An hour into our first marriage preparation class, my husband and I discovered our first big challenge as a couple. We really had to make sure we were on the same page about what it meant to be permanently committed to one another; in other words, to be one flesh until death. We didn’t have to look at society to know that marriage was going to be tough, we only had to look at our two families of origin.
Twenty-five years ago, a local news channel came into my childhood home to interview my dad. They had been doing a week-long special on stroke survivors, and my mom, nine years earlier and just six weeks after giving birth to me, suffered a cerebral aneurism that should have ended her life. By God’s grace she survived, though with extremely limited use of her entire left side and her speech.
The news crew followed my mom around the house, watching her do all the tasks which years of therapy now allowed her to do with still limited but impressive ability almost a decade later. I am sure it was awe-inspiring to viewers of the special. For my 9-year-old eyes, however, it was simply motherhood.
For me, my dad’s three-minute interview was a bigger story than my mother’s everyday courage and strength. During the course of questions asked by the news correspondent, my dad responded as only a civil engineer could: with lots of detailed explanation and not a lot of that heart-wrenching emotion that drives up TV news ratings. So in hopes of drawing a little drama perhaps, the interviewer brought out the big guns.
She asked him, in a tone I will never forget, why, being a full-time engineer, a busy Catholic deacon, and now with four small children plus a wife who was “basically child-like” after her stroke, he “stayed.” After all, she reminded him, when he signed up for this marriage, it was to an able and athletic woman with a master’s degree.
Without a hitch, my dad responded, “Because I stood before God and everyone else in the church, and said that I was going to be married to her in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for better or worse, until we are separated by death. Next question.”
The interviewer seemed completely disconcerted. For my 9-year-old eyes, however, it was simply marriage.
So when my husband and I readied ourselves for the sacrament of matrimony, I had to make it pretty clear that no matter what “bad times,” “sickness,” and “worse” looked like, I was sticking. I was blessed when he, who had a prevalent family background of divorce, was committed to the same scope.
After a decade now of working in marriage-related ministry together, we have met couples who have rebounded from nearly every possible struggle a marriage can experience, from infidelity to substance abuse to financial crisis and even child loss. Through their witness, I have no reason to ever doubt that Christ’s resurrection makes possible every conceivable healing in a marriage.
It is always good as a married person to be reminded that Christian marriage is meant to and was created to reflect the love of God for His people, and has the grace available in it to do just that. I once heard a priest miss the opportunity to give this reminder during a homily on Christ’s teaching regarding marriage and divorce from the second chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel. He said that as a celibate priest, he didn’t feel qualified to talk to married couples about the sacrament with any expertise. He couldn’t have been further from the truth.
For the same reason I am inspired to persevere through the challenges in marriage by my parents’ example, so I am encouraged by any priest who remains faithful to the vows he made to the Church even when his vocation is difficult.
My plea to all priests out there is simply this: not only can you speak from a point of knowledge about marriage, but you must. Couples need reminders that while honoring the same person in difficult times might seem impossible, with God’s help it is not. In fact, it’s that very commitment we seek from the God who loves us, says He will never leave us, and calls us His bride.
Mary Moore is a syndicated columnist who lives in Mesa, Arizona.