“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (Catholic Catechism [CC] 1601)
Valentine’s Day is a time to remember with perhaps a tear in your eye and smile on your face all the reasons you fell in love with your spouse in the first place. The “I Do” takes on a whole lot more meaning as the years go by. A young bride walks down the church aisle toward the altar with a new, untested love in her heart. As the hymn begins to play she may be so naïve and immature as to let this thought cross her mind, “I’ll alter him!” Hopefully, all brides quickly realize that the license they signed did not give them carte blanche to remake their man. Marriage is instead, an opportunity to grow into a maturity that accepts your groom, faults and all.
“The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.” The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.” (CC 1603)
The married life takes a couple on a journey, walking hand and hand, up mountains and through valleys. There are times of suffering, times of peace, times of sickness, and times of health. An understanding heart, an ability to listen and defer, and both agreeing prior to marriage that divorce is never an option, can protect your marriage. A keen memory of the good times running through your mind, when you face a trial in your life, will give your marriage the direction needed to walk back toward the mountaintop of marital bliss. Then the clouds of dissatisfaction will no longer be able to block the beautiful view of life as man and wife. You will appreciate being with the one who hikes beside you.
For the “I Do” to be alive and well spiritually it takes prayer, a living faith and a commitment to center your marriage on Christ. It also takes work and a daily decision to put the other person first after God. Taking a spouse for granted will cause dissatisfaction and friction in the marriage. No spouse wants to play second fiddle to another person, a pastime, or job. A wise wife will focus on her marriage, knowing that tending to the marriage even in small ways will avoid the “weeds” of neglect. If you stop working to make your marriage healthy, slowly but surely there will be an erosion of your relationship. So be attentive if you desire to keep your relationship intact. You cannot just ride the “wave” of marital life on a good surf day and avoid the effort it takes to make it through the challenges that come your way when there is no surfing at all. Take the “wave” together or sit together in the sunshine; this will keep you from living your lives “ocean waves” apart. Living the “I Do” well is a way of saying, “I love you best. You’re still the one!” A spouse needs to know they are special every day, not just on Valentine’s Day. The assurance that the wedding day vows meant “I Do” forever gives your marriage security. If your husband has given his heart and his “I Do” to you, hold it tenderly, because hearts can be fragile and easily broken. Nourish your relationship with a daily dose of loving care, fed with understanding and compassion, and it will produce a healthy, happy marriage!
What is in an “I Do” anyway? Here are some “I Do’s” I have put into practice that helped our marriage mature:
- “I Do” put you first but I will always respect myself.
- “I Do” ask your opinion and promise your opinion will count. I expect you to be open to mine.
- “I Do” remember you with gifts, encouragement, and lending a helping hand. I hope you will too.
- “I Do” listen when you talk and try not to interrupt. I expect you to listen intently to me too.
- “I Do” defer to you, when you are right. If you are wrong, I will present my view to you; then pray it through. I will wait until we have a workable decision.
- “I Do” remain faithful to you alone. I expect the same fidelity to our sacrament of matrimony.
- “I Do” respect you by keeping our private matters confidential. I thank you in advance for the same respect.
- “I Do” prayerfully accept you, faults and all. Please bear with me patiently as well, for the sake of Christ.
- “I Do” encourage you to follow your dreams. However, I won’t let you fly so far to catch them, that I am not an important part of those dreams. Help me to take flight with my dreams with the same safeguard in our relationship of a man and wife for life.
- “I Do” share your burdens and try to understand your pain. I will not assume I will feel what you feel, nor carry what you carry. May we carry each other’s burdens to the Lord Jesus in prayer!
- “I Do” support you, but I will not “enable” you. Let us always encourage each other, and know when to let go and let God. Let us love each other enough to give each other space. Let us be ever ready to patiently wait and then be willing to welcome each other back with open arms.
- “I Do” love you and commit to live our marriage covenant forever. It is in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer, as long as we both shall live that the grace of Christ in our life is evident.
I will never forget the day a Navy man, Ryan, called me to profess his love for my daughter Charity. He was off shore in a land far away, sailing the ocean blue. Deployment has a way of making one’s heart grow fonder. He said, “I am truly in love with Charity. I love your daughter because….” and that is exactly how our conversation began. As he spoke, thoughts danced through my head of when Pat and I fell in love. He was a young medical student full of worldly pride and I a perky flight attendant full of life. He knocked on the door of my heart and took my breath away; new love had begun.
Halfway through the conversation with Ryan, I could not help myself; I had to interrupt. I, a woman who had lived a long, good marital life, knew just how to respond. You see, as we walked together living our vows to one another, I learned some things. Our love matured though the lessons life presented along the way. When sickness came our way and things were tough, I cared for him, and he for me. We walked beside each other and we faithfully prayed. When we were blessed with health, we were grateful. The good times lived together will always bring a smile to our faces. However, it was the times when trials knocked on the door of our lives that our relationship grew the most. We learned that love is not a feeling but a decision and a commitment before God. Trials became a time to call out to Jesus in fervent prayer, to seek the grace of the sacraments and to be there for each other no matter what. When we did not have the finances to pay the bills, we learned the meaning of sacrifice. We had to cut back and simplify, and sometimes do without. When we were blessed financially, we learned to be generous. Through thick and thin I have clung to our Savior and my Patrick. We learned how to live out our marriage covenant as a sacrament. We learned that we needed God’s grace and we needed God’s love because without it, we could not love at all.
So what did I say to Ryan that day? I spoke with the wisdom and grace that only God can give. After all, old age comes with a crown of glory, and I have the white hair to prove it. “Ryan,” I interrupted with authority, “that is not true love, that is new love.” He knew better than to stop me in mid-sentence when I was on a bandwagon. Ryan was self-controlled enough to let me speak. I guess you could say his military training came in handy. I continued, “New love is feelings, attraction and blindness to all faults. True love is something altogether different. True love involves sacrifice and commitment. It is going through the death of a baby, burying three parents in a year and a half, and standing by your spouse no matter what. Pat and I have true love which has stood the test of time. You and Charity have new love. It has only just begun.” I don’t know how our conversation ended, nor if he even understood what I was trying to say, but he was polite enough to let me finish.
A short span of time later Charity and Ryan exchanged their “I Do!” Ryan has become more than a son in law to us. He has earned the name son. Their marriage has stood the test of time. This month as they celebrated their anniversary, I could not help but recall that conversation with Ryan about true love. As I look back on their life together, I learned another lesson. The “I Do!” to be true, must be more than said; it must be lived out. The journey from new love to true love is a journey that begins with the words, “I Do!” It is a journey you begin as you walk hand in hand on your wedding day as husband and wife. The marital journey leads each couple on an unknown road selected by God alone. It is a journey of faith which you walk together with God’s grace. God alone transforms the heart from new love to true love. I have watched Ryan and Charity journey from new love to true love. It has been an amazing work of grace. It is the same journey that each couple is invited by God to take on their wedding day.
Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:
How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit. (CC 1642)
A healthy marriage takes place when two people are mature enough to choose to accept God’s grace and begin the journey. As they choose daily to grow in character and in committed love with one another their love matures. When my husband and I joined our lives together on our wedding day, I gave him my heart forever. I did not think that I could love him more, but I was wrong. I grow more in love with him every day. Our love has matured and it has stood the test of time, over forty years. On our wedding day, our hearts said, “I Do” in unison.
So what was in your “I Do?” Give your heart to your spouse daily, not just on Valentine’s Day. Tell him that the “I Do” came from the heart, right from the start! Then the story of your lives together will read:
MR. & MRS. … LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER…
Copyright 2016 Ellen Mongan; photo courtesy of the author