Thursday, December 3, 2015

Men and Women Are Not Made to Be Alone

Our parish's monthly morning retreat for mothers continues to explore Love is Our Mission, the preparatory catechesis for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. The following reflects on Chapter 4, Two Become One. Last month's talk was on The Meaning of Human Sexuality.

"We are not made to be alone. Human beings need and complete each other," stated the organizers of the 2015 World Meeting of Families. Friendship and community both fulfill our human need for connectedness, but marriage "is a uniquely intimate form of friendship," they recognized. Like all long-lasting friendships, marriages need work to survive.

Before getting married, most of us construct fantasies around our future marriage and family life. Whether it involves building the best careers while raising the brightest kids, or peacefully creating the perfect home, these fantasies all contain some element of unreality. The danger is that when reality intrudes, as it inevitably must, we feel tempted to blame our spouse or our marriage or even marriage itself without acknowledging that bumps along the road are an inescapable part of life. So, what's a married couple to do?

First, make a conscious effort to let go of resentment. Resentment and disappointment fester and become bitter. Let it go! Be the one to break the stalemate. Say sorry first. Realize that clinging to resentment gives it power over you. Reconcile with your spouse. Admit that you're not perfect either. Get mad again, throw a plate or two (as Pope Francis is fond of saying), and reconcile again.

Second, have hopes rather than expectations. Expectations create an attitude of entitlement. I went to an Ivy League school, therefore I deserve a six-figure salary. I'm smart, therefore I deserve smart kids. I've prayed faithfully to God all my life, therefore I don't deserve this tragedy or that suffering. Hopes are different than expectations. You can hope for a high salary, a relatively trouble-free life, and brilliant, beautiful, and well-behaved kids. But don't feel deprived of less than your due if you don't get them all. Strive for St. Paul's peaceful sense of acceptance: "I have learned to be content with whatever I have. ...I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need" (Phil. 4:11-12).

Third, be grateful so you can be generous. It's hard to give when you don't feel that you have received enough. It's hard to give when you feel depleted and empty. Look hard at your life and fill yourself with gratitude. Do you have good health, a job, a house, children, an education, faith in God, someone to hug you? All these things are gifts, and not everyone has them. Realizing how much we have to be grateful for allows us to be generous with our spouses, our families, and our communities.

The Church wants to help married couples through their struggles. "In response to ... possible worries and fears, the Church offers Jesus, the sacraments, and the support of her own members in mutual fellowship," WMOF organizers stated.

Pope Francis said, "The Sacrament of Matrimony ... takes place in the simplicity and also the fragility of the human condition. ...The important thing is to keep alive the link with God, which is the basis of the marital bond." Jesus makes the impossible possible! We just have to ask him and trust in his response.

Christ himself works through the sacraments of Matrimony, Eucharist, and Penance and Reconciliation. Mass and confession are ever-flowing sources of grace. "The Holy Spirit is a fire in the sacraments," explained WMOF organizers. The sacraments can rekindle a burning desire to love one another, to accept whatever the present brings, to hope for a better future, and to be grateful for all God's good gifts.

As Christian spouses, we are blessed and beholden to accompany other married couples on on this pilgrimage through life. Building a marital relationship is like building a house, and "we build a house together, not alone!" said Pope Francis. Especially during this season of Advent, awaiting the coming of Our Lord, we can reach out and draw closer to our fellow pilgrims, sustaining them and being sustained by them, together in faith.

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