IT IS not only the highest Catholic doctrine which requires the spirit of sacrifice of the married couple but more immediate common experience.
To live mutually in the closest proximity, in constant forgetfulness of self so that each of the two thinks only of the other requires something more than mere human attraction.
“Do not believe those who tell you that the road of love offers only the softest moss for your feet to tread. There are some sharp pebbles on the trail blazed by Adam and Eve.”
The married woman who wrote those lines in verse, said the same thing in prose, a prose strangely poetic:
“To enter into marriage with the idea that someday they will be rid of self is like putting a moth into a piece of wool. Whatever may be the embroidery, the gold threads, the rich colors, the piece of wool is destined to be eaten, chewed with holes and finally completely devoured. It would be necessary for two saints to marry to be sure that no bitter word would ever be exchanged between them; even then it is not predictable what misunderstandings might crop up. Did not Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas have to separate because they had too many altercations? Then, can these two unfortunate children of Adam and Eve destined to struggle in life with all that life brings in our days of recurring difficulties expect never to have any temptations to wound each other and never to succumb to such provocations?”
Here however we are discussing the case of two who are sustained by dogma, morals, and the sacraments. But suppose one of the couple is a sort of pagan, or if baptized, so far removed from his baptism that nothing recalls any longer the mark of the children of God. What a secret cause for suffering!
Such was the suffering of Elizabeth Leseur who was happy in her married life in the sense that her husband was completely loyal to her but unhappy in her home because on the fundamental point for union, there was disunion, a separated life, the wife being Christian to the degree of astonishing intimacy with God and the husband remaining perfectly satisfied with the superficial life of so-called society.
Even when souls live in closest harmony, there will always be, even in the best of homes, a hidden cause for mutual suffering, which one author calls, “the eternal tragedy of the family, due to the fact that man and woman represent two distinct worlds whose limits never overlap.“
The husband lives whole days much more outside the home than in it; he has his business, his office, his store, his shop, his factory.
Except for the early days of his married life, he is absorbed more by ambition than by love; in any case, his heart alone is not busy throughout his days, but also and frequently more often, his head.
Sometimes the wife suffers from not having her husband sufficiently to herself; the husband suffers because he appears not to be devoting himself sufficiently to his wife. Over and above other causes of tragedy, here is the eternal and hidden drama. Much virtue is needed by both to accept the suffering they unwittingly cause each other.
A MYSTIC MORAL BOND
ASIDE from the helps of Faith, two things especially can aid the married couple to practice mutual forbearance and to accept the sacrifices inherent in life together.
The first is the fact of their mutual share in the birth of their progeny.
Saint Augustine speaks beautifully of the two little arms of a child which draw the father and mother more closely together within the circle of their embrace as if to symbolize the living bond of union the child really is between them.
Even when one’s choice of a marriage partner has been perfect, when ardent tenderness is evinced on both sides, there can still develop a period of tenseness and strained relations. Who can best reconcile the two souls momentarily at odds, upset for a time, or somewhat estranged? The child.
Someone has said it well: “Life is long, an individual changes in the course of ten, fifteen, twenty years shared with another. If the couple has had a fall out, it will not be so perilous if they have known love in its fullness. I mean by that the love of hearts and souls above all…, if the two have the noble and deep memories which constitute our true nourishment during our voyage on earth, if they are above all bound together by the children that their love has brought into the world, then there is a good chance that even though they are caught by the undertow of passion, they will emerge safe and sound.”
In addition to having children . . . that bond of love between the father and mother even in the greatest stress and strain . . . what most contributes to a speedy reconciliation after the clashes that eventually arise or the misunderstandings which set them at odds is the thought that they must endure, they must remain together.
What is to be thought of the following practice which is becoming quite customary? In the preparation of the trousseau, only the bride’s initial is engraved on the silverware or embroidered on the linen. Does it not seem to be a provision for the possibility of a future separation?
By the constant repetition of the idea that man is fickle and that “her husband is the only man a woman can never get used to,” the novel, the theater, the movies, set the stamp of approval on the “doctrine” of the broken marriage bond as something normal, something to be expected.
“On the contrary,” says Henriette Charasson, who is a married woman and an author quoted before, “if husbands and wives realized that they were united for life, if they knew that nothing could permit them to establish another family elsewhere, how vigilant they would be not to let their precious and singular love be weakened; how they would seek, throughout their daily ups and downs, to keep vibrant, burning, and radiant, the love which binds them not only by the bond of their flesh but by the bond of their soul.”
We must thank God if He has blessed our home by giving us many precious children; thank Him also for the Christian conviction which we received formerly in our homes, convictions which will never permit us to consider the possibility of the least fissure in our own family now.
A FATHER’S ANSWER TO HIS DAUGHTER
IN THE book “My Children and I” by Jerome K. Jerome, which is as full of humor as of common sense, a young girl tells her father that she is frightened at the possibility of love’s brevity.
“Love,” she says, “is only a stratagem of nature to have fun at our expense. He will tell me that I am everything to him. That will last six months, maybe a year if I am lucky, provided I don’t come home with a red nose from walking in the wind; provided he doesn’t catch me with my hair in curlers. It is not I whom he needs but what I represent to him of youth, novelty, mystery. And when he shall be satisfied in that? . . .”
Her father answers, “When the wonder and the poetry of desire shall be extinguished what will remain for you will be what already existed before the desire. If passion alone binds you, then God help you! If you have looked for pleasure only, Poor You! But if behind the lover, there is a man (let us add a Christian); if behind this supposed goddess, sick with love, there is an upright and courageous woman (again let us add Christian); then, life is before you, not behind you. To live is to give not to receive. Too few realize that it is the work which is the joy not the pay; the game, not the points scored; the playing, not the gain. Fools marry, calculating the advantages they can draw from marriage, and that results in absolutely nothing. But the true rewards of marriage are called work, duty, responsibility. There are names more beautiful than goddess, angel, star, and queen; they are wife and mother.
Marriage is a sacrifice.
Since marriage calls for more than ordinary sacrifice, it will be necessary in order to remain faithful to the habit of sacrifice, to have more than ordinary helps.
We have already meditated on the similarity between the Eucharist and marriage; we have seen that not only is there a bond of resemblance between these two sacraments but that there is in the Eucharist, above all in participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice and in Holy Communion a singular help for the married.
Prayer together must also be a help. Someone has rightly said, “The greatest sign of conjugal love is not given by encircling arms in an embrace but by bended knees in common prayer.
In his “Confessions,” Saint Augustine describes his last evening with his mother at Ostia. It is worth quoting. When a husband and wife have reached such a degree of soul-union in God, they can face all life’s tempests without trembling.
“Forgetting the past and looking toward the future, we pondered together in Your Presence, O my God, the living Truth, on what the eternal life of the elect would be like. . . . We came to this conclusion: The sensible pleasures of the flesh in their intensest degree and in all the attractiveness that material things can have, offer nothing that can compare with the sweetness of the life beyond, nor do they even deserve mention. In a transport of love, we tried to lift ourselves to You there….“
I must understand more clearly than in the past how essential it is to be rooted in prayer and if possible in prayer together.
I will meditate on this again.
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