Monday, September 2, 2013

When marriage is at its best

A family I had known for quite a while in one of my earlier parish assignments just had a wedding in the family.  Their younger daughter got married, but I was in no condition to be part of the ceremony, much as I would have loved to be there.  But I did send them a message on the social media, which was part of a whole list of congratulatory wishes and felicitations.  Almost all of their friends wished them wedded bliss and lifelong happiness, which is to be expected.  My message had instead something that reminded them what a sacrament of marriage was, and that their marriage was about Christ and showing him to the world through their sustained married, sacramental love.  Was I a killjoy?  I suppose if one only wants to hear ‘nice’ things on a wedding day, and nothing ‘serious’, then I may have cast a slight pall over what most want to be only a day of happiness and joy.  However, if we really come to think of it, what is it in a marriage that brings a deep, abiding joy and true happiness?  What is it that makes a sacramental marriage truly spectacular?  When is marriage at its best?

When two people truly are in awe that their very individual lives are nothing that they deserve and that they are living lives of a received grace, each marriage partner becomes not only respectful of the other person, but truly cherishes the gift that the other person is.  The world of each of the individuals in the marriage becomes enlarged to embrace all that the other person is, because Christ also becomes so visible in the other.  This is so different from the attitude where each of the partners in a marriage that doesn’t have Christ in its centre now views their world in a more constricted, enclosed, and self-centered way.  “You are now mine, and my happiness depends on how you serve my needs and meet my (silent) demands.  Through time, I hope such and such behavioral traits in you will change, and you become a ‘project’ for me to ‘fix’”.  Of course, these sentiments are hardly vocalized, let alone admitted to.  But to have them as a silent ‘lurker’ in the back of one’s ‘agenda’ in marriage is akin to have a time bomb ticking away in the basement of the marital home. 

How do we truly and generously then enlarge our world to truly embrace the differences of others in life?  I believe that when we begin to do this, that our vision of Christ in the world becomes very much clearer, but it will bring with it a certain pain and discomfort within ourselves.  Let’s face it – our individuality may be our greatest gift, but it is also a double-edged sword.  When we are too caught up in our righteous individuality, the downside is that we become almost intolerant, impatient and judgmental about others.  When we see how others are not behaving as we think they ought to, in society, in our circles of friends, in the church, during and outside of organized liturgy, we can waste a lot of time and energy pointing fingers and blaming someone for such ‘bad’ behavior. 

But do we really need to blame anyone for the differences that we live out in life?  I have yet to come across someone who actually dares to blame him or herself for the differences that they see in others.  Most of the time, it’s only a judgment call on the other person, while the one looking on seems to be wearing a shade called Brilliant White.  The differences in our lives can easily then become a source of irritation, division, resentment, acrimony, and bitterness, where there is very little possibility of being happy for the other person. 

What does it take for one to open one’s world to accept that there is something to celebrate in the differences that we are?  How is it that some people can overlook even the most staggering differences of opinions and unacceptable social behavior and say with conviction that there are good things to be thankful for in the other party and not just focus on the black spot on the whiteboard?  I think part of the secret has to lie in the fact that one has encountered God within one’s self in a very real way – this same God who has made the universe in such a diverse and splendid way, where no blade of grass is exactly the same shade of green and of the same shape and texture, where it would be so dull and boring if every person was a carbon copy of the next, and where everything is just so bland and uninteresting. 

True, these people are few and far between, but they are what the church have celebrated in mystics and truly holy people who prophetically dared to go beyond themselves because they truly encountered God who is at the same time at the heart of their very selves, and also outside at the furthermost reaches of this very diverse and wide universe. 

When a married couple dares to live such expanded lives where each truly embraces the other’s world and expands one’s whole horizon in life, they can truly begin to live Christ at the heart of their marriage.  And as Christ once said, “for man, it is impossible, but for God, anything is possible”. 


  1. I have just celebrated my 21st wedding anniversary, Fr Luke. And I can say in all honesty, many are the times I had to mutter under my breath - "Trust in God, not in man"! God Bless, Father.

  2. Thank you Father for enlighten me in my marriage.

    God Bless you always, Father!

  3. Hmmm thank you frLuke. It is so true for me in my earlier years of marriage when i was the centre of everything and therefore, "where each of the partners in a marriage that doesn’t have Christ in its centre now views their world in a more constricted, enclosed, and self-centered way. “You are now mine, and my happiness depends on how you serve my needs and meet my (silent) demands. Through time, I hope such and such behavioral traits in you will change, and you become a ‘project’ for me to ‘fix’”.

    By the grace of God and remembering FJS saying "marriage is humanly impossible that's why God made it a sacrament", at a family camp years back, we made a pledge to "place God as the head of the family: that everything we do, we do it for God and with Him. With God, we will be tolerant of each other's shortcomings; we will love, respect, support and be positive with each other always..... "

  4. Thanks, Fr Luke. I've not been in your parishes nor spoken to you before. I started reading your blog in March this year, after friends told me about it, & been reading it since.

    This title reminds me of Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body, where he describes marriage ‘from the beginning’ (Genesis) so beautifully! At first it just seemed like an attractive albeit impossible aspiration. Over the years, encounters with Christ made me realize that indeed, “with Man it is impossible, but with God it is possible”, baby-step by baby-step...Eg. once, my husband & I had a tiff & I called for a time-out and stomped into the Adoration Room to mope & to ask Christ if He thought I was right. In my red mist, a still small voice in my heart said: “Let him (ie. my husband) be.” Christ sidestepped the adversarial trap; He did not say I was right, neither did he say my husband was right. Instead, Christ appealed to my magnanimity. I was stunned by the brilliance & gentleness of His invitation. At that moment, my red mist lifted & it felt as if I received an infusion of grace & (alas, temporary) gift of magnanimity to peaceably resolve the issue. Marriage ought not to be ‘You against Me’, nor ‘You & Me against the World’, but ‘You & Me in the image of Christ & Church, in & to the World’, according to St Paul.

    I pray for wisdom to see that while each of us are whole as individuals, we attain a new level of wholeness & oneness by complementing each other in our very differences. I pray for magnanimity– to enlarge my small constricted heart to embrace the whole belovedness of my spouse & his world, as I would like to be embraced (with all my warts, idiosyncracies & general nonsense). Still and always, a work-in-progress.


  5. A wonderful blog, Fr Luke!

    I am happily married for almost 18 years now. In my younger days, I had always hoped for a picture perfect marriage - like those in romantic movies or like those embracing couples in postcards?

    Nowadays, I marvel at elderly couples who still shou-la-shou (your description of holding hands in your homilies), who still whisper into each other's ears (no, I don't think the hearing aid is spoilt), and who will still steal a kiss thinking no one is watching. I am attracted by these loving elderly couples not because they are perfect, but because they have learnt to love perfectly all their spouse's imperfections. Such love can only be made possible through the grace of God.

  6. Dear Fr. Luke,

    I knew from the start, that it wasn't going to be easy: married life, that is. I was under no false pretensions about what to expect. I foresaw a lot of hard work down the road; much like a housebuilder building a mansion, brick by brick.

    One thing I regularly pray for, is the grace to be a better, more loving husband. I know that, because of my many shortcomings, I would be a terrible burden to my spouse - if not for the grace of God. And it is only by the grace of God that I can truthfully say, that my wife and I are more in love today than we were on our wedding day; because He has blessed us so. Praise God!

    If I may quote from "Christian Marriage" by Caryll Houselander:
    "In matrimony, it is the bride and bridegroom who give one another the grace of the sacrament; and it goes on, as they grow together in one another's love, a gradual increase of joy, which nothing, ultimately, can take away from them. In a sense they are one another's priests, because their life is a lifelong giving and taking of Christ's life. Everything in their lives has a quality of miracle; all their words of compassion or forgiveness are in a sense little absolutions; their union a communion with Christ. Every breaking of bread at their table, a remembrance and more than a remembrance of him."

    God Bless,

  7. Dear Father Luke,

    Love is a decision afterall. Just like Faith and Trust in God are decisions too.

    I have been married 18 years. We have been blessed with love, happiness and much rowdy laughter from our 3 boys and extended families from both sides.

    Thank you for this post. It was enriching.

    You will be in my prayers.


  8. Dear Fr Luke

    Most of the time, good advice does not sound. Marriage is not a path of roses without thorns. Friends love to point out the beautiful roses, but it is the well-meaning ones who caution them on the thorns hidden underneath. I am sure the young couple will find your message meaningful, rather than a "killjoy". :)

    I once received a wedding announcement card from a Muslim colleague. On the card, it was written: "The path of marriage is so narrow that two must walk as one."

    How true!

    For 2 different people to walk as one, we have to accept each other's strengths and weaknesses. We have to decide to love one another in spite of our imperfections. To do that, we cannot rely on our human nature which is all about "self". We need God in the equation of marriage.

    God bless

  9. Dear Fr Luke,

    Having been married for 15 years and having experienced tumultuous times in my married life, it is through the grace of God that my husband and I are still together. There were times when I was at my wits' end and didn't know what to do or what to say, prayer helps a lot. Praying for the right words to say, praying for the right time to say those words, praying for the other person to be receptive and listen without judgement. Somehow, things turn out better.
    Yes, I must admit there were times when I was doubtful and there were times when I felt alone and helpless, friends around me never cease to remind me to PRAY.
    In a marriage, it takes 2 hands to clap. There are still times when I wonder whether 1 hand can do the clapping as the other hand is lost. But reading your blog made me realise that even if my partner's hand is not there, God's hand is there. As long as my hand is in HIS, things will work out. Amen.

  10. Our oldest son is now 19 years old. We just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. I cannot imagine life without my partner. We have been richly blessed in our relationship.