Sense of Life. Articles in English. God’s Plan for marital Happiness.
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God’s Plan for marital Happiness


Hello again! It has been a while since I last wrote, so let me recall the gist of my last letter. We were talking about a prescription – or plan – for achieving marital happiness. All engaged couples expect that their future life together will bring them joy, satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment.

Alas, simple observation and the divorce statistics tell us that not all couples find the happiness they so earnestly desire. Why is this so? Does the happiness of some and the unhappiness of others just “happen”? Is it a matter of blind chance? Not at all! Happiness depends on the path we choose and decide to embark on.

Two paths

Relatively few engaged couples take the time to consider which path leads to a happy marriage and which to a disastrous one. Why not make this part of your preparation for marriage? Surely it is an important enough matter.

Most of us take the path of least resistance and accept uncritically the recipes for happiness put out by the media. Happy are they – so we are told – who have lots of money, things, pleasures, popularity, and so on. Bombarded constantly by such messages, we devote ourselves with all our heart and soul and mind to the pursuit of these goods. Everything else recedes into the background. Day and night, seven days a week, our thoughts, desires, dreams, and talk revolve around acquiring as much as we can as quickly as possible. Whence such drive and single-mindedness? Where does this devotion and perseverance – often of heroic proportions – come from? It comes from the belief that in this way we will achieve happiness.

And yet the beatitudes of Jesus have nothing even remotely in common with those proclaimed by the “world.” Does this mean there is another “good news” about living a happy life – now and in eternity? No, there is only one Good News. There is no other Gospel! Jesus tells us, “Happy are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:29). It could not be said more simply or clearly. The word of God is our real wealth, and making His word flesh – to use a Christian expression – is the best way of “getting established” and assuring success in marriage. This, then, should be our priority.

Jesus makes the same point in numerous other ways. For example: “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7: 24-25). A splendid image! Every marriage builds some kind of house of marital life (In fact, as we will see, the process of building already begins during a couple’s engagement.). We want a house to provide shelter and a sense of security. It must stand up to adversity. That is why we have to build it on solid foundations – on a rock. What is this rock? It is knowing and carrying out God’s Word, above all the Ten Commandments. It must be built on Christ and with Christ. That is God’s plan for a happy marriage.

Strangely enough, there is no other path for those who seek to be happy. Jesus goes on to say: “And every one who hears these words of mind and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; […] and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7: 26-27). Either, or. Either we do God’s word, or we do not. This is life’s crucial choice. Everything depends on it. It also explains why so many marriages break down; and breakdowns occur even without formal divorce.

The source of love

I found an interesting thought relating to our subject in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, urged his audience to read it at World Youth Day in Cologne. Recalling his great predecessor, he said, “Pope John Paul II gave us this splendid work synthesizing the faith of a century.” Call it JP2’s catechism for the JP2 generation! (Incidentally, the Catechism contains an excellent explanation of the Ten Commandments. How about taking ten consecutive days to read the sections in it devoted to each of the commandments? A marvelous preparation for marriage!

Consider this excerpt from the Catechism: “[T]rue happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement … but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love” (CCC, 1723). Let us try to draw a few practical conclusions from this statement. True happiness has to do with good and love – nothing else. Where there is good and love, there is happiness. In marriage, the most important of these is love. Right? Nothing can replace it. Without it, everything breaks down. When love binds the spouses, they are happy, even if they do not have great riches, positions, honors, etc. Love also enables them to overcome life’s greatest hardships.

Where does true love and every good spring from? How to get to this source? Answer: “God is love” (John's First Letter 4:8); “Love is with God” (John's First Letter 4:7). So if we want to love (truly love), we have to come to Him, live by Him, never stray from Him, so as to constantly draw on his love and goodness. We know the path. There is no need to get lost since it is marked out by the Ten Commandments. To walk and persevere along it – no one is saying this is easy! – we need to be strengthened by prayer and the sacraments.

What separates engaged couples, spouses – anybody – from God who is Love? One thing only – sin! “Mortal sin destroys charity (i.e. love) in the heart of man. …Venial sin allows love to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it” (CCC, 1855).

Do we believe that mortal sin kills love? Or maybe we believe the opposite – what the world tells us: namely, that premarital sex, petting etc. i.e. mortal sin is “love”. Two paths, remember? God’s path is clearly marked: “Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. … They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity” (CCC, 2350). Building a proper home is tough going at times. No question. But is it not also a great joy?

Dangerous driving

Now let us digress for a moment and devote a few words to the fifth commandment: thou shalt not kill.

Imagine the following situation: a man drives ninety miles an hour down a stretch of road with a speed limit of thirty. There is a school nearby. Fortunately, there is no accident. Question: does the driver commit a sin, even though nothing untoward happens? Of course he does. He breaks the fifth commandment by running the risk of causing serious harm – even death – to himself and others. (No police officer citing him for a traffic violation would accept the explanation, “But nothing happened!”) By consciously and freely risking a serious sin, we already commit a serious sin. Make sense?

Another situation. The same driver confesses the sin of dangerous driving, and yet when asked by the priest if he intends to change his driving habits, he replies, “Well, no; I enjoy fast driving.” Can he expect to receive absolution? Clearly, in such a case, he could not.

And if in answer to the same question, the penitent replied that he would “be careful” – what then? Clearly, he could not expect to be absolved either. What does “being careful” mean anyway? You have to radically remove the cause of the evil and not play Russian roulette with it.

One more question. What if this man considers driving three times over the speed limit not to be a sin at all? What if he tells himself, “It’s a stupid regulation anyway. I know how to drive. There’s nothing to confess”? Would this mean that he has committed no sin and does not need to confess? Objectively speaking, he has committed a sin. The question of whether or not we have committed a sin has nothing to do with subjective feelings. Objectively speaking, the regulation limiting driving speed to thirty miles an hour in a school zone is a just one. Why? Quite simply because accidents occur less often when the regulation is observed. (Alas, all too many drivers gain their sense of objectivity and sin too late – after a collision with a tree, a post, or an oncoming truck.)

Everything is clear. We have established three important truths. First, consciously and freely running the risk of committing a serious sin is a serious sin already; there is no question of saying, “I’ll be careful”. Second, confessing sins without the resolve to correct our behavior means nothing. Our sins remain unforgiven, even if the priest should say the words of absolution. Third, absence of a sense of sin (as inferred from statements like, “I don’t see this as a sin” or “Everybody does it”) does not mean that we are not committing a sin. It is objective moral norms, not subjective feelings, that determine whether something is right or wrong; and we are obliged to know these norms. We will come back to these conclusions, for they apply not just to the Fifth but all the Commandments.

Cohabitation

In the Western world, the phenomenon of couples living together without seeking a church or civil wedding can no longer be characterized as a vogue or fad as it was in the 1960s. Since then shacking up has gone mainstream. In English, the arrangement is also referred to as “living common law,” “living together,” “living in a relationship,” and “cohabiting”. The old morally proscriptive terms “living in sin” and “living out of wedlock” have long fallen out of usage. In Poland, where, sociologically, the phenomenon is still a relative novelty, we call it, with our native sense of humor, “living on the cat’s paw” or “living on a bike license.” The expression “unions with limited responsibility” has also become current. Until recently (in Poland), cohabitation was practiced almost exclusively by people on the margins of society who were unable to take responsibility for their partner’s future. Only they spoke approvingly of these relationships. Today, the secular media has ennobled these relationships with the designation “free unions.” It considers them as good as and even better than the union of marriage. Clearly, the “margins of society” of yesteryear have broadened to embrace the mass media elite. Corruption, as they say, starts at the top; and the process continues apace. Satan is reaping his harvest from among those he most wants – the current JPII generation.

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church, personally approved by John Paul II, says about “free unions”: “The expression ‘free union’ is fallacious: what can ‘union’ mean when the partners make no commitment to one another….All these situations offend against the dignity of marriage; they destroy the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity. They are contrary to the moral law. The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental union (2390). Elsewhere, we read: “Adultery, divorce, polygamy, and free unions are grave offences against the dignity of marriage (2400).

The evil of shacking up consists not just in enjoying sexual intimacy outside of marriage, but in seriously “offending the dignity of marriage,” “destroying the idea of the family,” and “weakening the sense of fidelity.”

So much of what we do and say has an impact on others. Indeed, it would be better to say that to a greater or lesser extent everything we do and say shapes others. No man is an island. We affect each other – positively or negatively. We make others better or worse human beings. A good example or a kind, inspiring word make those around us better people. Setting a bad example or justifying evil and inciting others to evil by word of mouth, make others worse. We call this the “sin of scandal.” Every Christian is called to make the world a better, more beautiful, nobler, and thus happier place. Christians are meant to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13) and the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Their abiding task is to build up the culture of love in a world that lies in the power of the Evil One (John's First Letter 5:19). To swim with the stream of scandalous fashions is the very opposite of what they must do, for this is not spreading the good news but evangelizing on behalf of the Evil One. No! A Christian cannot by word or deed offend against marriage or undermine the family.

Wedding on the Titanic

Unfortunately, a great many couples succumb to the temptation of living together before marriage. The Devil suggests a seemingly logical argument, which in reality is quite illogical: “We’re almost married. A month sooner or later – what’s the difference? There’s nothing to confess.” They will be living together for the next several decades and they cannot wait a month!

“Almost married” does not mean married any more than “almost a priest” means a priest or “almost baptized” means baptized. There is a colossal difference in a person’s situation before and after the administering of a sacrament. If this were not so, there would be no need for the sacraments at all; however, since there is a need, they must be administered. About to wed means no wedding yet. No wedding yet and already living together? That’s living in sin. Seems reasonable enough.

Sometimes the situation is remedied in the confessional. In Poland, engaged couples are normally required to confess twice, individually, before the wedding. The confessor normally asks them if they are living together. If it turns out that they are, he may not grant them absolution. Absolution may not be given to persons living together in “non-sacramental unions,” that is, without a wedding. A brief session with the right priest is sometimes enough to convince the couple that they have snagged the devil and that they had better put their situation to rights before returning once more to confession.

But some will say to the priest, “What’s the point of living separately now – a month before the wedding? “Nothing will happen; we’ll sleep in different rooms.” For one thing, we have already established that by consciously and willingly risking a serious sin, we already commit a serious sin. There can be no talk of “being careful” only of radically removing the danger – in this case, living under the same roof. For another thing, we are dealing with the sin of scandal, i.e. setting a bad example for others. We have to remove the cause of this sin and then make a clean breast of it in confession.

The matter is worse when the confessor fails to ask if the couple are living together. Then they receive – or think they receive – absolution and, confident that they have correctly carried out their Christian duty, they return home – to the apartment they recently moved into. That evening they go to bed – the bed they happen to share together. Who’s kidding who? Clearly they did not move in to have a chess partner handy or to have someone to say the rosary with. Everyone knows the reason. They just wanted to treat themselves to a month’s honeymoon before the wedding.

In fact – as we have established – the couple did not receive absolution, even though the priest said the words of absolution. “The process of returning to God … entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future” (CCC,1490).

When happens afterward? In love with each other “for as long as we both shall live” (needless to say, “being in love” and “love” are two different things), they enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony in a state of mortal sin and, adding insult to injury, receive – in sin – the Body of Christ Thus they embark on their life of marriage with two sacrilegiously received sacraments. What a triumph for the Evil One! Then everything sinks under a flood of flashing camera bulbs; the confetti flies, toasts are raised, speeches are given; the band strikes up…The external wedding preparations took clear precedence over the internal ones, and now everything really does begin to sink like Titanic into the waters.

After a while, the couple will remark that something is not right with their marriage. They cannot think why. After all, their wedding did not take place in May – an unlucky month. And did they not receive at least ten elephant figurines which are supposed to bring luck?.. They have a house, jobs, a car – and still they are unhappy “as hell.” Who would have thought it, considering those romantic and pleasant beginnings! How could it not be like hell? After all, they built the house of their marriage not on God but on the devil. 

Where has the time gone? Let me conclude this letter with three deceptively simple thoughts by Saint Jean Vianney, the Curé of Ars: “Sin is God’s executioner and the murderer of souls. My brothers, how ungrateful we are. God wants to make us happy, but we do not want it. If it were a matter of our fortune, what would we not do! But since it is a matter of our souls, we do nothing….Without sin we would all be happy, even if we had our own cross….These poor sinners will always be unhappy in this world and the next.”

God wants us to be happy; for this reason he gives couples a failsafe plan for a happy marriage. Everything depends on their wanting to realize it. That’s all for now. So long and God bless!

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The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!"

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