Anni Harry describes how living in a faithful, committed, loving marriage serves as its own kind of Christian witness to the secular world around us.
Every parish seems to have “that one couple” – the couple who, through their dedication, commitment, service, and love to each other, provide a powerful physical witness of Christian marriage. Through their fidelity to each other, everyone in their wake is left in awe, and younger couples frequently offer up silent prayers that they want to “be like them” when the couple gets older.
Most Catholic marriage preparation focuses on the sacramental union between the soon-to-be husband and his bride. While there are discussions between bride and groom about the actual wedding day, the marriage preparation focus is about the marriage as a whole. Engaged and couples married within the Catholic church are taught to focus on the life of the marriage, rather than simply the “wedding day.” The wedding day, itself, is powerful since it brings two people together, with one added bonus involved – God.
Then, the wedding day comes and goes, and for most couples, the period of support, instruction, and encouragement on what it means to be journeying the road to sainthood together seems to become relegated to seeing “that couple” in the pews when all the parishioners gather for weekend, or even daily, Mass.
Secular society bombards us with messages on how inept the husbands in families are, and how moms just seem to “do it all.” There’s a clear message in society that everything should be about the individual, and that a collective team or unit is something that is less important. As such, most of us have seen the divorce rates both in news reports, and among our friends. To live in a faithful, committed, loving marriage serves as its own kind of Christian witness to the secular world around us. The perk of that concept? We are also not serving as a witness on our own – we have the support and encouragement of our spouse when the going gets tough.
Christian marriage isn’t always easy. Having spent time talking and getting to know many of “that couple,” throughout the churches I’ve attended, many of them are honest that their vocation takes work. It takes dedication to the vows that they took on the day God entered into their marriage. But, contrasting their stories to that of the secular world’s admission of how “hard” marriage is, is an underlying tone of respect, honor, and love for their spouse.
I’ve recently spent the past few weeks ruminating on the “power of words.” Words are important, and as I consider the conversations I have had with “that couple,” I immediately recognize “that couple” use life- and soul-affirming language. They are usually realistic, but instead of tossing the husband out with the bath water, or throwing him under the bus, they recognize that both partners serve an invaluable role in the marriage. I have never heard one of “that couple” say this, but they know their path to heaven is through their relationship with their spouse. As I previously wrote, their path to sainthood is through their vocation in marriage.
Not too long ago, I offered the “secret to happiness” doesn’t require self-help books and gurus who charge hundreds of dollars to help one find themselves. Rather, the secret to happiness involves and requires God – living a life that brings each of us closer to our Heavenly Father. Just as there are self-help books and sections of libraries and bookstores, so, too, is the relationship advice shelving full of all kinds of wisdom, insight, lessons learned. Something always seems to fall short, though, in the advice. Most of the leading relationship books on the shelves discount, or completely overlook, the role God plays in our marriages.
This year was designated last December as the “Year of St. Joseph,” and as such, I have had the opportunity to facilitate two full groups, and an independent study with a parishioner on the Consecration to St. Joseph by Fr. Donald Calloway. The consecration groups are open to all parishioners, regardless of vocation, to get to know St. Joseph and his role in our lives, today as much as when he was alive with Christ. Unfortunately, I have only had one couple register and take the consecration together. However, Fr. Calloway’s Facebook page will highlight and showcase an amazing number of young couples who have completed their Consecration to St. Joseph together on the eve of their wedding.
In a past life, long before I came back to the Church, I worked with many couples as part of my clinical experience. I am hardwired to find resources to help couples. Having been through the Consecration to St. Joseph book a handful of times, I can honestly say that the Consecration to St. Joseph book would be a tremendous asset to all couples. The consecration journey offers insight and wisdom to St. Joseph, the husband, the father, and the man. The book also offers encouragement to see the inherent value of husbands, fathers, and men in our society. It also leaves women pondering the question – how can I help my husband live up to the example of St. Joseph and help him journey easier to sainthood?
I haven’t had the opportunity to make the consecration with my husband, yet. However, consecrating to St. Joseph as a married couple would be invaluable to strengthening almost any marriage. Learning from the Holy Family, the roles of each other, and the acceptance of those varied roles will only serve to benefit the entire family today. As the Holy Family assuredly provided example in the world around them as they walked the earth, so, too, do they continue to provide us today with unwavering example.
Secular society doesn’t focus on the long-term, eternal consequences of a life lived; Christians have an altogether different outlook. While Christ lives in us and through us, Christians acknowledge there is Someone greater Who calls us to not just follow Him, but to also encourage our spouses to journey with us. Anyone in a sacramental union isn’t called just to get themselves to heaven; they are also challenged to encourage their spouse to sainthood.
This call to journey together doesn’t mean we have to beat sainthood over our spouse’s heads, nor does it mean we coerce; rather, through selfless love, endless patience, and constant encouragement, we find ourselves traveling toward sainthood together. Ultimately, we aren’t forcing our spouse to accept the journey to sainthood because that wouldn’t be fair to choose the path for them – rather, we invite them to journey with us, and through our vocation (if we are married), we offer that eternal outlook.
In a time in which so many parishes are still restricting gatherings, meet-and-greet occasions, and all other fellowship opportunities, we are encouraged to turn toward our family and focus on our domestic church. It is up to us to gather any and all spiritual support we can find, to help us focus on the eternal happiness that only God can deliver. When we live according to our wedding vows, and truly uphold our spouse’s inherent dignity as a child of God, we are living counter-culturally. When we don’t always get to see “that couple” at church, it’s important to be reminded that it is okay to be counter-cultural.
“That couple” in our pews deeply understand that life isn’t about themselves as a couple, nor is it about themselves as the individual players on their team. Rather, “that couple” recognizes and profoundly understands and appreciates that their life is oriented first toward God. Through God, they are journeying toward sainthood – sometimes with the challenges of each other and personalities; other times, with the encouragement and support of each other.
At the end of the day, God is leading the way on their marriage. He’s also asking each of us in our sacramental marriages if we will let go of our control and allow Him to lead the way in our marriages.
The question is: are you ready to let go and let God?
Are you ready to learn from St. Joseph?
Are you ready to be “that couple” in your life?
Copyright 2021 AnnAliese Harry
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About the Author
AnnAliese Harry is a proud Army wife to her husband Chris, and a mother to their young children. She has a BA in History, a Masters in Social Work, and has worked with disabled veterans, troubled teens, and in early childhood intervention therapy. AnnAliese volunteers with several military chapel communities and serves as a lector, EMHC, Adoration coordinator, and Catholic Women of the Chapel (CWOC) chapter president and vice president. She blogs about Catholicism, parenting, and military life at A Beautiful, Camouflaged Mess of A Life. Follow her on Twitter, on Instagram, or on Facebook.