I’ll let you in on a secret I don’t think I have told anyone ever.
The day I got married was a happy one, to be sure. My wife was beautiful. The food was fantastic. But there was mingled in the whole event a bit of sadness.
In my heart, I had no doubt I should marry her. There were spiritual strings tying us to each other that, to this day, I cannot explain. But there were no fantasies in my mind about who this woman was.
My wife is funny. She is a realist. When she is angry, she is damned angry. When she cares about you, it is with her whole heart.
She is also a bit of an asshole – especially early on. I’m sorry to say that on a Catholic blog, but it’s true. And I knew this on our wedding day.
I knew that for years to come, she would roll her eyes whenever I tried telling her about some interesting theological factoid. I knew for every one compliment she gave me, there would be five insults thrown in. Our first year of marriage was terrible in completely predictable ways, and I saw it coming on our very first day of it.
None of this is to say that I am the ideal spouse. I came from a household where my dad essentially came home from work, sat himself on the couch, and expected my mom to bring him everything he needed, all while she worked her own fingers to the bone with a day care. You can probably guess at the hidden, unrealistic expectations I had going into a lifelong relationship.
An Adventure for Life
Later on, over the course of these last twelve years, life grew even more difficult for us in ways we could not predict. It got so bad that, after a particularly hard season, a friend or two told me that they wondered if I would leave her.
My wife and I will look at each other, maybe on an anniversary, and ask ourselves in disbelief, “How are we still together?” How is it that we still love each other? How is our Catholic marriage still a thing?
The easy answer is to say it is because of Jesus, but what does that mean? The old cliche in Christian circles is that a successful marriage takes three: the husband, the wife, and God. But it also takes a different frame of mind.
The Catholic marriage is not some contract between two people who agree to make each other happy or leave. It is an adventure you accept, do or die. Do and die, actually, in a lot of ways.
Really any marriage between two people attempting to make it last a lifetime is insane, right? What do you actually know about this person you are about to spend your entire life with? How long could you possibly date before knowing for sure you wish to be with them through cancer, mental illness, job losses, children, and otherwise crummy and cloudy days?
Even though you may have plotted everything out right, gone through premarital counseling, and sought the wisdom of your elders, it is still a roll of the dice. There is less of a difference than we would like to admit between that and meeting someone in Vegas Monday and marrying them Saturday.
God’s Crazy Plan for the Catholic Marriage
Is this a flaw in God’s perfect plan for the Catholic marriage? Did he not foresee that this would be terribly difficult and exhausting for the majority of us?
No. On the contrary, that is the whole point of it. That is what makes it hopelessly romantic.
The mystery of marriage, as the Apostle Paul put it, is that it is meant to reflect the love God has for us.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.Ephesians 5:25 (NRSVCE)
God made the world in an enormous gamble. He created and loved free human beings made in his image knowing full well it could all crumble. The entire history of the Bible is story after story of God trying to love people and enter into relationship with them and people responding in the most hateful and faithless ways, even to the point of nailing him naked to a cross and leaving him to die.
When Jesus spoke out against the religious leaders, declaring woe after woe upon them, understand that there is a backstory there. You are witnessing a married couple bicker with centuries of bitter disputes stacked up behind them.
Yet he still died for them.
Hookup Culture Stinks
This is why hookup culture is so repugnant to the Christian view of things. People are not commodities that must serve our sexual and emotional needs or we leave. To tie ourselves to someone romantically means taking a chance on them, opening our heart, and never closing it. That should never be entered into casually.
In a Catholic marriage, sex is not just a nice shared experience between two people. It is someone declaring, with their very body, “I belong to you entirely.” It’s a reiteration of the marriage vow.
Catholic Marriage is a Fulfilling Adventure
Jerry Seinfeld, in a stand-up routine on Netflix, compared the difference between marriage and single life this way.
You have a girlfriend? That’s wiffle ball, my friend. You’re playing paintball war. I’m in Afghanistan with real loaded weapons. Married guys play with full clips and live rounds.Jerry Seinfeld
You could say life is short, so play it safe. Don’t tie yourself down to one person.
I say life is supposed to be an adventure.
I’ll let you in on another secret on my way out. There is nothing in my life that has been more fulfilling than being married – specifically to this funny, crazy, asshole I chose. She tested positive last week for Covid. Thankfully, she has no symptoms, but we thought it better for her to leave the house for a two-week quarantine, so she’ll be gone for Christmas.
I hate it. I wish she was here telling me I’m getting fat and reluctantly braving a reading of my latest post to her. When she’s not here, it’s like I’m missing my right arm. You never think about how important it is until it’s gone.
Life isn’t supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to be wild.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
Addendum: None of this post is meant to imply that you should remain in an abusive relationship. Get help if you are the victim of domestic violence.
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