Dear Friends In Christ,
Marriage is a wonderful school of all the Christian virtues, witnessing to both children and those outside the family of 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 that 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 a 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 I think weekly church attendance is so powerful? Because it shows that the husband and wife are admitting to themselves (and to God) that loving completely another human being with his/her defects “until death do they 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).
One way to live this out is 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.
-Fr. John Waiss