A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending a dinner for married couples at a neighboring parish. Called the Cana Dinner – after the Wedding Feast at Cana where Our Lord instituted the sacrament of marriage – the dinner was a chance to renew our vows and deepen our understanding of marriage.
Very rarely do we get to attend retreats or events for married couples. Maybe it’s because they are not very common in my neck of the woods, or because when there are finally such events, kids and family responsibilities usually prevent us from going! Sound familiar?
With the exception of an annual marriage encounter weekend, the majority of Catholic events in our area are just not centered on the married couple. There are plenty of retreats for men and women, held multiple times a year near us, but just not that many for couples. This is both surprising and concerning as the attacks against marriage and the family get stronger every day.
Not wanting to miss such an opportunity (and to be totally honest, it was a chance to get away from the kids and have a date night!), we said yes to attending unhesitatingly.
Vocations Should Be Centered In The Paschal Mystery
Initially I couldn’t help but wonder what else might possibly be said about love and marriage that we hadn’t already heard? As talked about as those topics are, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was something that isn’t often discussed or even mentioned when it comes to love and marriage – suffering and sacrifice.
Deacon Chad VanHoose, an ordained transitional deacon working towards the priesthood, was the featured speaker at the dinner. Usually, it seems as if most marriage talks revolve around the popular scripture passages such as Colossians 3:14, Ephesians 5:22, or the most popular – 1 Corinthians 13:4. However, Deacon VanHoose chose a refreshingly new passage that is not often associated with love or marriage – the Paschal Mystery:
“Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:23-24)
It is this type of love, this type of sacrifice that exemplifies the Paschal Mystery, that sustains any vocation, said Deacon VanHoose. “The key to any successful vocation is this closeness to the Paschal Mystery – to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
He continued by emphasizing that “True love – a love that sustains a vocation – is a love that’s willing to suffer for the other, that says to the other you’re worthy of suffering and I’m not leaving,”
Love That Expands Bares Rich Fruit
In Chapter One of Gaudium et spes, Fostering the Nobility of Marriage and the Family, Pope Paul VI expounds upon the meaning of the marriage covenant and the importance of sacrifice and self-gift, which includes suffering:
“Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. . . . As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.
“. . . so now the Savior of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. He abides with them thereafter so that just as He loved the Church and handed Himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal.”
It is this mutual self-giving of husband and wife, with the same love and suffering that Christ had for His Bride the Church, that is a true and lasting love, said Deacon VanHoose.
Love Means Sacrifice and Suffering
What does self-giving mean? It means sacrifice and suffering. Just as Christ was the perfect sacrifice for His Bride the Church, so too are married couples supposed to sacrifice for each other, even unto death.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13)
Suffering and sacrifice within marriage may not be as dramatic as Christ’s love for us, nor will it be as perfect. However, even the smallest sacrifices between spouses make all the difference in maintaining true love.
On Valentine’s Day, it’s common to do grand gestures – to “out-love” the next couple. Big bouquets of flowers, reservations at expensive restaurants, and pricey and beautiful pieces of jewelry are all wonderful things, but not necessarily a sign of true love. The love so popularized by Valentine’s Day gifts and romantic movies can often be a plastic love that inevitably deteriorates over time. Such love is often a false copy, a cheater’s copy of the love Christ has for the Church and for us – a love we should have for our spouses. Can you imagine seeing the Passion of Christ on a Valentine’s Day card with the caption, “I love you this much”?
It’s The Little Things That Count
But sacrificing doesn’t just mean dying for another. Giving your life to your spouse also means doing the little things: sacrificing time, money, material things, and self:
- Doing the dishes, not because the other person needs you to do the dishes, but because you want to give your spouse a break.
- Putting down the phone or turning off the TV and talking to one another.
- Having hard conversations about money and family – conversations that would be easier to ignore.
- Opening the door, pulling out the chair, or just allowing your spouse to have time to him or herself.
- Working a second job to pay down debt or stopping that membership at the gym to set aside every penny for the future.
These things may be small and even unnoticed at the time, but they are actions of love and sacrifice that strengthen a marriage. Even if the suffering is in small things, it is love exemplifying the Paschal Mystery nonetheless – and that is great love.
As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”