Growing up in a stereotypical American Catholic family, my parents always kept our faith at the center of family life. While we didn’t go so far as nightly recitations of the rosary together, I did have a very faith-centered childhood. My weeks generally pivoted around two regular Church activities: Sunday morning Mass and Tuesday night Religious Ed. We always ate dinner together as a family and prayed before the meal no matter what. When my sister and I were young, they read us stories out of our children’s Bible, and as we got older, they encouraged us to receive the sacrament of Confirmation and continue our faith journey as adults when we each went to college. Overall, I daresay they were successful: my sister and I still attend Sunday Mass on our own, and I’ve maintained further involvement in Church through the Knights of Columbus.
While my mom and dad had very different approaches to sharing the faith with us, they consistently worked as a team to make sure we had a Christ-centered upbringing. The reason for this, as I look back, is obvious: they have always had a Christ-centered marriage. Both came from Catholic families of 5 or more (Dad was one of 12!) and have always relied on their relationships with God to guide them through life’s difficulties and joys. There is always a Bible on hand, and numerous crucifixes and pictures of Mary are scattered throughout their home. The presence of God in our daily lives is something regularly acknowledged in everything we do as a family.
I don’t know what kind of marriage prep they went through before their wedding, but it is clear that they understand marriage for what it is: a Vocation, a calling from God. Everything my parents do, they do for each other. Whether it was Dad helping with the laundry on Sunday mornings, Mom keeping a plate warm when Dad worked late or had a Scout meeting, or giving each other breaks from me and my sister, their lives have always been focused in on our life as a family. I once heard that the home should be like a “miniature Church”. My parents have gone above and beyond in making that a reality for our family, whether any of us realized it or not.
In the Church, we always make a point of praying for Vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but I believe we’re often forgetting the other all-important Vocation to married life. That is not to say that we don’t need to pray for more holy priests, brothers, and sisters; we do! But I propose that we pray just as hard for true, faith-formed Vocations to marriage. With all the broken families we see in our society, it almost seems a miracle to meet couples who have remained faithful and totally in love. Those are the couples who, whether religious or not, view their marriage as a higher calling to give themselves totally to one another.
In Gaudium et Spes (aka The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World), promulgated by Paul VI during Vatican II, we hear that “married people can become witnesses of the mystery of love which the Lord revealed to the world by His dying and His rising up to life again.” This speaks directly to the self-giving nature of a true Christian marriage; spouses are called to mimic the love between Christ and the Church, the bride which He died for. Any happily married couple can attest to the great deal of self-sacrifice needed to maintain a healthy marriage. What our world so desperately needs is right in front of our faces: with families splitting up left and right, marriage has been devalued to no more than a “feel good” reaction. The understanding of marriage as a calling to daily self-sacrifice must be emphasized if we are to reverse the trend of so many broken families and such a high divorce rate.
My parents, who celebrate 25 years of marriage today, are one of the millions of couples throughout the world who strive to answer their daily call to empty themselves for one another as Christ did for each of us. Please join us in praying that their collective example will inspire young couples to focus their intentions on creating that same kind of self-giving love.
Jay Schaefer is the Webinar Associate of the Catholic Apostolate Center, in addition to his full-time career as a Civil Engineer in Baltimore, MD.