Thursday, February 10, 2011

Suffering in marriage: An opportunity

Thanks to the Diocese of Portland, Maine's Office of Lifelong Faith Formation for the opportunity to share an abbreviated, non-academic version of my upcoming presentation to the Edith Stein Project at Notre Dame University. Below is the guest post:

Today’s culture runs away from suffering, marriage, commitment, children and any other attachment that might come with inconvenience, self-sacrifice or discomfort. Those who embrace the Sacrament and vocation of marriage are offering the world a sign of suffering that can bear fruit for the sake of others.

In a unique way, married couples by the fact of their entering a sacramental marriage are called to a special form of suffering. It’s not simply a matter of varying opinions on whether or not to roll the toothpaste tube from the bottom, or the annoyance of a snoring spouse. More profoundly, through their consent to marriage, the couple participates in the love between Christ and the Church.

Jesus Christ died for the Church, suffering for the sake of her salvation. In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II wrote, “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.” If a couple denies this privilege of marriage by cohabiting or “hooking up,” then they are simultaneously denying the world a sign of salvation. Without the permanent reminder of redemptive suffering presented in marriage, widespread narcissism is inevitable. On the contrary, when witnesses of self-giving love, received from God and not grasped for one’s own self-affirmation, abound in the culture, then a true culture of life and a civilization of love are able to bloom.

It seems paradoxical to say that our suffering culture needs suffering, yet this is precisely the case. The heartache caused by divorce, contraception, abortion, hooking-up and other common practices today can only be resolved by understanding suffering as a gift of offering to the world a witness of God’s love. Simultaneously, those who embrace this view are healed of a narcissistic tendency to focus on self-gain rather than self-gift. Consequently, one is freed to experience the words of Vatican II, often quoted by John Paul II: “[M]an, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes 24)

When the trials and sufferings of marriage seem particularly difficult to bear, couples may find some comfort in offering their suffering as part of their gift of self to God. The Lord is able to receive the couple’s suffering as fertilizer for the seeds He has already planted. In this way, the suffering of marriage is able to bear great fruit for the couple, for their family and for society at large.

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