In the midst of many changing social and ideological uncertainties and trends, it seems like marriage is no longer desired or needed. When many young people see failed or imperfect marriages of their loved ones, they, in turn, become scared, reserved, questioning the value of the Sacrament of Matrimony. We also recognize that our world has become too sexualized, analogously equating intimacy with sexuality, love with the intensity and/or satisfaction from physical intercourse. All of these have created arguments against the need for something permanence and real, hence discouraging young people from truly making a lifetime commitment of self-giving love. In the midst of it all, it is very to ask, “Is marriage worth it?”
I would dare to answer — as a priest — that marriage is worth every single pain, suffering, and trial because it is a real, persistent, and personal manifestation of love that is beyond one’s self. As a priest, the Sacrament of Matrimony compliments my own free and personal choice of offering my life for the service of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Just as a husband and wife give themselves totally and wholeheartedly, I choose to give my all to the Church in loving and serving God in His people as a celibate priest. Even though I am imperfect, I continue to trust in the grace of God that empowers me to truly and wholly love with the giving of myself, just as the spouses learn to love and give each other their own self. When a marriage is lived out well, loving one another “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, now and for the rest of my life,” it points to a higher love that is more than euphoric joy, united, blessed, and strengthened by the grace of God. True intimacy exists because true love exists. Whether it is through Matrimony or Holy Orders, the gift of one’s self is precious and real because it is what binds us together.
True marital love can be found through the quiet, simple, constant giving of time, attention, consolation, and affection to the spouse. These expression of love are things that would not be captured by Holywood or noticed by the media because it is personal and intimate instead of as something extravagant contained by a box, wrapped up in fancy paper, or tied with a bow. Love is a vocation, a calling, and that is why His grace necessary to sustain it! In marriage, the spouses are called to love as God loves, by giving one’s self totally no matter what the circumstances may be. It is a radical donation of one’s entire life for the sake of the other with and through the grace of God. It is complete trust in Him who empowers us with divine assistance to overcome our own selfishness to live faithfully to the vocation given to us. Therefore, marriage suffers when the spouses lost the habit of going to Him to pray, reflect, and discern what to do for the good of their marriage and family life. Both sides have to find creative ways to express their love while trusting that the Lord can work through their limitations and weaknesses to strengthen their commitment in and with the very things that seem to have the potentials to divide them.
Matrimony is then much more than a human institution, a social construction, or ideological concept. It is a sacrament, the visible sign of the invisible, grace-filled, divine reality of God’s self-giving love. When one is truly immersed in selfless and sacrificial love, his or her body and soul will testify to the reality that God made them for the other person. When true love exists, it permeates, activates, and puts no limit on their lifetime partnership so that each completes the other in the formation of a family. Married love is expansive as it breathes and gives life through a personal and concrete expression of faithful hope for the future. It is the effective and lasting sign, brought about not merely by human wills by the divine act of God, to which the spouses give their full and free consent by the giving of themselves to love beyond their own selves. It is a new creation as it signifies a new beginning that reflects God’s own inner Trinitarian love. Just as the three Persons of the Trinity are not diminished by their mutual love, the love of husband and wife (and their offsprings) flourishes in a loving adobe with respectful and self-giving relationship of one another.
Therefore, every marriage that lives well is a living sermon of Christian charity, a real sign that points others to the divine, a glimpse of what everlasting love is meant for heaven, a proclamation of the Good News and its efficacious power to save through Christ’s sacrificial love on the Cross, and a gift that has been received and lived as He has re-created them to be. This love between husband and wife is exclusive, self-giving, unbreakable, secured by God. Dislikes and temptations to separate cannot end it. Hence, in the will of God when they are given the gift of offsprings, this life-giving love is extended to the next generation and beyond.
The Lord elevated this everlasting bond to the sacramental level as it signifies His love for the Father through the bond of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Matthew 19:3-6) Marital love, then, is a model of the unqualified commitment to a permanent relationship that is not simply based on circumstances, likings, or particular passions, but on His grace. Think about it! Through marriage, the spouses are promising something humanly impossible and unappealing in the hedonistic sense. This is so important nowadays because we live in a world where commitment is valued less and less each day. There are too many people who try to get away with things or trying to manipulate reality to get more for themselves, and that is why true marital love speaks so loud as it testifies to the sincere search for true values, meaning, and commitment that is worth living for. It is counter-cultural because it witnesses to the real love that can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:7)
Nonetheless, it is also important to recognize that everyone has his or her own limitations and failures. Even with our best intentions to care and love, we can still hurt one another through the differences in personality, the normal stress in life, and our ordinary ups and downs. Therefore, when you recognize the sign of stress or resentment, frustration or anger, it is important to be honest and help each other process through what is going on. Do not be afraid to ask or raise the right questions, as long as you do it in a respectful and caring tone. Be honest in looking deep from within what triggered the anger or frustration and how you can respond to the raw emotion! The key, hence, is to respond properly instead of simply reacting with unrelated words and emotions that leave your spouse guessing and more confused. Perhaps something has happened in the recent time that triggered a memory or event in the past?!? If this is something that has to be handled alone, it is important to let your spouse know so he or she can still support you through prayers and emotional support. However, please know, that no matter what, it is important to never stop communicating and learning to love one another in and through the frustrations or hurts. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. Behind closed doors, each couple has challenges. That is why it is important not to put too many expectations and demands on one another but to love each other where you are. Do not unrealistically expect your soulmate to fulfill your every need and desire. Only the love of God and His grace can ever fill and completes us.
Even though life events change us, the bond that unites us to each other is not a feeling nor it is dependent on a passing feeling. Why? Feelings come and go; they come back and they go again. That is why it is important that we do not equate love with passion, with hedonistic standards, or with a euphoric understanding of joy. It was never meant to be something fleeting. We cannot simply fall out of love, we just often end up losing our focus on what is important. Therefore, the failure to love is a decision among many that present themselves to us every day. If we choose not to pray, forgive, reconcile, apologize, put our loved ones in front of us, tensions will begin to escalate and make the spouses feeling weak and helpless at time passes. In those moments, we have to invite God to be present in the midst of the hurts and hardships so He can show us what it means to love and forgive, seeking healing and being repentance for our human failures. Just as no one can plan a perfect marriage, no one can plan the natural occurrences of sorrows, challenges, trials, and sufferings. In the midst of all these things, spouses learn to love beyond the dislikes, forgive beyond the feelings, and reconcile beyond the temptations not to do so. True love speaks in the silence of our hearts, especially when words fail to sufficiently express how we truly feel, as it shines even in the darkness of life’s trials.
For those who are called to the Sacrament of Matrimony, your vocation is a sign and foretaste of heaven as you learn to look upon each other with love just as you and I look at God and He at us for eternity. Why are there more happiness in simple people who have less than what materialism defines as pleasure and satisfaction? Perhaps when they have little of this world, they recognize that they have what they need, they have in love when they have one another in God. Therefore, marriage on this earth is a constant process of purification, the Way of the Cross, as husbands and wives learn to bear one another’s burdens by carrying each other’s crosses. It is not appealing in our self-centered world, but this is the way of true love as God purify our soul and root our pride through the love of the other. It helps us to realize that our insecurities, hurts, pains, and sufferings, and its wounds can be healed, embraced, and transformed with the love of God. While there is no simple answers and guaranteed formulas, each and every one of our life’s trials has led us to our knees in prayer, trusting in His faithful promise to be with us always. This is our strength, the strength for those who are called to the sacrament, that He has never left our side and will never abandon us. Through it all, we understand that true faithful love comes with the deeper sense of responsibility, commitment, and security through His grace and our heartfelt desire to be like Him, in Him, and with Him every step of the way.
All sacraments are beautiful but they are also demanding. While they deliver the foretaste of heaven, they are at times shocking because they challenge and motivate us to seek real actions to actualize the true potentials of the divine, grace-filled gifts given. If the sacraments are true manifestations of the invisible reality of divine life to the world, the lives of those who received them would need to be changed. For married couples, the Sacrament of Matrimony would change them in a radical way if they open their hearts to allow the grace of God to work in and through them. Hence, their marriage becomes a sanctifying and holy icon of God’s love for one another and for the world. This unity gives testimony to the grace they have received.
When we accept and receive the sacramental grace on the Lord’s term, we allow ourselves to seek holiness and to be sanctified by the people and events that are present in our own lives. It shows forth the true understanding of divine love enlivened through real practice, giving, and sharing of charity. Those who are married and understand that their vocational purpose and mission is to be sanctified by one another then realize that they no longer have to pray for a big miracle so that their spouse could see things their ways. They desire to seek what the Lord wants both of them to do with a clear vision, singular purpose, united mind, and charitable love for each other’s gifts and limitations. Prayers become life-giving as it ceases to become a chore or checklist item. It gives life because it flows from an intense awareness that this is something beyond and much more than what human strengths and desires could ever achieve. This life requires faith that is constantly lived out through personal effort, discipline, and sacrifice.
Therefore, marriage is much more than a contract, a piece of paper signed by a judge or cleric, a party, beautiful decorations, or something that is done by two people coming together just because they feel like they love each other. It is ultimately the outward sign of the everlasting love of Christ as the spouses choose to lay down their own lives, their wants, and desires, for the sake of the other. Those who seriously discerned, freely chosen, and personally give themselves in matrimony will be changed forever. They understand that their marital union is not meant to be picture-perfect, but it is a blessing to be able to be real, genuine, vulnerable, and transparent with each other in order to love each other beyond one’s flaws and insecurities as to grow in holiness. Love makes every struggle worthwhile, especially when we offer, unite, and reconcile all things for the sake of love!
Too many people want love but they do not know what it is. They desire it but they have not seen it. That is why each and every one of us, when living out our vocation, can point those who are seeking for true love with our own lives. If they can see it in us, they will want it for themselves. It will make each and every one of them, just like those who were seeking the truth throughout time, to seek Christ and find Him. They will not know what they are missing until they see it in the lives of those who believe and dare to love. So, is the Sacrament of Matrimony worth it? My answer would be, “Absolutely!”