Forgive me the delay in posting. This post was written (the vast majority of it) on Sunday and was meant to be posted on Sunday.
It is Sunday once more, and for the first time in what feels like forever, I was able to go to Mass today, thanks be to God! I am so richly blessed to be able to receive the True Sacraments as often as I do. I met with two good friends of mine after Mass, who were recently married just earlier last month. I can’t believe they’ve already been married a month. It seems that though the ‘honeymoon’ phase still lingers a bit, the stresses of married life have already set in. In leaving one’s father and mother, especially if you have several younger siblings, it sometimes requires that the many duties which the married sibling used to perform must now be performed by another, and usually the mother or another sibling. With this young couple, there are already stresses with work, school, and family, that even with their nearly-ideal circumstances (the wife coming from a traditional Catholic family), are very hard to bear. Seeing their bliss coupled with their responsibility presented a seemingly discordant picture in my mind. How can married life be happy when there is so much sacrifice involved?
I know (from watching others and from advice given to me) that marriage is NOT the pretty tea-cup ride that many, if not all, of us are taught to imagine. But I guess it’s taken me a little while to work up the courage to take off the rose-colored glasses and face the inevitable: Marriage, especially Catholic marriage and especially in this day and age, is a heavy cross.
Now, don’t go looking at my thesis statement there and think, “Wow, that’s pretty pessimistic.” No, my friends, this is REALISTIC. Just because marriage is a cross does NOT mean that there aren’t any joys to be had in it. In fact, for truly Catholic spouses, the fact that marriage is a cross makes the bond sweeter. Our Lord Himself tells us that if we would gain heaven, that we must take up our crosses and follow Him. In a marriage, we are accepting the cross that God gives to us (marriage and its duties, responsibilities, and sorrows) and carrying it together. I believe married people are intended to carry a single cross, a cross much too heavy for only one to bear alone. It requires both spouses carrying ALL that they can carry in order to lift it, and it takes both spouses walking the SAME DIRECTION in order to take it where it needs to go. If either of these requirements are lacking, if either spouse slacks in their duties, the burden on the one remaining faithful becomes almost unbearable. Now, this is the case with secular marriages which exclude God. They take on the cross, but with no supernatural helps, no sense of direction or even agreement of direction, and no promise or bond tying them to the cross. This is why when one partner is remiss in their duty, the other leaves. They have no help to carry the cross and so they cannot bear it up. They do the only thing that they know how to do—they abandon the cross. We have many abandoned crosses littered throughout our world today. But these crosses are not wholly abandoned, even when those who took it on leave it behind. Parts of it are passed on to the children of such partnerships, and parts of it are kept within the hearts of those who leave it, as a painful reminder of their failure and insufficiency.
This, my friends, is why marriage is a Sacrament, and why the Church urges her children so much to marry within the Church, that is, to choose a Catholic spouse. She knows, through centuries of bitter experience, how many separations, how many miseries, how many unbearable crosses have been borne unnecessarily throughout the years, all because her children were not wise in the choosing of their partner. If we are going to choose a fellow laborer, we do not want to choose someone who is slothful in their duties, who is not punctual, who is not loyal and faithful to see the work through to the end. No, we want a good companion, someone who will make the work lighter, who will help steady us when we stumble, who will lead or be led as need be. Why would we choose any less for our spouse, who is to carry such a heavy load with us until death? Why would we choose any less for our spouse, when this work that we shall take up with them will determine not our temporal wages, but our eternal welfare? And why would we shun the helps that Christ Himself offers us through Holy Mother Church in the undertaking of such an important enterprise?
It is inconceivable to me, and to many Catholics, that some that call themselves Catholics frown upon the Church in her wisdom. Can they not see that it is out of a supernatural, motherly love that she calls her children to choose very carefully, and forbids them to choose from those that would be a danger to their souls? Such ‘Catholics’ act like headstrong youths, who declare that they know better than their mother, who declare that they can choose more wisely, who declare that ‘love conquers all’, even boundaries of religion and sinful habits of character.
No, my friends. I can say, from my own experience, that there is a terrible wake-up call for those who find themselves unequally yoked with an unbeliever. I myself just barely escaped such a union, because my circumstances enabled the use of the Pauline privilege. I had a natural marriage contract that I had made with someone as a Protestant that had not been overseen by any minister, but my ‘spouse’ was not a baptized Christian, and when I left him and began my process of converting to the Church, he let me know just what he thought of my pending conversion, and declared he never wanted to talk to me again, that Catholicism was evil and that I was a bad influence. I was able to call upon the Pauline privilege because of his aversion to my faith and his certain antagonism toward it, and because he was not baptized, rendering the marriage contract we had non-Sacramental, and therefore dissolvable in such a case as this. Now I am free to remarry a Catholic (and indeed, God saw fit to bring me and my current boyfriend together after the process of my conversion). But I still suffer the consequences of such an improper and unlawful union—I’ve had to wait longer for this marriage, and because of my over-scrupulosity sometimes suffer attacks of doubt and guilt because of my lost purity.
I can honestly say that out of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life so far, that previous union was the worst and has had the most effect on me. I wish with all my heart I had listened to everyone who had told me to hold off on commitment until after college, until after I’d ‘found myself.’ But unfortunately, all too often, it takes such a sobering as this to finally shatter the rose-colored glasses, and unfortunately, many times the damage is irreversible and inescapable. I thank God every day that He saw fit to bring me through the fires of that trial without leaving me in them, and that He is giving me another chance to prove the lesson I’ve learned and carry the cross with someone very capable of carrying it with me. I promised myself and God that if He were to give me another chance at marriage, I would do it right. And so far, God has helped me very graciously to keep that promise. I have been dating my boyfriend for almost 3 years—our relationship has been pure and chaste, thanks be to God and to Mary, our Mother, and we have shared all of our hopes and desires for marriage, pleased to find that time and time again, God has implanted in us a GPS, so to speak, and it’s set for the same place, going the same route.
My situation, I feel, is very rare, and I would caution any young readers who believe they have been called to marriage: PLEASE CHOOSE WISELY. The choice of your spouse doesn’t just affect you now—it affects you for the rest of your life. Do not think that it is a mistake easily remedied should you find that you chose unwisely. And should God give you the grace to realize your mistake before marriage—PLEASE GET OUT OF THAT RELATIONSHIP! It doesn’t matter how much feeling you may have for someone, or how much you believe in the power of love to change people. Do not play God. God is the only one with the power to move hearts, and even He does not move unless He is invited. Do not think you are so powerful, or that purely human love is so powerful, as to erase a person’s bad habits or irreligious tendencies. Human nature does not work that way. Each of us has a free will, and only when a person truly desires to change is there any hope for change. All the power of your will cannot change another person’s actions, cannot make them want to change, cannot make the change happen in them. Not even God can make this happen against a person’s will. He has given this privilege of free will to each of us that we may CHOOSE to love God—otherwise we would be automatons.
All this to say, that marriage is a cross—why choose a partner that is going to make that cross more heavy and difficult for us to carry? Why let ourselves be deluded by the world’s promises of bliss and fairy-tale contentment and happy-ever-afters, no matter who you marry? Young men and women, do not let pretty looks or the fires of passion consume your reason and judgment. We are young and inexperienced…we need to take the advice of our dear Mother Church, who has centuries of wisdom to pass on to us, and wishes only for our happiness, both here on earth and most importantly, in eternity. Only choose a spouse who is going the same direction as you are, who is going at the same speed, and who is equipped with the spiritual muscle to shoulder the cross of marriage with you. Note that this takes time and wisdom to discern; do not shun the advice of your elders and superiors with regards to your possible candidates for marriage. Very often they advise based on both solid experience and a deep inner intuition that comes only with time. They do not advise to bring you misery, but rather, to help you avoid misery and bring you happiness. So often, young people like myself wake up to their awful predicament and regret, with tears and heart-rending contrition, that they spurned the kindly admonitions of a parent or spiritual father. And very often, it is too late for them to extract themselves from their horrid condition.
I sincerely apologize that this has turned into a sermon, but I feel it is only necessary to share my own experience in the hopes that it will deter another young person like myself from treading a dangerous and deadly path to temporal misery and eternal ruin. The choice is entirely in your hands, dear reader: You can gain a treasury of precious advice and gems of wisdom at the small price of your youthful pride, or you can cherish your pride and run headlong into the arms of destruction. Note that I am preaching as much to myself as to any of you. In some ways I feel too young to be saying these things. But experience is experience, and because I have learned from it at a dear price, I feel it too precious a gem to keep to myself.
May God bless you and Mary keep you, dear reader.
+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+