Marriage, God’s Idea

“Then God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God, he created them; male and female, he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” 

Gen 1:26-28

Marriage is God’s idea, and everything God does is for our good. You might think of it this way, says Dr. Mary Healy, “when God wanted to make an image of Himself, He made a man and a woman and called them to marriage.” In this passage, God teaches us something about His Divine Nature; it is Trinitarian. The “us and our” points to the invisible mystery of who God is, a communion of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is a relationship of the eternal exchange of love. Our marriages are supposed to mirror this Trinitarian love to the world. 

Pope Benedict XVI framed it this way, God the Father, who is Love itself, freely pours Himself in totality, eternally, unconditionally to the Son. In turn, He receives all of that love and returns it fully, unconditionally, to the Father. That love between Father and Son IS the Holy Spirit. How is marriage supposed to image that mystery? (I’m glad you asked) 

Being a husband means pouring yourself out in love to your wife, freely, totally, unconditionally. She is to receive the full outpouring of his love without condition or reservation, joining her love to his and returning it to him. With God’s creative consent, nine months later, this exchange of their unconditional love needs a name. Love is more significant than the two of us. It is lifegiving, in imitation of the Trinitarian God. Mind-blowing, right! Our marriages are supposed to image to the world a little peek of God’s unconditional, irrevocable, never gives up on us, kind of love. 

Sadly, many of us never knew or were ever taught this. Not to worry, God is very patient in waiting until we are ready to receive this truth. Sadly, there is a shortage of witnesses who embody happy, faithful, fruitful, mutually satisfying marriages. Our experience of heartbreak in our marriages may cause us to doubt that happy marriages are achievable. The good news is this, God is faithful, and likewise, we should never give up on each other. There are many excellent resources available that can turn things around for your marriage. Check out, Worldwide Mariage Encounter or Retrouvaille to jump start your marriage again.

Spoiler alert! Men and women are different, and it is part of God’s plan. Our complementarity should not cause competition. Like ballroom dancers, grace transforms our work together by leading and being led in unison. We need to make space for our spouse to “lead” us ladies, requiring patience, respect, and encouragement. Gentlemen, we want to be led, protected and feel confident in your leadership. God works in different ways through each of us, but together. Equal does not mean the same. Deacon James Keating says we need to appreciate our differences and recognize how God made men and women different. It is intended to be a great gift to our families and us. We are on the same team in a partnership for life.

Marriage takes work because it is two imperfect, sinful people learning to die to selfishness and become one.

Venerable Bishop Sheen reminds us it takes three for our marriage to succeed. God, husband, and wife praying with and for the other. 

It is easy to commiserate with others when our spouse hurts or irritates us. Their sympathetic advice isn’t always wise or helpful; leaving a spouse that doesn’t “make you happy” will not make you happy. The purpose of marriage is not to “make you happy; it is to make you holy.” Happiness is a byproduct of holiness. God can use our spouse to bring us closer to Him and grow us in holiness. Healing cannot occur if we walk away. Marriage is for life because it takes a lifetime to learn to love our spouse in the way he/she deserves. It took both of us to consent to marriage, and it will take both of us and God’s help to live out our vows. We must often pray for and with our spouse.

Finally, one last reminder that we must be aware of, Catholics are bound by Canonical form when it comes to Sacraments. If you are a Baptized Catholic, you are bound to follow the proper form for the Sacrament of Marriage. This means going through the Church to prepare for and marry in the arms of Mother Church. If a Catholic chooses to marry outside the Church and does not have the proper dispensation, they put their marriage in an irregular situation. You may hear couples talk about getting their marriage “blessed/recognized” in the Church, a process that is a great grace to their marriage relationship. Frequently I am told how it “transformed their marriage.”

In an irregular marriage, one is encouraged to attend Mass; however, avoid receiving Communion until the situation is corrected. Additionally, it impacts eligibility to be a godparent or Confirmation sponsor until corrected. This often comes as a surprise to couples and seems unfair or hard to understand. Yet the Church, in her wisdom, joyfully invites couples to correct the impediment, and in the process, the marriage receives all the beneficial graces necessary to flourish in married life. 

Sunday, February 13th, was World Marriage Day. Sister Lucia dos Santos, one of the three children of Fatima, predicted that the ‘final battle’ would be over marriage and family. Marriage and family life are under attack and at the heart of the battle and becoming casualties daily.

What will you do to fortify yours?

Holding Fast

“Hold fast to the word I preached to you” 1 Cor 15. Have you ever asked yourself, how do I “hold fast” to the Gospel that I hear at Mass? It sounds easy enough on paper. However, as each of us knows, remaining faithful 24/7 is a full-time job. It takes deliberate, attentive work to resist temptations, love when we do not feel loved, and spread joy and peace when we are struggling. The fight we fight is not always against flesh and blood, and more times than not, it is a supernatural spiritual battle for our soul.

Come on, Barb, really? The old “blame it on the devil excuse?” Well, yes. What happened in the Garden so long ago with our first parents impacted us more than we will often admit. Fr. Mike Schmitz says that while we were made in the image and likeness of God when Adam and Eve consented to disobey God, our intellect and will became “darkened.” That original sin has consequences for all of humanity. In other words, we can use our intellect to make decisions; but we don’t see clearly. We can exercise our will but not always choose wisely. And finally, no surprise here, “we are attracted to sin.” The fancy word for that is concupiscence.

Fr. Cantalamessa, O.F.M. C.A.P., “preacher to the papal household,” writes, “If the enemy continues to make war against you, this might mean that he has still not obtained what he set out to achieve; otherwise, he would stop tormenting you…If you have no struggle at all, rather be afraid and question yourself.” Succinctly stated in one of my favorite quotes attributed to St Irenaeus,

“The devil doesn’t trouble himself with things he has already won.”

St Irenaeus

All that said, holding fast takes effort and beseechs heavenly reinforcements for help: remaining in a state of grace, frequenting the Sacraments, prayer, and weekly Mass, which keeps evil at bay and allows for an increase of grace. 

Fr Chad Ripperger, an American Catholic priest, theologian, philosopher, and exorcist, offers these suggestions for remaining steadfast and protecting yourself:

        1-Never lose the state of grace. It is the principal protection against the devil.

        2-Never commit a mortal sin. One willingly places him or herself under the devil’s authority in this state by rejecting God as Supreme. He noted a rise in people receiving communion in the condition of mortal sin. “Nothing you do is meritorious in the state of mortal sin, and you cannot protect yourself.”

        3-Maintain custody of the senses. Don’t let the bad stuff into our minds and hearts. What music, television, images, and movies do we let inside? “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” Matt 6:22-23. 

Be aware that evil can influence our senses, memory, and imagination. Hence the critical need to receive regular healing in Sacramental Confession.

         4-“Give consent to all of the teachings of the Catholic Church; otherwise, you place yourself under the authority of Satan.” I never thought of it that way. I have met many Catholics in my life who tell me, “I’m Catholic but, I don’t agree with all the teachings.” I have found great value in doing the homework on the issues that challenge me and finding out what Mother Church teaches and why. When I took the time to do this, I enlightened my mind and increased my understanding. I challenge you to do the same. Either one believes that Christ Jesus established the Catholic Church (Matt 16:18-19, Jn 20:22-23). By His authority, is governed, or somehow, one presumes to be wiser than the Omnipotent God.

         5. Humility, prayer, sacrifice, and fasting- the “humbler you are, the less demons can hurt you.” The adage, “offer it up,” holds. Unite your prayers, suffering, inconveniences, and difficulties to the Cross of Christ. This action is meritorious and makes reparation for sin. Finally, demons cannot stand a body that fasts. (Here is where I need to do more work.)

Finally, bless your home and family often. 

All of us can say with St. Peter, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Look what Christ was able to do with his humility, recognition of his weaknesses, and need for a Savior. The same is true; God loves a repentant heart and a receptive soul longing for His healing Presence.

A dear friend of mine got me this sign a few years back, 

Be the kind of woman, who when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says, “Oh crap, she’s up!”

I love it! I pray that all Catholics realize the strength we have in surrendering to Christ and letting Him form us into a holy, fearsome demon-fighting force. For the glory of God!

A More Excellent Way

There is a vast misunderstanding of the four-letter word St Paul writes about in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:4-8). He chooses to give the reader concrete examples to understand better. What is authentic love, and what does it require? The brilliant St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, “To love is to will the good of the other.” Love is an act of the will, a choice we make. We choose to love or not to love. We often get confused because we think love is simply an emotional feeling like “falling in love.” The error in that kind of thinking relies upon “feelings” as an indicator of the presence of love. Feelings change. The giddy emotions will fade, and we wrongly assume we are no longer in love. Sadly, this same excuse can end a marriage. One cannot “fall out of love,” instead, the choice is to no longer love. Even that language is misleading. “Falling” is something we try to avoid at all costs. I know this personally because my falls usually involve an ambulance and brain surgery to repair. St. John Paull II reminds us that the “opposite of love is not hate but use.”  

If we truly understand what love is, we should also realize that it demands something.

God will not ask us to do what we are incapable of doing on our own.

We must understand love’s sacrificial nature; it always puts the other before the self. I once heard it said this way, “love is not give and take; it is just give.” This statement may seem utterly exhausting and unbearable. Yet we have examples all around us. Look at the mother who continues to pour out love for the life of her children with little sleep and negligible rewards. How about the father who works long, tiresome hours in a job he hates to provide for his family? The teacher, nurse, and priest give their best for the good of the people they serve daily amid complaining ungrateful hearts? I saw in my mother a woman who woke up one morning to a paralyzed husband who never walked the rest of his life ten years into her marriage. Her loving, devoted care grew significantly in the later years when she, too, was ill and aged. The tenderness in which she poured herself out daily for my father was heroic and exemplified love.

We are so accustomed to measuring and keeping the score of the little we do for one another. St. Paul reminds us that there is no room for that in authentic love. It appears nearly impossible to love one another selflessly and adequately, especially when we may not even like one another. Yet, God’s second greatest commandment is to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

It requires heroic virtue to choose love. God commanded that loving our neighbor is the means whereby we grow in holiness and prove our love for Him. Love forgives because that is what Christ showed us on the Cross, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Lk23:24) Forgiveness, like love, is not a feeling but a necessity. It releases the other and ourselves and is conditional to God forgiving us. There must be generous, merciful compassion and forgiveness in love.

Love is patient. “Patience is not proved except in suffering, and patience is one with charity.” (Siena) Patience requires endurance. We must learn to endure the faults of others and pray for their conversion. God readily sent His Son because of His love for us. He willingly suffered for the sins he did not commit and paid the ransom due to our sinful choices. Why would God the Father ask something so seemingly cruel of His Beloved Son? His Infinite love and mercy. That is how much we matter to our Father in heaven. We choose sin instead of obedience and virtue. We do this to ourselves and could never be free from the punishment owed, nor make enough restitution for them to God who is ALL GOOD. 

Sin is poison. Love is the antidote.

The visual par excellent is the Crucifix-after all, that is what love looks like and what our sins cost our Lord Jesus. We must try and emulate this level of forgiveness as we seek to love one another.

This generous love poured out on the Cross is given to us at every Mass in the Eucharist. It is supernatural food and the gift of Love Incarnate that has the power to transform our hearts and conform them to Love Itself. There is nothing else more powerful. Nothing else so necessary.

“You test the virtue of patience when your neighbor insults you. Your humility is tested by the proud, your faith by the unfaithful, your hope by the person with no hope, your justice is tried by the unjust, your compassion by the cruel, and your gentleness and kindness by the wrathful. Your neighbors are the channel through which all your virtues are tested and come to birth….”  St Catherine of Siena

Everything!

A month ago, I was introduced to the Surrender Novena. In practice, I realize the importance of surrendering everything to God, and letting God be God. What prevents me from abandoning myself to the Omnipotent Father when I know He can do everything well? This is easier said than done. Hence, the Surrender Novena has become a timely gift helping me to let go of the reins and surrender completely to God’s plan for my life. I recommend you do a test run yourself and let “Jesus take the wheel.” 

A novena is simply a prayer prayed for nine days and is often asking intercession through a particular saint. Why the mediator? Because we believe they are closest to God and can better aid us through their constant presence in heaven.

You may agree or disagree that God is in control. Perhaps you hold the Deist view that believes that God put things in motion a very long time ago and now just sits back and watches it all play out like a bad movie. Yet, the Christian perspective trusts that God is always close and attentive in our lives. Every single person is precious in His eyes, believer or not. We are His children, the work of His hands, willed into existence by His love.

Many of us may have never realized or experienced God’s all-encompassing love, so we doubt He exists or its transformative power. 

We are given freedom from above to choose either for or against God. We are not puppets being manipulated for some sick cosmic entertainment. This freedom gives us the right to choose good or evil, to take a path for our lives that leads to ultimate happiness or unhappiness, misery, and pain. We are not hapless victims, much like dead leaves floating on the current of life heading downstream. We are active, intelligent players on this journey; that is only a journey and not the destination. We can choose to believe that there is something more than this life and pay attention to all the signs left by our loving Father, which steer us towards a greater purpose and destiny; or we can peer inward, focusing on ourselves in a self-made tiny narcissistic world. It is our choice, after all. 

There are certain things within our grasp and control, but we can erroneously believe that everything is in our power to control. There is, however, much that is entirely out of our control, and that is the rub. Anxiety and stress come from wanting and expecting control over all things which realistically are simply outside our control. Our expectations for people, situations, and events further complicate the matter. It all feeds the delusion that I can be in control if I just work hard enough, pray long enough, or constantly worry. Not so. Whether we wake up tomorrow or not is entirely out of our control. It has taken me decades to learn to let go, to surrender to the One who is Lord over everything and has a immensely better plan than I.

Have I mastered surrender? No, of course not. I am a work in progress, but it is sweet progress indeed. What I have experienced thus far is greater peace, clarity, and less agitation. It has freed me to let certain situations and people that in the past made me nuts slip by me with nary a blip on my radar. 

God always has a better plan.

 I believe it all boils down to trust. Do I trust that God is supreme, all-loving, merciful, and in Whom all things are possible, or do I think that little old sinful, selfish, mortal me knows best? I dare say we can look no further than our own families, nation, and world to see that we as humans will mostly tend towards self-interest, flawed ideologies, greed, and power. We are kind of predictable that way. It is a matter of physics, what do we let take up our days and hearts because it will leave room for little else.

So, I invite you to try something different. Let go, and let God be Lord of your life. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, but it is up to you. You cannot simply go through the motions; you must believe with your whole mind and heart that Jesus will “take care of everything.” If all this sounds frightening, small-minded, archaic, or futile, go ahead keep running on the crazy hamster wheel to hell. I hope it works out for you. Afterall, how many of us have fallen for the delusion that “if I just work harder, I can gain control of every aspect of my life.” I prefer instead to place my future in the hands of the Almighty, all-powerful, all-loving God, and it is rather remarkable.

I wrote this down recently after praying the Novena for the third time. By personalizing it and writing down those issues and challenges that take up space in your head, helps you begin to release control of them, thus relinquishing them over to God. I cannot begin to tell you how pertinent and helpful this Novena is. I literally pray this repeatedly because I need to be constantly reminded to let Jesus take care of everything. I invite you to do the same.

Every situation. Every frustration. Every event. Every encounter. Every family member. Every co-worker. Every decision or lack thereof. Everything, I surrender to you.

Every insane tactic of evil in our nation. Every year. Every tear. Every moment. Every failed expectation. Every breath. Every morning and evening. Everything!

Every minute of every day. Every unanswered prayer. Every Mass and Eucharist.

Every whispered prayer. Every exasperated situation. Everything out of my control.

Every faulty decision of mine and of others. Every time I fail at remaining holy and choose instead the easy path. Every desire for the good of another.

Every hurt and exhausted moment I pour myself out for you through another. Every ingratitude and thoughtless word. Everything!

Jesus, I surrender myself to you ….TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING!

Liquid love

Wanted! Swanky Bubble Suit

Have you ever had one of those days (or years) when it feels like your worst nightmares are being played out? Or perhaps a supporting actor in some “B movie” that just can’t catch a break and the brunt of everyone’s pitiful whispers? Maybe your respites are short-lived, and the challenges numerous? I get it. Believe me, I do. I have a bit of an unflattering reputation for untimely and bizarre falls and accidents. And no, I am no thrill seeker nor attention junkie looking for the next pity party.

On the contrary, I would prefer to slip into a quiet, predictable, and banal existence most days. This status, I have found, makes me the brunt of good-hearted humor from family members. For instance, there was the perfectly timed meme of a bubble-wrapped woman sent just before our last family vacation.

If such a thing as a chic bubble suit were available, wherein I did not appear to be a walking blowfish, I would happily consider purchasing it? An adorable matching chapeau would complete my ensemble and protect what’s left of my grey matter.

A few weeks ago, I was praying in the Church by myself around 3:30pm. I like to stop in and say a Chaplet of Divine Mercy during my workday. I knelt first for a few decades and then eased into the chair behind me. I continued praying when suddenly, my chair slid out from under me and dropped me to the ground, but not before whacking me in the head as I fell.

To say I was stunned is an understatement. How did this happen? How do you fall sitting down?

I was not rocking the chair nor in the process of sitting down. I was already seated when this bizarre event occurred. I’ve got to say, more than my other mishaps-this one made me mad. I literally shouted out to the empty Church, “Really, God? Come on! I’m in here praying!”

I don’t know why this strange occurrence caught me off guard. You would think I would be used to this stuff by now. Thank goodness no one else was around to observe this nonsense, minus all of the heavenly host. I imagine my guardian angel is getting used to this kind of business with me. There was no audible giggle from the dark angelic host either. It literally felt like the chair was jerked out from under me. Seems impossible, and improbable but there you have it, all the ugly humiliating details.

I wish I could say it was my first fall in the Church. It was not. One Saturday morning after Mass a few years back, I was blowing out the Christmas candles. The whole wreath assembly was only inches from the edge of the stairs and wedged between a nativity set that spanned three steps and a pile of perfectly placed poinsettias. I began to lose my balance in such a tight spot and had to make a split-second decision, fall sideways, damage my already beat-up left brain, or attempt to control what I could. I decided to propel myself forward, jumping with enough momentum to hopefully clear three steps. I almost made it too, but my heels slide like skates on the marble floor, landing me hard amongst the poinsettias and only slightly splitting my head. That unplanned stunt came with an audience of the lingering after Mass crowd. It must have been something to look up from prayer, only to see me landing on my back among the flowers. This is where the bubble suit and hood may have come in handy?

About a year later, one of the regular daily Mass attendees appeared to be waiting to talk with me. I recognized him but did not know his name. He started off by saying that the “priest told him he would know the right time to tell me something.” My curiosity piqued; he had my rapt attention. Apparently, he can see supernatural things at times, a charism called the Discernment of Spirits. He asked me if I remembered that morning of my fall a year previous. I assumed he was one of the lucky folks in the Church when it happened. He told me how he “observed an angel come out of nowhere and cushion my fall as I was going down.” Therefore, I was not hurt worse. He told me that my head landed alongside his wings.

Thanking him, I was taken aback and deeply touched by what he had shared. I felt great comfort from his words. I was again reminded how God is so close to each of us, constantly loving and protecting us. This mighty God who willed the universe into existence is never too busy for me and my regular nosedives. It also helped answer questions I pondered regarding my unfortunate encounter with a car a few years ago that almost killed me. Why weren’t my injuries much worse? Why were my legs intact when the steel rod of the bike was snapped? No internal damage, just a bunch of broken bones, bruises, and road rash. Perhaps once again, there was an angelic buffer to minimize the impact on my body that day?

I have only shared this story with a handful of people. It is precious and personal to me. Do we realize that we too have a Guardian Angel, given to us since our very beginnings of existence? How many times have we been guided, protected, and assisted without knowing it? Our Angel, who sees the face of God, is with us always. Do we call on him? Thank him? Ask for his intercession and help?

“Our guardian angels are our most faithful friends because they are with us day and night, always and everywhere. We ought often to invoke them.”

~ St. John Vianney

You might question their existence due to the catastrophes in your own life. Why were you not spared from any of it? Why aren’t we saved from all pain and misery? This is where God’s Permissive or Provident Will comes in. There is, in fact, a purpose for everything in God’s plan. Even suffering plays a part in our salvation and purification. We are reminded that His ways are not our ways. (cf. Is55:8) I believe if we could see the constant attentiveness given to us through God’s Providential love, it would blow our minds! Our own ever-present Angel stands ready to guide and guard us at every moment of our lives. We have no idea how many disasters have been averted or illnesses that were lightened. The Feast of the Guardian Angels is October 2nd! Blessed be God for His gracious, watchful care of us.

Thank you, my dear guardian angel, for your attentive presence in my life and in the lives of those I love.


St Michael the Archangel, pray for us!