The obligations of the marriage covenant – fidelity, love open to new life, and lifelong sexual exclusivity – ask a lot of another as it assumes a lot about ourselves. Too often we make promises we don’t keep, overextend our commitments, or intend fidelity only to confront our frailty. What can save our marriage vows from self-destruction and futile searches for a false sense of freedom?
The culture we live in, and love in, wants to lower the standards. It sees vows as restricting, exclusivity as impossible, fidelity and fecundity as archaic ideals from which we’ve been liberated. We’re left, consequently, with seemingly nothing in which to stake our love. Love becomes an experience that ebbs and flows as the passions do. Should things get difficult, as inevitably they do, then the first thing to go is that point of certainty which we can no longer hold: the vow.
But what if we were to look from another perspective and see vows as the gate to freedom?
The sacred nature of the promises we’ve made at the altar allow us to be pushed to the limits of love, to experience the full spectrum of temptation in all its forms, and yet still be faithful. They come before the sadness, weakness, loneliness, illness, loss, impurity, faithlessness and broken hearts. They may be assaulted, forgotten, even broken – yet they abide and call us back.
It is critical always to see marriage vows in this clear light, as first expressions of the fidelity of God which we cleave to in making a promise of our self to another. They are the permanent and visible sign of a prior and infinitely greater love. They set the core standard – one staked not in human frailty, but in that saving strength freely offered on the cross.
Whether through consecrated celibacy, or the one-flesh union of sacred matrimony, fidelity to one’s vows is rooted in a higher freedom: in the power to choose to love, for the sake of the love of God we receive – that love on which we can surely stake the good of another, one that remains faithful even amid betrayals (cf. 2 Tim 2:13).
The bond formed by sacramental union literally consecrates (makes holy) marital love. Our love becomes the living witness of the sacrificial love of God. It is elevated beyond the human and aspires to the divine. It raises up the bar for freedom from the mire of frailty and exalts it, so that it reaches its fullest expression. In doing so, it gives us the power to transcend human weakness and passion, and the capacity to choose the good.
So much is at stake in the choice of marriage. So much is bound in the vows we make. So much is possible in the choice to lay down one’s own life for the sake of another:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:9-13).
May we live bound in our vows, see the freedom in doing so, and in the process, find true joy.
Reprinted with permission from FathersForGood. org.