Holiness in Marriage – Part XXIV

Married life can be a rich source of spiritual wealth



The preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, said this in his fourth Lenten homily (2016), on the subject of “Marriage and Family” and the holiness of married couples/parents:

In the Christian community, consecrated people and married people are able to “edify one another.” Spouses are reminded by consecrated people of the primacy of God and of what is eternal; they are introduced to love for the word of God by those who can better deepen and “break it open” for lay people. But consecrated people can also learn something from married people as well. They can learn generosity, self-forgetfulness, service to life, and often a certain “humaneness” that comes from their difficult engagement with the realities of life.

I am speaking from experience here. I belong to a religious order in which, until a few decades ago, we would get up at night to recite the office of Matins that would last about an hour. Then there came a great turning point in religious life after the Council. It seemed that the rhythm of modern life—studies for the younger monks and apostolic ministry for the priests—no longer allowed for this nightly rising that interrupted sleep, and little by little the practice was abandoned except in a few houses of formation.

When later the Lord had me come to know various young families well through my ministry, I discovered something that startled me but in a good way. These fathers and mothers had to get up not once but two or three times a night to feed a baby, or give it medicine, or rock it if it was crying, or check it for a fever. And in the morning one or both of the parents had to rush off to work at the same time after taking the baby girl or boy to the grandparents or to day-care. There was a time card to punch whether the weather was good or bad and whether their health was good or bad.

Then I said to myself, if we do not take remedial action we are in grave danger. Our religious way of life, if it is not supported by a genuine observance of the Rule and a certain rigor in our schedule and habits, is in danger of becoming a comfortable life and of leading to hardness of heart. What good parents are capable of doing for their biological children—the level of self-forgetfulness that they are capable of to provide for their children’s well-being, their studies, their happiness—must be the standard of what we should do for our children or spiritual brothers. The example we have for this is set by the apostle Paul himself who said, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15).

Father Cantalamessa did not mention the many families that have children with special needs or who care for frail parents or siblings.

We know from Saint Paul that grace abounds: “God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8). The grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony is abundant but we have difficulty articulating how it is evident. One way, as I indicated, but only one way, is longevity and many children, and longevity is celebrated in many dioceses. (For example, see Richard Szczepanowski, “Cardinal [of the Archdiocese of Washington DC] Honors More than 900 Couples Celebrating Milestone Anniversaries,” Catholic Standard, June 22, 2015). Dr. John Zawacki, a Catholic husband (married 36 years), father of three and grandfather of three, described marriage as a rich source of spiritual wealth, a sacrament that has yet “to be fully mined”: “When we [spouses] are honestly speaking to one another and listening, we are on special holy ground” (Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, “Models of Holiness and Married Life: Couple’s Beatification Spotlights Marital Sanctity – Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi,” National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 28, 2001).

The man and woman in the mid-19th century painting “The Angelus” by Jean-Francois Millet could be brother and sister, or even unrelated. But I think we should suppose them to be a married couple. Each has been working for the common good of the couple; they have come together in the field of their farm to pray. The church steeple is in the background. They bow their heads to say “The Angelus,” a prayer recited morning, noon, and night. They may also give thanks for their land, their home, their work, their life in common, their children. Among Christians, reciting “The Angelus” and “grace before meals” is a routine occurrence. St. Augustine wrote, “He who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; and for he who dies well, all is well.” Reciting prayers in common is a sign of a couple’s holiness.

As an aside, I offer a list of 185 “pro-marriage” songs at the American Spectator‘s website (see “Countercultural Pro-Marriage Music: A Proposal,” Feb. 7, 2018). You may recognize a few: I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time, done by The Andrews Sisters (1941), Barry Manilow (1994), and Emmy Rossum (2013); Dear Future Husband by Meghan Trainor (2015); and The Anniversary Song — originally 1880, and done by Pat Boone (1958), Tom Jones (1977), and Willie Nelson (2014). A few describe a long married life with children: Kisses Sweeter Than Wine and Memories Are Made of This.


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXV in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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