“At a moment in history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the People of God.” (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of Saint Pope John Paul II, 3)
In The Catholic Family in the Modern World the saintly priest, Father John Hardon, specifically warns married Catholics that the de-Christianization of society harms families and thus – by implication – threatens your own marriage! And I know there is nothing more important to you than God and your God-centerd marriage. If you have a strong Catholic marriage are you ready for the trials and spiritual warfare that are sure to come? And if your marriage is experiencing rocky times, what positive action can you take to rebuild it and save it from disaster? We men cannot afford to be passive, like Adam, who stood silently next to Eve as the infernal serpent attacked his wife (see Genesis 3: 6). Thus, the great Father Hardon, relying heavily on Saint Pope John Paul II, tells us that three things are absolutlely necessary to protect, fortify and strengthen our marriages, and these three essential practices are: PRAYER, the EUCHARIST and THE SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION. We consider these three indispensable practices below, relying on Father Hardon.
Perseverance in marital love, says Father Hardon, “is impossible without God’s grace.” He continues: “And what is the primary source of grace that we always have at our disposal? It is prayer. No matter how badly off a marriage may be, no matter how tragic a once flourishing family may become, the one indispensable condition, either for restoring married love…or for growth in marital charity, is prayer. Why? Because part of the divine plan, which is what providence means, is that we should obtain many of the things we need only by asking God to grant them.” Thus, “we have no choice; either we pray or we do not get the divine light and strength we need. Either husbands and wives pray or they will not receive the grace to even sustain their married love.” The “most fundamental reason for failure [in marriage] is lack of prayer” (45-46).
Practical Consideration: Am I praying on a regular and sustained basis for my spouse and for my marriage and for the virtues I need to grow in holiness?
2. THE EUCHARIST: THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
Father Hardon states: “According to Pope John Paul II, ‘The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage.’ What can he possibly mean? He means that except for the Holy Eucharist as Sacrifice, as Holy Communion, and as Real Presence, Christian marriage would not survive. Why not? Because the heart of Christian marriage is the practice of Christian charity, but Christian charity is a bad dream unless sustained and nourished and enlightened and protected by the constant flux of supernatural grace whose principal divinely instituted source is the Holy Eucharist….Believing married people must be devoted to the Holy Eucharist if they want their marriage even to survive, let alone to thrive. This is not piety. It is a factual reality” (47-48).
Practical Consideration: Do I have a strong desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? Do I realize how much I need sacramental union with Jesus in order to grow in charity? Do I try to attend mass frequently? Do I adore Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration on a regular – preferably weekly – basis? Do I know what the practice of spiritual communion is?
3. SACRAMENTAL CONFESSION STRENGTHENS MARRIAGES
According to Father Hardon, the Sacrament of Confession, “the sacrament of peace,” is “necessary to restore peace to families” broken by sin and conflict. The repentance and forgiveness that are basic to the Sacrament of Penance heal families and restore family unity. In this regard Father Hardon quotes from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio (Section 58), quoted below:
The Sacrament of Conversion and Reconciliation
58. An essential and permanent part of the Christian family’s sanctifying role consists in accepting the call to conversion that the Gospel addresses to all Christians, who do not always remain faithful to the “newness” of the Baptism that constitutes them “saints.” The Christian family too is sometimes unfaithful to the law of baptismal grace and holiness proclaimed anew in the sacrament of marriage. Repentance and mutual pardon within the bosom of the Christian family, so much a part of daily life, receive their specific sacramental expression in Christian Penance. In the Encyclical Humanae vitae, Paul VI wrote of married couples: “And if sin should still keep its hold over them, let them not be discouraged, but rather have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God, which is abundantly poured forth in the sacrament of Penance.” The celebration of this sacrament acquires special significance for family life. While they discover in faith that sin contradicts not only the covenant with God, but also the covenant between husband and wife and the communion of the family, the married couple and the other members of the family are led to an encounter with God, who is “rich in mercy,” who bestows on them His love which is more powerful than sin, and who reconstructs and brings to perfection the marriage covenant and the family communion.
Practical Consideration: Do you, your spouse and your children utilize this great sacrament of peace on at least a monthly basis so as to draw from this sacrament the forgiveness, healing and strength your family needs? Do you, as the father of the family, specifically set aside family time for the whole family to attend Confession together, and then perhaps to go out together afterwards for some family fun and bonding?
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Ref. See the referenced text of Father Hardon for a more detailed explanation of these three practices. Some of the quoted material was slightly edited for this note.
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