Happy St. Valentine’s Day! Happy World Marriage Day! And Happy Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time!
If you’re married, you’ve probably been spending a lot of time together at home over this past year. My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary back in August in the midst of the pandemic. It wasn’t quite how I had always imagined such a milestone anniversary would go, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Did you know that St. Valentine is not only the patron saint of couples & happy marriages, but he’s also the patron saint of the plague? No, neither did I! Seems like a weird combo, but maybe it’s not.
Since the pandemic hit divorce rates have skyrocketed. One report from a British outlet (bbc.com/worklife) showed a 122% increase in divorce inquiries July-October 2020 over the same time period the previous year and a US source cites that 20% of couples that filed for divorce during the second quarter of 2020 had been married less than five months! Apparently, we are not praying for the intercession of St. Valentine nearly enough on either front!
So I want to ask you a serious question: now that we’ve been at home for almost a year, through the stresses of a pandemic, violence in the streets, and a turbulent election cycle, how’s your relationship doing? Are you in a love-filled marriage? Take a moment right now and turn to look at your spouse—really look at them. It’s okay, I’ll wait…Do you remember what was said in your wedding vows? You promised that you were entering marriage freely, not being forced or coerced in any way, and that you were entering it totally, not holding any part of yourself back from the other and being only for the other. You promised that this marriage would be until death, that what God was about to join together at the moment of your consent, not only WOULD not but COULD not be destroyed or separated. You promised that you were entering into this union with a heart open to new life and fruitfulness in whatever way God would bless your lives. We sometimes summarize these promises as: Free, Total, Faithful, & Fruitful. So, I ask again, how’s your relationship going these days?
If you aren’t living the sacrament of marriage, I hope that you’re still reading because, if you are a Baptized person, then you are in a marriage…with God. That’s what Baptism, completed by Confirmation and the Eucharist, does for us. Those three sacraments, taken together as the sacraments of initiation, are essentially our wedding to the Lord, but we initially enter into the covenant relationship, that is a permanent bond with God, at our Baptism. Just like in a human marriage, we are called to enter into these sacraments freely, it must not be forced or because great aunt Hilda expects it; it must be total. There can’t be any piece of ourselves held back from Jesus. And we must accept Him fully as well, including the Cross; faithfulness is expected. The first commandment tells us that we are not to have any other gods, and fruitfulness is the natural result of this relationship, which we see in our renewed focus on being missionary disciples to those around us. So, now I direct my question a little differently, not just to those living the vocation of human marriage, but to all the Baptized: how is YOUR marriage going?
I heard a great quote the other day that many Catholics today are living in a loveless marriage with God—OUCH! We are married to Him by nature of our Baptism, but for so many it’s a marriage of obligation or burden. If that’s you, if you look over at the Crucifix and see your spouse there and wonder, “Who is this that I’m covenanted to? Some days I don’t even feel like I know Him at all,” then keep reading! Before you walk away from this marriage (you can’t end it; by your Baptism, it is sealed on your soul and will always be there—this is why we don’t reBaptize in the Catholic Church) let’s talk about how to bring new life to it!
Every time we pray, read Scripture, spend time in Adoration, and when we celebrate the sacraments—especially the Eucharist— we are renewing our wedding vows with God. We hear His voice in His Word and we come to know Him better; we spend time gazing at Him in the monstrance and we draw closer to Him better in the silence; we talk to Him and, more importantly, we listen for His voice and we come to recognize Him in our minds. When we go to the Eucharist, we receive Him physically within ourselves and we become more fully configured to Him, beginning to see Him within ourselves and others. If you feel distant from your spouse, whether that’s because of the plague keeping you away from Mass or whatever the reason, begin courting and allowing yourself to be courted again. Recall what you loved about Him in your youth and invite Him to reawaken that love in your heart again. Renew your vows with Him!
All relationships take work, especially marriages, both earthly and heavenly. In human marriage, we renew our vows, too: telling our spouses that we love them is a renewal; spending time with our spouse is a renewal; going through the ups and downs of everyday life even when there’s not a pandemic can be a renewal if we let it, but especially when we come together as husband and wife in the marital embrace it is a renewal. In that moment we are promising with our bodies that we (still) freely give ourselves to each other, that we accept the totality of who each other is, that we only give and receive in this way with each other, and that we are open to whatever fruitfulness God chooses to pour out on our lives, whether that means babies or a joyful love that radiates to the world and draws people in. This is why we don’t have a marriage vow renewal ceremony in the Catholic Church. We don’t need to; we renew them each and every time we come together.
Coordinator of Sacramental Preparation