27th sunday in ordinary time
3rd october 2021
Year B – Psalter Week 3
Christian marriage is a participation in the love of God for the Church. God’s love for his Bride is eternal, entirely faithful, completely self-giving, and fruit-bearing. As we receive this kind of love as the Church, the Bride of Christ, we are called to grow in love for God in the way that we experience this love. Christian marriage, then, has as its core the self-giving of a man and a woman ‘till death do us part’, in complete faithfulness to one another, and seeking to be fruit-bearing in the conception and raising of children in a stable family environment. As we become one body with Jesus through the sacraments, so too a man and a woman become one body in marriage.
As we walk with God we come to realise more fully our own sinfulness and failures as we struggle to die to self and be faithful in our relationship with Him. So too with all our human relationships. I’m sure those of you who are married are acutely aware, at times, of the challenges you face as you seek to be faithful to your spouse and to put them first. I often think that in many ways marriage seems more demanding than the celibate priesthood. After all, there are two imperfect people in a marriage, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that they bring to that relationship. Then there is the stress of raising a family. Only the other day, I was speaking to a father of three children, all of whom are under six years old, who was saying how he had come to accept that he has little control over any day now, and that he has learnt to simply rely more upon God’s grace and plan for him, his wife and their children.
Every marriage has its challenges. To add to this today, we live in a world where there are many forces that work against married life. Statistically, I believe that it is at least every one in three marriages that end in divorce in this country. I am sure that there are many factors that contribute to this. I guess some people may view marriage as being simply a human contract that can be ended easily with divorce, rather than a God-given covenant as spoken of by Jesus in today’s gospel. There are more demands made upon parents financially today with the need for both parents to work in order to make ends meet. These can include very demanding jobs with long and unsociable hours, which takes a toll on family relationships. Sadly, we’re also in a society where infidelity in relationships is more common, as often portrayed on television, with a message that has sought to portray sexual expression, a sacred act that belongs in the marital covenant alone, to something merely recreational. I am sure that there are many more examples I could give, but the point that I am getting at is that the pressures that work against Christian family lives today are immense and people need support and encouragement.
How can we protect the Covenant of Marriage? The starting point has to be God’s grace. In any healthy Christian marriage God must come first and be at the heart of a marriage. Personal faithfulness to the Lord strengthens family relationships. In placing God first, Jesus says, everything else in our lives falls into its rightful place. When we put the Kingdom of God first, we come to realise that we do not belong to ourselves but to the Lord. St. Paul states: ‘Your body… is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for.’ And in today’s gospel Jesus teaches the following concerning marriage: ‘From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Also essential in our relationship with God is prayer. As the saying goes: A family that prays together, stays together.
Also helpful is good preparation for couples preparing to be married, and ongoing support for those who are married. A particularly helpful resource is entitled Smart Loving. It has online courses not only pre-marriage, but also for the married, and even one entitled ‘Breakthrough’ for spouses undergoing a particularly difficult time in their relationship. The course is entitled Smart Loving because it gets couples to think through how best to love their spouse and draws upon not only the teaching of the church, but also the findings of modern psychology. So, for example, research has shown that within a marriage most women desire to be cherished while most men want to be respected.
Quoting a little of the material it states: ‘Most women experience love most powerfully in the form of being cherished. When you cherish someone you value them greatly, they are precious to you, so you care for them tenderly, and you think about them often. Practical expressions of cherishment include: providing for a wife materially, caring for her physically, protecting her from harm, doing things to support her and making gestures to show that her husband has been thinking about her. A husband can communicate how much he cherishes his wife by affirming her beauty, listening to her and letting her get close to him emotionally. Like Christ, husbands are to take the leadership in being of service in the marriage, just as Christ leads the Church in self-sacrificing love’.
As for wives respecting their husbands: ‘Receiving respect empowers a husband with the freedom to love and cherish his wife with all his masculine goodness and value. In fact, many men will report that they can’t differentiate between being loved and being respected – to them, the two are the same experience. Practical expressions of respect may include seeking his opinion when making decisions, avoiding negative judgements about his motives when something goes wrong, trusting his judgement, and refraining from criticism or put-downs. It is through a wife’s respect for her husband; her admiration and appreciation of him and the sacrifices he makes, that he most often experiences her love.’
We love ‘smartly’ when we seek to love a person in the way that they personally experience love most powerfully. Everyone seems to have what’s called a ‘love language’. Aside from preferences in being cherished or respected, we all experience love in a unique way. For example, some experience love most powerfully through physical touch, others through eye contact, others through words of affirmation or affection, others through acts of service or thoughtfulness towards them, others by spending time in intimate conversation. The mistake most of us make in relationships is in presuming that everyone else experiences love most powerfully in the same way that we ourselves experience love most powerfully. Smart loving involves knowing the other person’s love language and seeking to love them in the way that they feel most loved. It goes for any relationship and particularly in marriage. Husbands, do you know your wife’s love language, and do you seek to love her in that way that she feels most loved? Wives, do you know your husband’s love language and do you seek to love him in the way that he experiences love most powerfully?
As with any Christian vocation, marriage involves allowing Christ to love your spouse and your children in and through you by dying to self. It will involve good communication, healthy conflict resolution, understanding of personal weaknesses and wounds, forgiveness and compassion, and a shared vision of what a healthy marriage should look like. All these kinds of subjects and more are covered in the Smart Loving course.
Finally, you are not on your own. We are the parish of Holy Family and St. John the Apostle. That means that we have as our patrons Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the Beloved. Who better to intercede for us and for our marriages and family lives? I believe that we as a parish have a particular call to promote, support and assist those who are married and all our families. If you feel that something like the Smart Loving course would be helpful to your marriage, or you could maybe just do with a chat, then please feel free to contact Deacon Jim or I and we will be happy to assist you in any way we can. Also, if you have any ideas about how we as a parish may better support marriage and family life then we are open to ideas!
 See Matthew 6:33.
 1 Cor 6:19.
 See https://smartloving.org/uk/
 Smart Loving Engaged Couple Work Book – Preparing to Marry in the Catholic Church, 2017, p. 1.5.
A man and his wife become one body
May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.
The one who sanctifies is the brother of those who are sanctified
What God has united, man must not divide
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, says the Lord; no one can come to the Father except through me.