Your parish should have hard copies of “In Perfect Union.” If you have not been given one and would like one, please request it from your parish. Read the text below as a couple and then dialogue using the questions that follow.
LIVING THE VOCATION OF MARRIAGE WELLHow does married life help us to become holier, better people? 58. Being holy simply means that we enter ever more deeply into friendship with God, a friendship that will come to perfection in the communion of Heaven. We do not enter into friendship with God in a vacuum; it always occurs as a response to his love for us and within the setting of our relationships with others, because it is in relationships that we learn how to give, how to sacrifice, how to love, and that we are a gift. The relationship of marriage is a beautiful pathway to holiness and to union with God in this life and in the next. This is what it means to say that marriage is a vocation, or a calling by God. A married couple discerns that God has called them together so that he can call them both to himself, making them holy as they live life together. What are virtues and what place do they have in marriage? 59. A virtue is a consistent habit, or disposition, toward goodness. It is a practiced and willed ordering of the body, mind and soul toward right and true behavior. Much like physical exercise, growing in virtues requires consistent effort and self-mastery, and we cannot obtain such discipline without God’s grace alive in our hearts. The virtues, or our consistently good habits, help to keep our passions always directed in ways that are healthy for us and for our relationships. Without virtues, our passions and appetites could take control of our lives and take away our freedom, erode our happiness and separate us from God. 60. A fulfilling marriage is not possible without living a life of virtue; and married life is also a daily means to grow in virtue as we are forced to undergo the hard but rewarding work of self-improvement. Without virtue we would turn away from commitments; without virtue we would commit actions that violate the dignity of our spouses. What are some essential virtues in married life? What is love and what does it mean? 61. Central not only to married life but also to life in general are the three Theological Virtues of faith, hope and love. Love within marriage is closely related to the virtues of chastity, gratitude and hospitality. These dispositions shape our daily thinking and behavior in such a way that God is placed always at the center of our life. Love is often misunderstood to be merely an emotion or a feeling. Love is actually the consistent daily choice, an act of the will, to seek the benefit and good of someone else – to raise someone else up to God. 62. Love is always rooted in sacrifice and therefore it is rarely easy. It goes against our fallen nature to set our own wishes aside, but there is no other way to love, and marriage requires such a disposition in order to flourish. Love means that we continue to be sincerely devoted to the well-being of our spouse even when they are poor or infirm, when they challenge us, when they fail and when all emotions or sentiments of attraction seem to have worn off. The more we learn to love, and are loved, the better we become as people and the closer we grow to God. What does chastity have to do with marriage? 63. As a virtue, chastity is the good habit or disposition of expressing sexual love in such a way that it is always other-centered and always respects human dignity, both our own and that of others. Everyone must seek to grow in chastity, especially married couples; failure to grow in chastity allows our sexual appetites and passions to control us, thereby taking away our freedom and creating a life centered on our own gratification. Without chastity, sexuality loses its beauty and becomes an agent of destruction that consumes us as individuals, and erodes mutual respect between spouses. 64 Chastity requires that we gain an authentic understanding of sexuality and of our personal dignity. As we grow in this understanding and self-mastery, we also experience the virtues of gratitude and hospitality in married love. Couples who always seek to grow in chastity also experience real joy and thanksgiving as they rejoice in the sacrifices they make for each other, and they make more and more room in their hearts and lives for the gift of the other person. Couples who understand chastity, gratitude and hospitality also welcome children as the natural outgrowth of all these dispositions. 65 Therefore, chastity does not mean that a married couple does not ever engage in sexual intercourse; it means that they see each act of intercourse in its proper light as a total expression of married love, as a totally other-centered action, and as an action that is truly unifying and open to new life. With chaste hearts, sexual intercourse leads to deeper love, gratitude, joy, hospitality, faith and hope. If sexual intercourse is simply the selfish fulfillment of passion and sexual appetites (lust), then it destroys respect, fosters resentment and turns spouses inward into isolation and away from love. Are there marital practices that hinder a growth in chastity? 66 Growth in chastity, as with all the virtues, requires God’s grace and the hard work of self-improvement and continual behavioral adjustment. While there are actions that can help, or hinder, our growth in chastity, it is important to remember that chastity within marriage requires more than simply following clean-cut rules; it is the result of much prayer, patience, trial and error as husbands and wives continually strive to see the face of God in their sexual embrace and in each other. 67 The practices that undermine chastity are those that direct sexual expression back on ourselves, inwardly, and that separate the inseparable connection between the unifying and life-giving aspects of sexuality. Some examples of such actions include masturbation, viewing pornography, focusing on sexual fantasies, using contraception or sterilization, sexual acts with anyone other than our spouse and attempted sexual acts between two people of the same sex. 68 Beyond these specific examples, even if each act of intercourse is open to the creation of new life, chastity is undermined whenever a married couple engages in sex in a manner that fails to view sex as a sacred act, or fails to see all sexual activity as a means to lead up to sexual intercourse – specifically, intercourse during which each spouse is carefully attentive to the wishes, intentions and expressions of the other. Sexual intercourse cannot be an act centered on the self, or an act performed in a state of mental isolation; spouses must never view each other as objects for their own self gain, use sex as a manipulative tool, use sex to dominate or engage in sex against the wishes of their spouse. At the heart of chaste sexual expression is total attentiveness to the other person, rooted in self-emptying, sacrificial love. How does practicing Natural Family Planning help with growth in chastity and authentic married love? 69 There is no easy formula that facilitates growth in chastity. The Church recommends the practice of Natural Family Planning to married couples as a means to not only regulate the number of children they conceive, but also as a means to help them grow in chastity. Natural Family Planning requires that a couple be attentive to the God-given cycles of fertility, and requires them to abstain from sexual intercourse during fertile periods if they do not wish to conceive children. 70 The discipline required to practice Natural Family Planning makes it more difficult for husbands and wives to adopt a casual attitude about sexuality, and it requires continual communication about sexuality; it forces couples to learn the freedom of self-mastery of their passions, and to learn non-sexual ways to express love. It requires that couples be continually attentive to each other’s sexual moods and needs, which is an important way of communicating respect for each other. When lived well, the practice of Natural Family Planning allows sexual expression to truly be the deep form of self-expression that it is created to be. In all these ways, Natural Family Planning can be very beneficial to married love, and can be a helpful way to grow in chastity. What are some other important practices for maintaining a healthy marriage? 71 The key points of tension in most marriages revolve around finances, children, sexuality and faith. The key to successfully navigating all of these is open communication and agreement on what issues are of the highest priority. Faith is always the foundation for every other issue, which means that a successful marriage depends upon a consistent habit of prayer and worship. Husbands, wives and their children should always make weekly attendance at Sunday Mass a top priority, along with regular celebration of Reconciliation. It is important for the home to be a place of prayer not only as individuals but also as an entire family. Husbands and wives should always remember that God is their constant partner in married life, and that he offers his love and grace in abundance. 72 Natural Family Planning is strongly encouraged as a lifestyle that facilitates open communication about children and sexuality. Communication about finances always revolves around the differing values and priorities of each spouse; a habit of regular contributions to a parish or charity is a helpful way to keep generosity at the heart of family financial discussions. 73 Lastly, it is very important for husbands and wives to maintain healthy friendships outside of their marriage and to turn to other married couples for support in times of trouble, and to share joy with them in times of blessing. We should avoid any relationships in life that can lead us to compromise our commitments, and we should cultivate the relationships that help us to become better as people, better in our vocations and better disciples of Christ. The community of the Church is always ready to embrace and support couples in their pursuit of life-long, fulfilling marriage, and couples should reach out to the Church for support whenever they are in need.
- How does knowing and loving your fiancée challenge you to be a better person? In what ways do you challenge your fiancée to be better?
- Once married, the best way to change your spouse is to change yourself. What are your own best and worst qualities that you will be offering to your relationship?
- What are the best attributes of your fiancée? What are the worst? Describe some daily practices that help a husband and wife to remain married for life.
- How do you help your fiancée grow in faith and in generosity? How do you help your fiancée grow in chastity?
- What are the non-sexual ways that you show affection for your fiancée? How do you give love? How do you let yourself be loved? Discuss the ways that both of you experience love not as an emotion but instead as a choice. Talk about the role of obligation in your relationship.
- How do you know that your fiancée truly respects you? How do they show this? Describe your prayer together as a couple.
- What sorts of daily activities will you and your spouse engage in with your children to teach them how to be Catholic? Describe your role as your child’s primary instructor in the faith.
- What will your family have to offer to the parish community that you will be a part of once you are married? What can the community of the parish do to help your marriage and your children?
- Describe your own experiences with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and of regular Sunday Mass attendance. What do these things mean to you both?