“Thus says the Lord: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.”
My dear friends in Christ,
A sacramental marriage, validly ratified and consummated, is both intrinsically and extrinsically indissoluble. That is to say, on account of it’s being the image of Christ’s union with the Church, a true marriage between two Christians creates a bond that cannot be broken by any earthly power, even a power so great as that of the Roman Pontiff, the Pope. The only thing that brings the Christian marriage between one man and one woman to an end is the physical death of one of the spouses.
Nevertheless, what can tarnish the luster of this glorious doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage and so corrupt the living union into an animated carcass, a zombified mockery of a sacrosanct institution, is when the spouses, although set and resolved to finish their earthly race together as they promised, yet have allowed their relationship to corrode interiorly to the point where the love with which they began their married life is utterly extinguished. They neither have any more affection for their spouse, nor do they see the point in trying.
What perhaps is the most acerbic catalyst of this putrefaction from within is resentment, the grievances toward someone as a result of being treated badly. Resentment is the poison which kills the love for another in one’s heart. It is the mortar which cements the barrier between one person and another. And where does resentment come from but continual frustration? Frustration is a word that derives from the Latin frustra, meaning useless or in vain. What we have then is that in the normal course of events of everyday life, when personalities inevitably come into conflict with each other, the anger of at least one person involved is without effect or resolution. Rather than being dragged out into the light, out of fear of conflict or some other motivation, it is ignored or buried or churned in the mind forever more. But if the frustrated anger is kept in, then it is kept on record, and so no confrontation leads to no forgiveness. Love dies, communication ends, and the once beautiful married life finishes with a tolerated enemy rather than the best of friends.
This is a most unfortunate state of affairs, and perhaps its greatest danger is that it sneaks up unnoticed; we don’t know we are building resentments until far too late. Therefore, since Lent is fast approaching, let us consider the possibility that this penitential season is affording us the opportunity to begin to make amends in this regard. Maybe today is the day when spouses who groan under the malady I’ve described, and also those who don’t want to suffer this spiritual disease and so will do anything to avoid it—maybe today is the day they will agree to meet on Ash Wednesday and air their grievances. It’s a three step process and a two player game. First comes the sober statement of a perceived offense; the other responds by apologizing, and the first person is then bound to forgive. Charitable accusation, heartfelt remorse, and Christian forgiveness. As you can imagine, it can be painful to have even years of wrongdoing brought up again, but if we do not embrace this suffering now, we will have no choice but to endure unrelieved suffering later, when the final act of the drama of life will be one without a script, with two actors on opposite sides of the stage and no interaction.
What is needed then first and foremost is humility. I’m not perfect. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Correction of another’s faults is an act of charity, but because of our pride, we can so easily take it as a personal attack and respond with anger. We therefore need meekness. It can be scary to face ourselves in all our ugliness. We must therefore remember that the spouse is not your enemy but your ally. The worst enemy is always, always ourselves.
This last week I showed a film to my Ethics class in which a man and woman who have been married seven years are facing imminent divorce. The husband turns to his father and verbally scrawls out a laundry list of all his wife’s wrongdoings. But what he never does even once is acknowledge that he himself is less than perfect. And until he does, all his efforts at healing the relationship are foredoomed to failure.
If, therefore, husband and wife so decide to take this momentous step of both healing old wounds and preventing future ones, after they have bared their own hearts and let go of their secret anger, after each has apologized and after each has forgiven—positive and concrete steps must be taken to reestablish the lines of communication so that this enemy Resentment never gains a foothold again.
I emailed just this week the bride from the first marriage over which I officiated, and I told her of what I was planning to tell you today. She responded: “[My husband] and I have noticed recently that our relationship has grown so much…our communication levels have improved dramatically and our prayer life together has taken a significant step forward as well. We noted that the changes began to take place when we removed our TV from our home…there is always room to grow in a relationship, to be sure, but we didn’t realize how much growing we could have been doing all this time! And, we didn’t watch very much to begin with. It just goes to show you that TV will suck the life out of anything without much effort at all, it just takes a little bit each day. So, tell your congregation…turn the TV off…and see if they notice a difference in their relationships with their spouses and/or children.”
Lent is forty days. What a great assistance to rebuilding relationships, then: to turn off the television for the season and so force ourselves to have human, interpersonal contact with our loved ones. Without the distraction of entertainment, perhaps we will be more attentive to how we treat each other and more desirous to maintain loving communication, so that, with the prophet Isaiah today, we will neither smolder in remembrance of past events nor grudgingly consider the things of long ago. Then will the Catholic dogma of the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage shine forth as a witness to the provident wisdom of God, Who desires all men to come to the truth and so be saved for all eternity.
Given 2/22/09 at St. Kilian