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The renewing, exciting graces of marital self-giving love

Catholic marriage is to be joy-filled. It should be a partnered foray into radical discipleship, in which a man and a woman love one another as Christ loves. And at the core of that foray is a self-giving love, which is ever renewed and ever exciting. Such a love is what Christ wants for his people. It is the reason for sacramental grace.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve offered reflections on the nature and goods of marriage, and on the importance of marriage for Christian catechesis and culture. Marriage is a prophetic sign in our time, and one that is under attack. We’re called to promote and defend the vital role marriage plays in civic life and Christian culture. But we cannot do that if Catholic marriages are not lived with authentic vitality and faithfulness to God’s plan. The Church needs to promote marriage, and our world needs the benefit of healthy, fruitful marriages.

During his pontificate, Blessed John Paul II reflected that “To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.” Joyful families are about joyful service—willing self-gift that mirrors the self-giving of Jesus Christ.

In the Archdiocese of Denver, we’re blessed with married couples who have given themselves to one another, and to their families, with the radical love of Jesus Christ. Their effect can be seen everywhere. Nevertheless, Catholics struggle in their marriage, as all people do, and, influenced by our secular culture, many give in to the temptation to divorce. By most metrics, Catholics divorce at the same rate as all other Americans

American culture influences even those Catholic marriages that do not end in divorce. The use of contraception is pervasive in Catholic marriages. So are false notions of equality, which replace the biblical model of family with an undifferentiated, and unexciting, partnership. And the ennui that comes from television’s prominent role as the focal point of the home is a pervasive drain on marriages.

There are concrete ways to combat secularism’s impact on marriage. Ways to experience what God intended for marriage. The first, and most important, is prayer. A young man I know, on the eve of his wedding, asked his spiritual director for the key to a healthy marriage. “The rosary,” the priest told him.  “If you pray the rosary, the rest will work out.” The priest was right. Daily commitment to common prayer is the key to living marriage. Scripture, the rosary, and regular practice of the sacramental life unite a couple by bringing them ever closer to Jesus Christ.

Also important is living marriage in the context of a Christian community. Families that spend time with other Catholic families will call each other to sanctity, share their struggles and victories honestly, and hold each other accountable to faithful discipleship of Jesus Christ. In the Archdiocese of Denver, Catholic community can be found in our parishes, our movements, and in the homes and gatherings of Catholic families. Community is important—and an essential way to encounter Christ.

The most important way for couples to live a joyful marriage is to be open to life—to the meaning of marriage itself. Marriage, like life, is unpredictable and surprising. We’re told, by Satan himself really, that we can control it—that we can control our lives, and that we should control our fertility. This is a lie. Fertility is a gift bestowed by God. Man and woman are designed for each other, and designed to share in co-creation with God. God has a plan for married couples. This plan involves giving themselves freely to one another—not to deciding for themselves when and if they might consider having children. Children are a gift from God. To receive that gift is the greatest source of joy.

I want married couples to experience the love God has for them. It is my greatest prayer. Satan wants them to be unhappy, and to be deceived. He wants them to control one another. Dear brothers and sisters, I pray you will entrust your marriage to Jesus Christ—and that you will make joyful gifts of yourselves—to your spouses, to your children, and most especially to Christ himself. He is the one who will teach you to love as a selfless gift to another.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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