Bishop James Conley
Marriage is a beautiful witness, but it is always hard. Family life is hard. The family is a school of love, and love is hard—it has to be, because love is a share in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Marriage is a commitment to work for the holiness of another—for another’s salvation—and parenting is an even deeper experience of that commitment.
Marriage is beautiful because it is a commitment to lay down personal preference, and desire, and vanity, in favor of service to another in imitation of Jesus Christ.
Last week, Pope Francis prayed that the Church would help families to “discover the beauty… not only moments of joy, but also those of pain and weakness.”
The moments of pain and of weakness are beautiful because they can draw us into deeper sacrificial communion with Jesus Christ. And that is the mission of marriage.
Before he was married, the famous British convert of the last century and prolific author, G.K. Chesterton wrote to his fiancée, Frances Blogg. He shared with her his hope that their home would be a place of Christian formation—that their family would be a witness to the power of God’s love. And he wrote especially to express his regard for the beauty of the mundane and the difficult challenges of family life.
“There are,” he wrote, “aesthetic pattering prigs who can look on a saucepan without one tear of joy or sadness: mongrel decadents that can see no dignity in the honorable scars of a kettle.”
Today, the world rarely sees dignity in the “honorable scars of the kettle.”
Pope Francis pointed out last week that we’ve lost the notion that a difficult and painful marriage can be beautiful. We’ve forgotten that marriage, and indeed all love, is a kind of commitment to martyrdom. We’ve accepted a false, vain, and romantic notion of marriage: the idea that marriage is only worthwhile if it leads to constant and immediate gratification, to personal contentment.
The Holy Father said that “nowadays marriage tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. Unfortunately this vision also influences the mentality of Christians, promoting a tendency towards divorce or separation.”
Marriage is beautiful because it is a noble vocation, oriented towards the salvation of spouse and children. If we forget that, and see “only a form of emotional satisfaction,” marriage will sooner or later fail to supply that emotional fix.
The vocation of married men and women is to witness to the beauty in their own family life. This week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates National Marriage Week. Our Church’s leaders will preach about marriage, and advocate for the protection of marriage, and offer resources to married people. All of this is important. But there is no greater argument for the importance of marriage than the beautiful witness of married families.
The witness of sacrificial love shocks the world. When parents joyfully sacrifice for their children, or husbands put their wives before themselves, the world notices. When families celebrate their joy, and share their sorrow, and see Jesus Christ in the midst of their lives, the world sees Jesus Christ too.
We need the witness of beautiful families now more than ever before. The family is under attack. Marriage is under attack. And we face the real risk in our culture of forgetting the true and time tested understanding and meaning of marriage itself. The idea that children don’t need mothers and fathers is dangerous. The idea that men and women don’t need each other is sad. But nothing will overcome the disruptive ugliness of secularity like the beauty of self-sacrificing, faithful and enduring married love.
I am grateful for witness of marriage in the Diocese of Lincoln. Your marriages, and your families, have transformed my heart. I pray that you will continue to be witnesses. I pray that the beauty of your marriages will transform the world.