In my previous articles on marriage (part1 and part2), I offered some thoughts courtesy of Archbishop Sheen on the male and female relationship, and our unique perspectives regarding marriage. St. John Paul II also has some remarkable things to say that may add greater depth.
In his great work on The Dignity and Vocation of Women, he writes, “In the ‘unity of the two,’ man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist ‘side by side’ or ‘together,’ but they are also called to exist mutually ‘one for the other.'” (7)
Marriage, is a unique indissoluble union between a man and a woman, created in the beginning by the Creator. What does it mean to “exist mutually, one for the other?” The key to understanding how this is possible, is the language of gift.
We are all persons made in the image and likeness of God. In marriage, this unique relationship mirrors the Trinity and gives us a foretaste of heaven. We are called to pour ourselves out in a “sincere gift of self” (Gadium et Spes, 24). In doing so we not only discover ourselves, but we also discover the other more deeply.
What are some ways we can pour ourselves out for one another?
When I think of the obvious ways that I pour myself out in gift for my husband, it’s easy to think only of the practical things that I can do for him. Keeping a pleasant and clean home, preparing delicious meals, listening to his jokes for the one hundredth time and still managing to smile, being an attentive listener etc. If I go a step deeper, I think of the sexual embrace, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, whereby I radically gave my own body in a sincere gift.
Is it just that, or is there more?
Being both body and soul means we must pour ourselves out for the spiritual well being of our spouse as well. Do we pray for him or her? Do we pray with them? As I have mentioned previously, most couples I have met, do not pray together at all.
“Where two or more are gathered, there am I in the midst of them.”(Matt 18:20)
Are we attentive to the needs of their souls? Are we doing what we can to get our spouse to heaven? Can we go deeper in making a gift of ourselves through prayer, fasting, and supplication for our spouse’s spiritual gain? This is where the gift we pour out can benefit them spiritually.
One really great example of this is Elisabeth Leseur, a French housewife in the late 1800’s whose physician husband Felix, was an outspoken atheist and anticlerical. At age thirty-two Elisabeth, with the help of her spiritual director, began to learn more about the faith, grow her personal relationship with God, and to offer sacrifices and suffering for the conversion of her husband.
After a diagnosis of breast cancer, she suffered greatly for nine years and died at age forty-seven. Her husband found this statement in her will shortly after her death; “In 1905, I asked almighty God to send me sufficient sufferings to purchase your soul. On the day that I die, the price will have been paid. Greater love than this no woman has than she who lay down her life for her husband.”
This witness of love so pure, as to suffer what she could for the conversion of her husband is truly inspiring. What sacrifices, what sufferings are we willing to undertake for the spiritual conversion of our spouse?
Elisabeth wrote in her spiritual diary (The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Lesuer) about her gift of self,
“Great and holy ideas and deep convictions often influence others only through the attractiveness of those who embody them. “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7: 16), our Savior said: by the fruits of devotion, charity, and radiant faith, and also by those blossoms that first attract notice and precede the fruit; those are called tender love, graciousness, social refinement, serenity, equanimity, friendliness, joy, and simplicity. A truly holy person – mistress, by divine grace, of her body and its challenges – without ever speaking, exudes the delicate perfume of these flowers. Such a person attracts others by her gentle influence and prepares them for God’s approach, which she eventually obtains for them through her prayers.”
There is much work to be done in our marriages. Its fruit benefits not only our spouse, but our family and society as well. Everything is impacted for the good, when marriages succeed. We really do such a disservice when we give up on our spouses and negate the very means for our own salvation.
I will close with these most apropos words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
“Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society. Like any truly worthwhile goal, it places demands upon us, it challenges us, it calls us to be prepared to sacrifice our own interests for the good of the other. It requires us to exercise tolerance and to offer forgiveness.” (General Audience, May 5, 2010).
May we see in our spouse someone whose very existence is our means to heaven and our life’s work to get them heavenward. In doing so, we may be saving our very souls and offering a great witness of love to the world.