Marital Faithfulness

Marital faithfulness, sadly, is a rare commodity in our society, precious as it is. We all have family members, friends, and acquaintances who have experienced divorce, usually due to infidelity. We may have gone through this dreadful experience ourselves, and we know how devastating it can be. Our dear Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae let us know that contraceptive use, “could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards,” and those of us who were growing up in the sixties saw this happening overwhelmingly as contraception came to dominate our culture. After the storm of dissent and condemnation that came his way following the release of this encyclical, he began to dwell more and more on the possibility of a “Civilization of Love,” and that, I am convinced, is the cure for the misery that has taken hold of our culture. It consists of solid, practical love, and we all can take a part in that.

Marriage, of course, starts with love. For those of us lucky enough to be married, this is the core of our lives. Every day we struggle with the littleness of our love and the great debt of honor and tenderness that we owe our spouses. Don’t turn away from this challenge – it is the lifeblood of the Civilization of Love. The love that spouses pour out to each other flows through the community, changing things for the better. It is like oxygen in a polluted world, helping us all breathe easier. Every one of us, married or single, must support couples as they labor to build love into the community. We need to educate our hearts about the great good that abides in and comes from marital love and show this vision to those around us.

One simple way to help those around you see this is to compliment married couples on the goodness of their marriage: “What a lovely couple you make!” Let them know the good you see in them and the hope you have for their joy. When you see a couple struggling under their load (it can be fierce), encourage them and do whatever will help. Those blessed with the single life have a special part to play in this. Single persons are the extra hearts and hands of the community. They can make all the difference when a couple is having difficulties. Once, my wife and I were so sick with the flu that we couldn’t stand up. Two neighbor families divided our five small children between them until we could get up again. Of course, they all got the flu too, but I know that God has rewarded them abundantly. We can never pay that favor back, but we try to pass it on.

People today fear marriage. They have so much experience with divorce – their parents, close relatives, even themselves –they settle for a sex partner instead of a spouse. It is hard to find hope. For many, seeing is believing. Too many have never seen a marriage really work. They need someone to show them how good marriage can be. Only then will they believe that such a marriage can really exist. There are so many who need to be told that they can have a wholehearted relationship, not by their own power, but with the help and grace of God.

There are simple things organizations can do to help. Newspapers like to run articles about childhood sweethearts who are now celebrating their 50th or 60th anniversary. On Valentine’s Day there are sure to be articles about husbands and wives. If these publications do a good job, let them know. Send them story opportunities ahead of time, and letters to the editor later affirming how good marriage is. If publications praise adultery or fornication, challenge them. Churches can do more to honor marriages that last and the spouses who made them last. Programs could be developed for schools to expose students to couples who have had long successful marriages. There are many great possibilities here – God will show you which ones are for you to do.

It’s time to turn our world upside down – I mean right side up. Marriage has been regarded as silly, outmoded, an enemy of freedom, etc., long enough. It is time to show instead how glorious marriage can be: an awesome opportunity to share in the very love of God and make that love physically present in our world.

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