Living the Graces of Matrimony
The sacrament of matrimony issues quite a challenge to the brave souls who endeavor upon its path. Promising to “be faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love and to honor [your spouse] all the days of your life” is a tall order, but couples need not fear. The fact that marriage is a sacrament ordained by God means that it is a beautiful vocation in which grace abounds. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) acknowledges, “It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love, that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God’s faithful love” (1648). God’s love sustains and supports the bond of love uniting each married couple, providing everything they need to live the fullness of their vocation and help each other reach their ultimate destination in God in heaven.
What are the graces of marriage?
My husband Eric and I agree that our marriage (not quite five years in) has bestowed such graces as stability, rest, peace, strength, encouragement, humor, companionship, and lightness in times of struggle. The positive effects of the graces of marriage tend to flow in all directions. Strengthened and encouraged by the stability of our shared life, each of us has become a better person in all areas of life – a more patient parent, compassionate friend and neighbor, generous worker, thoughtful sibling, and so on. With a “full cup” of marriage grace, we can pour ourselves out to the benefit of our family, community, and world, witnessing to the Love (God) that is the source of our joy. Our marriage is thus a gift not for us to keep to ourselves but to joyfully share with everyone we meet, pointing toward God and making real and concrete the depth of His Love.
How do we seek and receive the grace?
In a word, we seek and receive the graces of marriage by seeking Christ. The second reading we chose for our wedding Mass was Colossians 3:12-17. We felt it beautifully summarized our “plan of action,” how we would live out our vows and seek to help each other on our journey to heaven by staying close to Jesus. It is in the following actions that we open ourselves to the graces of marriage:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)
If we are controlled by the peace of Christ, letting His Word dwell in us, and doing everything in His Name, we are emptied of self and filled with Christ, thus better able to love one another and those around us. We speak with Jesus’ words, touch with His hands, listen with His heart. The Catechism states, “This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together” (CC 1644). In order to be a place of rest for one another, we each must rest in Jesus. In order to provide stability, peace, and love to one another, we must first seek those things in Christ. To be a source of light in times of darkness, we must allow Jesus to light our individual flames. We seek our nourishment in the Eucharist.
How do spouses bestow the grace upon each other?
With the love of Christ as its source, married love can sanctify each individual spouse. Before our marriage, we were given the advice to say to one another, “I give you permission to correct me.” This is the most important piece of advice we received. Allowing your spouse to be a mediator of grace is humbling and hugely helpful. With the help of the Holy Spirit, your spouse can act as a mirror, reflecting a truer picture of who you are and gently pointing out where growth is needed. At the same time, your spouse can also serve as a window to your truest self and to the divine light within you that illuminates the best version of yourself. Done in love, this correction and beckoning forward is like Christ Himself gently drawing you into the heart of God. As the poet Kahlil Gibron says, “When you love you should not say, ‘God is in my heart,’ but rather, ‘I am in the heart of God.’”
Grace grows as you draw from it. It is a well that never empties. The more you rely upon grace, the more you receive. In the Second Vatican Council, the Church beautifully stated, “The Lord, wishing to bestow special gifts of grace and divine love on married love, has restored, perfected, and elevated it. A love like that, bringing together the human and the divine, leads the partners to a free and mutual self-giving, experienced in tenderness and action, and permeating their entire lives; this love is actually developed and increased by its generous exercise” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 49). Join me in praying for married couples everywhere to remain open to the grace God offers them each day by generously exercising the love of Christ in their marriage. Praise God for the great gift of marriage, which draws us ever closer to our true home in heaven!