By Mario & Paola Martinez
While husbands and wives can hang on to the unconditional promise they made at their wedding as a source of grace, this will require persistent effort. This grace is the source of strength and hope in times of trial, enabling them to remain faithful to their promises in the face of obstacles. As they strive to stay faithful to this promise, they can take comfort in knowing that God’s grace is available to sustain and strengthen them even when the going gets tough. As they strive to live out their calling as spouses, God’s grace can help them to remain open to the many blessings and gifts that come with married life. With God’s grace, husband and wife can stay open to the love of God and of one another and can find strength and courage to remain faithful to the promises made on their wedding day.
Love and romantic feelings are intense emotions that can be felt for another person but have some distinct differences. Romantic feelings are often associated with physical attraction and sexual desire, whereas love can be far more profound and complex. Love is often seen as a commitment between two people, while romantic feelings are typically more associated with the initial stages of a relationship. Romantic feelings are usually short-lived and may fade over time, while love is based on a deep emotional connection that lasts a lifetime.
In the Pastoral Letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” the U.S. Bishops offer the theme “Journey of Human and Spiritual Growth,” which challenges couples to grow in holiness by journeying with Christ through the mystery of His life, death, and resurrection. Holiness is not superimposed upon the couple; it arises within the marriage. Growth in Christian marriage is about growth in virtue, precisely the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, as well as the moral virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. It is intertwined with human and spiritual growth. Christian couples are called to aspire to become fully what they are, namely, a living image of Christ’s love for the Church.
The bishops explain that married couples are called to practice marital chastity to protect the communion of persons and the procreative purposes of marriage. The virtue of chastity ensures that both husband and wife will strive to live as a gift of self, one to the other, generously and protecting each other against temptation. Couples are encouraged to journey with Christ towards discovering an intimate self-giving love. The critical temptations married couples may succumb to are the ever-present lust and self-centered pleasures. For instance, pornography is a serious threat to marital chastity. It is gravely immoral, as it erodes trust and intimacy between husband and wife and can threaten the stability and security of their family life.
As a husband and wife are thankful for one another and express this gratitude in giving of themselves entirely to one another, this gratitude is open to the further gifts that this self-giving embodies, that is, gratitude for the possible further gift of children. Chastity and gratitude are two virtues that are sometimes overlooked in relation to married life, but they are essential for growth in Christian Marriage. With gratitude for their vocation to serve, married couples and their children are motivated to participate actively, in keeping with their individual talents and charisms, in the building-up of Christ’s Body, the Church.
Achieving a holy marriage is a journey in Christ toward discovering an intimate self-giving of love and trust. It is a growth in virtue as spouses become what they are called to be by God: a living image of Christ’s love for his Church. This growth is nurtured by chastity, gratitude, openness and perseverance in fidelity, kindness and mutual assistance. And fostering communication and relationship skills. How has surviving a time of trial, either personally or in your marriage, better equipped you to support others suffering or struggling? How can the church community help families during a transition and/or loss?
(To download the pastoral letter, we invite you to visit sbmarriageinitiative.org.)
Mario and Paola Martinez are co-directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life Ministries in the Diocese of San Bernardino.