This past Sunday ended the Year of the Family that began on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 2021. As a parish, St. Mary of the Angels started the year of the Family earlier, in July 2020. So, it has been two years of special focus on the family.
Strong Catholic Parents—Strong Catholic Marriages
Marriage is a wonderful school of all the Christian virtues, witnessing to both children and those outside the family what Christ came to sow: a love and self-giving that can transform the world.
A number of studies have been done trying to discern what behaviors in couples create a strong marriage and can prevent divorce. Interestingly, the way couples communicate (or don’t communicate), fight (or avoid fighting), handle finances, and engage in physical intimacy do not help predict the future outcome of their marriage. The only behavior that researchers find that can consistently predict that a couple will stick together is going to church together as a family each Sunday (actually this is true for Protestants and Jews as well).
When doing marriage preparation here at St. Mary of the Angels, I often mention this to the engaged couple and ask them why they think this may be. I get a number of good responses: going to Mass is something they can do together regularly, it reinforces shared values, etc. Those are good observations, but I don’t find them sufficient to explain the result of a lasting marriage.
Why do I think weekly church attendance is so powerful? Because it shows that the husband and wife are admitting to themselves (and to God) that fully loving another human being with his/her defects “until death do us part” is beyond their human strength. They are admitting that they need God’s help. Perhaps this kicks in for a man when he holds his first child in his arms and can’t believe how much he loves the child. Realizing the responsibility he has to provide the best for his child’s life—whom he loves so much—he finds he has to turn to God for help.
Marriage, a Vocation
The Catholic (the Christian) view of marriage is that it is a vocation, a pathway to holiness, and to spreading the Faith to others. The Second Vatican Council made this so clear:
“In connection with [Christ’s] prophetic function is that state of life, which is sanctified by a special sacrament obviously of great importance, namely, married and family life. For where Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus, by its example and its witness, it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth” (Lumen Gentium, 35; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48).
St. Josemaría—whose Feast day was this past Sunday—also spoke of the wonderful vocation of human love and marriage:
“Now, my children, let’s look at an aspect of daily life precious to me: human love—the clean love of a man and a woman in courtship and marriage. Holy human love is not just something to tolerate next to the true activities of the spirit, as insinuated by the false spiritualisms alluded to earlier. No! I’ve been preaching and writing the opposite for forty years: love leading to marriage and family can and should be a divine path, a marvelous vocation of total dedication to God; many who didn’t understand this then are finally getting it. As I said earlier: do things well, put love into the little duties of each day, and discover something divine in them: this is so true in the vital sphere of human love” (Passionately Loving the World, in Conversation, 121).
One way to live out this Christian vision of marriage and family as a vocation—besides recommitting to Sunday Mass—is to try to pray together as a couple. Pray also with your children and teach them to pray on their own. Let us all make a more concerted effort at praying for all married couples and all families.