World Marriage Sunday – Celebrating a Beautiful Vocation

World Marriage Sunday – Celebrating a Beautiful Vocation February 7, 2024

We are celebrating World Marriage Sunday, an international celebration promoted particularly well by the Catholic Church. We are also coming up on the secular holiday of Valentine’s Day, which coincides with Ash Wednesday this year. This is perhaps more fitting than not, since every successful marriage requires sacrifice, penance, and hard work. This sacrament is how relationships develop into vocations for both men and women, but the road is not always easy. In this context, I would like to share the testimony of a marriage experiencing difficulties in the early years:

We were going on four years of marriage, adjusting to being parents, and working full-time jobs that kept us running. The miscommunications between us were so bad that we were constantly triggering the fight-or-flight response in each other, resulting in daily arguments. Eventually, the arguments turned into straight up fights. And before too long, our communication had become so degraded that we both chose to flee rather than fight. While we still lived under the same roof, both of us had checked out emotionally. We internalized everything and communicated nothing. By mid-year, there was no husband and wife about our relationship. We were in full-on roommate mode. (Terryn Drieling, “Our Marriage Was Failing – The Secrets That Saved Us”)

World Marriage Sunday

Working in marriage counseling at the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center, this story is not unfamiliar; all too many couples suffer from tension, miscommunication and growing apart. Is this the way it is supposed to be? How are we supposed to react in such situations? When I found out this was World Marriage Sunday, I was excited about celebrating the lofty vocation of marriage and opened the readings with much enthusiasm, only to find much talk about leprosy: what a letdown! How am I going to talk about the beauty of marriage when the first reading and Gospel speak about leprosy?

Then I realized how these readings can help us dive into the mystery of marriage. Too often, romantic stories and movies bedazzle us with an unrealistic portrayal of marriage, while the reality is more beautiful and more challenging. Caught up in the Hollywood or Hallmark versions of marriage, we can be tricked into hiding our problems instead of facing them.

Two wedding rings
Two wedding rings symbolize commitment in marriage | Courtesy: Pixabay

Big Questions

If you had leprosy, would you try to hide it?

If you had problems in your marital relationship, would you try to hide them of face them head-on?

I understand when people try to hide their problems, because it is hard to share our struggles. I don’t want most people to know anything about it when I am going through a tough time. Many of us experience the same thing.

Impossible to Hide our Problems

The problem is that sometimes it looks like an elephant trying to hide behind a palm tree. It is often just as ridiculous trying to hide our marriage difficulties as it is to try to hide leprosy. People with leprosy would bind themselves in bandages to protect their open wounds but the bandages point out leprosy. Similarly, you cannot hide the problems of marriage without making it evident that they are present.

Marriage is a partnership in which you are striving to grow in holiness. This happens individually and as a couple; it is clear when this is not happening. The Church wants to proclaim the Gospel, the “good news” that

marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of His graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their “beginning,” that is, to full understanding and the full realization of God’s plan. (Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 3)

Something that is important is to discover the problems and to work on them. Sometimes, the couple can collaborate to resolve the problem; sometimes, they need outside help. Going to a counselor, a priest, or an older, more experience couple can all give the help needed to overcome the problems. Don’t overlook the fact that often, an individual must undertake a lot of the work. Often, in marriage counseling, we ask each person to meet individually. This helps clear up misconceptions, past trauma, and other difficulties that cannot be worked out as a couple. When there is a problem of personal integrity, this is not the fault of the couple and the individual must work it out on a personal level.

Proper Treatment of Problems

The typical treatment for leprosy was isolation, as established by the Mosaic law. Too often, this is the knee-jerk reaction within a marriage to resolve a problem of communication: both parties retreat into their corners and communication breaks down. It is more appropriate to improve communication during these periods of difficulty.

It reminds me of the hobby of polishing rocks. If you have a machine to polish rocks, you can put one rock in there and see how it goes. The revolutions and the hard texture will begin to polish the rock. However, it becomes much more effective when another rock is thrown in there as well. In married life, the ups and downs of work, relationships, and family struggles are like that constant revolution of the rock-polishing machine. But if you go through it alone, it will not be nearly as effective as if another good rock is in there to help you wear down the rough edges.

A mature married couple looks polished, holy, and beautiful, but if you sit down and speak with them you may discover that they had to wear off a lot of rough edges. When lived well, marriage is a tremendous help towards the holiness we are called to in virtue of our being Christian.

God’s Plan for Marriage

God wants holy matrimony to produce holy couples. They receive a call to raise children and to make their place in the world. With the advent of original sin, this has become much harder. The sacrament of marriage is a help that God and the Church give to aid in this beautiful, yet challenging endeavor. We have some examples of married couples who are saints, such as the parents of St. Therese: Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin. Might God be calling you to be another couple of saints?

We live in a world that is so hostile to family; let’s do our best to support marriages so that they can flourish according to God’s divine plan. This week, take concrete steps to work on your own marriage, aligning it with God’s plan. If your relationship is in good shape, and your spouse agrees, reach out to a young couple and see if there is some way you can help them in their marriage. Offering to babysit so that they can get some alone time may be the best way possible to support the beautiful vocation of marriage.

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About Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was ordained a Catholic priest in 2013 for the Legionaries of Christ. He has been involved in youth work including missions, retreats and apostolic outreach in Germany, Italy, the United States and Central America. He is passionate about the New Evangelization and formation for young adults and married couples. He is a spiritual director and retreat director, offering marriage preparation and marriage counseling through the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is currently Executive Director and Chaplain of the Newman Center at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Pasadena, California. You can read more about the author here.
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