstasies reserved only for marriage. We also remember the times we shared broken hearts; the times when we lost loved ones, when we had to make tough decisions that went against the grain of common sense or societal norms, when we were there to comfort each other because of injustices against one another, when one of us were sick or feeling down. Through thick and thin we were there for each other most of the time.
All of the time? Sadly, no. Why, because we, like every other couple in the world, are not perfect. There were times when our expectations of the other let us down, when a word or two was taken the wrong way, when we said something we wish we could have taken back at the moment our mouth was in motion. There were times when our own selfishness or anxieties took precedence over the needs of the other; times when we were at a virtual impasse and days would pass without communicating our love. Why? It's natural to say we were hurt because of our own iniquities and insecurities, but more importantly because our world of togetherness had become topsy-turvy. The relationship we had was all of a sudden riding stormy seas. Rather than being a crew working together, with both oars in the water, we were rudderless, rowing in circles. This analogy also refers to the Skipper of this crew - God. When we are stalemated with each other, we are also at an impasse with God Who is not an onlooker, but an integral Part of a marriage. Just as when one sins, he feels a great sense of loss of God, so also in a marriage when there is friction it is harder for God's love, mercy and forgiveness to penetrate hard hearts.
Why do our hearts harden and soften like a popsicle being flipflopped from freezer to sun repeatedly? Because our expectations are often too high for our spouse and not high enough for ourself. Marriage is the best crash course for discovering that nobody's perfect. The faster we realize that, the quicker we realize that fact, the sooner we'll realize the beam in our own eye philosophy and give more quarter to our spouse.
Like a roaring lion
How do we do this? The first is through prayer together. It was the great Rosary Priest Father Patrick Peyton who coined the phrase, "The family that prays together, stays together." He knew whereof he spoke. Satan can slither into any marriage so easily that prayer is the greatest watchguard. Remember, God is an integral Part of the marriage, the strongest Ingredient of the marriage, so we all need to fall back on Him. He is the safety net that will soften our fall and we will stumble many times, you can be assured of that. After all, Christ Himself fell three times on the way to Calvary. We've lost count how many times we've fallen. But always, He's been there to pick us up. Never will He give anyone a cross they cannot bear up under. Saint Peter reassures us of this in 1 Peter 5: 8-9, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in the time of visitation; cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you." Conversely the Apostle has given us all fair warning of the great danger looming out there, alerting to be vigilant in verses 8-9, "Be sober and watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world." You see, no one is alone in this assault by lucifer. No marriage is immune. It takes first and foremost, prayer, to keep this roaring lion at bay.
The second most important factor is trust; trust in God and in our spouse. First of all we must be totally honest with ourselves. If we're not, then how can we be honest with our spouse, with God? We can't. If we're not honest with ourselves, then we shouldn't be in a marriage because we purjured our vows. This is often one of the most important criteria a Marriage Tribunal of the Church researches in discovering intent. More marriages are annulled because of immature status and infidelity than any other reasons. For the former the tribunal must determine intent; that not only wasn't one or both of the couple ready for a life commitment, but they did not fully comprehend the inherent responsibilities that accompanied their vow. It, in essence, is very much like saying "I was dumb, I didn't know" - shades of the dunces of Palm Beach who admitted their stupidity in the voting booth. The majority of marriages the Church has annulled have been pronounced over irresponsibility and lack of honesty.
Now this doesn't mean, for those in unhappy marriages. to rush out and seek an annullment. As the old axiom goes, "you made your bed, now lie in it." So, if you find your marriage in trouble, rather than accepting your fate morosely or bitterly, why not set out to turn things around, to make your marriage a joy, not a burden? For that is what God intended Holy Matrimony to be - a joy. The burdens or, as we like to call them - crosses - are there to strengthen our love, to mature us further and bond a couple even closer. Good marriages are ones that have weathered the storms. A marriage with no rough weather, where everything is perfect, just doesn't exist. It is pragmatic pulp and it is pure fiction. In fact, any marriage that strives to be all Holy Mother Church asks, will have its fair share of conflicts because of that very reason. Consider that satan hates the family unit, he despises the true bonds of marriage, can't stomach a husband and wife who strive to be one with God. He is an evil entity that should be opposed at every turret of truth. Because couples stand strong for God against the devil, satan will do everything in his power to bring that marriage down. Ergo, the best guage as to how your marriage is doing, is how you weather the gales and winds that threaten the foundation of your love for each other. Like so many saints who were harrassed day and night by the evil one to no avail, so also there are many couples who are striving for holiness. It's these couples who are the greatest threat to lucifer's agenda. Thus, guess who are his chief targets?
Vesting in the Armor of God
We have seen so many times how things can be so calm in our home and then, in a matter of seconds, something can erupt? Why? Because satan has been able to somehow penetrate our fortress that quickly. Remember, he evolves from the angelic spirit so he is so much stronger, more clever than our finite mind or wills. We can't emphasize how important it is to recognize this immediately and cut him off at the pass. How? By acknowledging the devil's influence at once and seeking ways to bring calm and sanity to a situation that can erupt into a volcano of vulnerability if it is not curbed. This is not a one-time occurrence; rather, the more a couple is striving for holiness, the more they become targeted victims of every wile satan can muster.
Rather than running from this, stay and fight it together. In order to do this, however, both have to put on the armor of God. He has provided the uniform for us, why shouldn't we wear it. It's not there to look pretty, it's not there to collect dust. This spiritual garb is there to be functional but it cannot be if we put it on the shelf. Consider the way satan has poisoned the thinking throughout the world and the Church as well by downplaying values, by looking for ways to make exceptions, by not enforcing accountability, by lessening our watch and letting down our guard, by divesting religious of their outward armor in the traditional habits of their respective orders, by priests removing Roman collars and by couples dismissing sound teaching such as Pope Paul VI's teachings, specifically Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's wisdom. That's why we're in the mess we are today. We haven't realized it until it was seemingly too late. Had we realized it we would have vigilantly followed the Apostle Paul's charge in Ephesians 6: 11-17 to "Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high. Therefore take up the armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and stand in all things perfect. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of justice, and having your feet shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace, in all things taking up the shield of faith, with which you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of spirit, that is, the word of God."
Couples can help each other by dressing each other in these garments of faith that are the ideal apparel for any marriage. We cannot begin to seek sanctity if we are denuded of these spiritual wraps. We need to wear these and it begins with the reminder of the Scapular, of the Miraculous Medal around our necks. Our Lady, as the chosen Heavenly messenger sent by God, has assured us how important these additional safeguards are. They were imparted for a reason and they need to be worn. The more couples who invest themselves in these, the more will they willingly put on the other raimants of reason and grace Paul speaks of.
The Perfect Equation
Often times when we see "old timers" speaking of how they have stayed married so long, they'll say "Never go to bed angry." There is great wisdom in that. Consider what Paul says in Ephesians 4: 26-27, " do not let the sun go down upon your anger; do not give place to the devil." Often times, and we have been guilty of this in the past, resentments, for whatever reason, contribute to holding a grudge. This does no good and only contributes to aiding and abetting ol' horn-head. When we stubbornly hold grudges, pride sets in and there is no place for pride in any marriage. Humility is what we all need to have. How many arguments have been softened by a sincere "I'm sorry" even when we may not know what we're sorry for? There are times when both are hurt, but it takes a man to say "I'm sorry." Don't leave it for the wife to say it. She says it in so many ways that the husband doesn't see or goes over his head. There's a reason the male species has deserved the concept of being dense at times. We are. It's not necessarily the "women are from Venus, men are from Mars" syndrome as much as it is not constantly working to be one. When we work at being one with each other and God, you'll see less of "I'm sorry" and more of "what can I do for you" atmosphere that only enhances a marriage.
To accomplish this, it takes both working as one. When both are not on the same wave length, then we're back to the one oar in the water going nowhere except in circles. It takes two. And with two working together it makes three with God in making them One. It is this simple mathmatic formula that is essential for a good, happy and blessed marriage. It takes two imperfect beings aligned with the Perfect Being to accomplish this. Nothing else, no other equation will do.
NEXT WEEK: Lesson Six: Reviving the God-given roles of man and woman