The Daily Bread, 12th May 2020: Peace in Marriage and Family Life
Readings: Acts 14:19-28; Psalm 144(145):10-13a,21; John 14:27-31
“Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you.”
Jesus leaves us his peace as an inheritance. The reason is because we have believed in him, in who HE IS and in the victory over sin and death which he won for us. That victory guarantees true and lasting peace. Since it is his victory, then it is his peace. Since he gives us a share in that victory, then he gives us a share in his peace.
Faith will bring us through death to his eternal peace, and so it will bring us through anything else to experience his peace. Since his peace is a gift, we have to want it and we have to ask him for it. To ask him is to pray to him. And so, the first thing we need to do to experience peace in our marriages and families is to pray for it as marriages and as families. We need to recover therefore the gift of family prayer.
The world cannot give us the peace we long for either within ourselves or between ourselves. Only Christ can give us that deep and true peace which is not simply the absence of conflict or war or disagreement or noise, but the presence of the living Lord within us and among us. He delights in being among us, especially in the home where marriage and family form the basic nest or cell of human relationships. Here, Jesus desires to pour out his blessings of every imaginable kind. He will do it to some degree even when we don’t ask him. But if we do trust in him and pray to him and believe he is there with us in our marriages and families, he will work with us to make sure that our hearts are free from trouble and fear.
Prayer in the home shouldn’t be something embarrassing, “oh, we don’t know how to pray, or there’s no time” or perhaps even think it is meaningless or of no effect. What is prayer anyway? It’s very simple: it is our relationship with God. In other words, prayer is already part of our life by the fact that we depend on God for our existence. As with any relationship, it requires us to become aware of the other, approach the other, address the other. If our relationships within the family are to be really true, in the deepest sense of the word, then our relationship with God is at the core of them. Without God, neither we nor the others in our family would even be there!
When a couple get married in the sacrament of matrimony, they are publicly stating that they are bringing Christ into the centre of their relationship. Their love for one another is now no longer just that beautiful human love that they have. Rather, because of their baptism, Christ takes that love and catches it up into his divine love for them and for humanity. Their love becomes a sign of and a sharing in Christ’s love for the human race. They “bring forth” the divine love between them and shine and share it outwards to others, first with their children if God blesses them with any, but also with the wider community of the parish and society at large.
So, Christ stands at the centre of marriage and family life. He is there, even if he is sadly ignored or overlooked or even, tragically, rejected. He is the heart and foundation of the home. Therefore to pray to him as a married couple and as a family is not only something nice to do: it is essential if the relationships between us are to be grounded on peace. For he is our peace.
Christ only ever speaks words of peace to us. His first words to the Apostles after his resurrection were, “peace be with you.” And peace was indeed with them in the person of Jesus! The reaction of the Apostles was to be filled with joy. True happiness in marriage and in the home will come in its truest and purest and fullest form from no other source than the peace of Christ, the peace who is Christ.
So, I would invite and possibly challenge you, our married couples and families, to recover the practice of prayer, or indeed of more prayer, especially at this time when we may well have a greater opportunity to do so. Reintroduce prayer as an ordinary part of your daily schedule: morning and night prayers, grace before and after meals, etc. Try and find 10 or 15 minutes together to pray a part or all of the rosary, or to sit together with some words from the Gospel and talk about them, praying for the Lord to give you the grace of his light and truth.
What that does is to transform the atmosphere of the home. It gives a depth and solidity to our relationships which are not ourselves able to give them. We’re all fragile and weak; we can be inclined at times to be a bit selfish and assertive. So, to have a growing awareness of Christ’s presence among us affords a deeper and stronger foundation to our married and family relationships. Don’t exclude from that the presence and prayer of Our Lady. In fact, in the home it would be good if the fathers led everyone in praying the Our Father, and mothers lead the Hail Mary. The presence of God the Father and of Mary our Mother helps to strengthen both father and mother. If there are any children in the home, this leads them to see that their parents are leading them beyond the home to our heavenly home eventually.
The second thing I want to mention is something which Pope Francis said should be part of every family life. He said that the three little words please, thankyou and sorry should be constants in the home. If we forget these words, we will make peace in the home less likely.
To use the word please when asking for something both avoids the temptation to demand or insist on it and it shows respect for the other person and their equal dignity with us. It should also not just be that children are expected to say please, but parents, too, when they address each other and their children. If parents don’t say please, or use the other two little words I am coming to, it’s very unlikely that the children will do so either.
To say thankyou, to have a grateful heart, makes the other person feel appreciated for who they are and not only for what they give. Thankyou keeps alive in us the awareness that gift and giving are central to life and love. All we have and are, are gifts from God, not least the gift of his Son. The Mass itself is the Son’s act of thanksgiving to the Father for his saving love for humanity, for his resurrection from the dead, for the coming of the Kingdom. In small ways, our thankyous at home and in social circumstances prepare us for the Eucharist. There is greater joy in giving than in receiving!
Perhaps the most difficult word to say is sorry. Yet, it can be the most vital one to establish or preserve peace in the home. If more people said “I’m sorry” when there are tensions in the home and family, we would have fewer of the big problems which break up our marriages and families. The word sorry re-establishes equality, balance and mutual respect, as well as restoring hope for the future. The expectation is, of course, that the person offended responds with a word of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not always easy. In fact, it can be terribly difficult, especially when certain types of betrayal or deceit are involved. However, if a couple are praying (not least the Our Father and its words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”), if they are habitually using the three little words of Pope Francis, then giving forgiveness may be slightly less difficult and the understanding that it is the duty of the Christian to forgive may be more easily accepted. This will be a powerful Christian witness and be a strong aid to restoring to, or strengthening peace in, the home.
The third thing I’d like to mention is what a couple say to one another on their wedding day. “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward.” This is an act of acceptance, of reception, of the whole of the other, the whole package you might say of who the other person is. It’s a commitment to have and to hold: not to let go, not to throw away, not to waste. When a married couple are in difficulty, it is good to remind yourselves lovingly, not with remonstrations, of what you said on your wedding day. It’s also good to try and recover something of the state of mind and heart you had when you fell in love, the romance, the idealism, the enthusiasm, the strength of mind and soul of your wedding day.
So, continue to receive one another! It was not just for your wedding day that you said “to have and to hold”, but for every day! It’s always good to go back to your wedding vows, even if you’re not having problems, and to re-read them together in a prayerful and grateful way. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health until death (not anyone or anything else) us to part. What you are doing is recovering that core promise and commitment and, in asking the Lord Jesus to be with you and help you, go through those vows again and talk over them together.
Perhaps this exercise will lead sometimes to tears and regrets and to difficult, but hopefully respectful, exchanges. But your vows put in your hands the key to the solution of your own difficulties. Your vows are like the genetic code of your marriage, the core identity of what you have committed yourselves to with one another. The more you know those vows, and pray with them and discuss them together, the more they will become day by day part of your married life. The more, too, they will have a beneficial influence on your children and on the whole atmosphere in the home. If your children can perceive that you are working at your commitment to one another, that you are prepared to accept one another’s weaknesses and failings and to carry one another’s burdens and to forgive one another’s sins, then what you are doing is educating them to become good spouses themselves. You are also educating them to bring all those skills and values into society and into their relationships as you do yourselves.
The last thing I want to mention is something which can cause great disturbance to the peace of the family, that is, death. I don’t mean so much the inevitable reality of death for an ageing parent or someone who has been chronically ill. I refer more to the deaths which strike us as premature or even at some level unjust, such as the death of a child, a young adult, or even the unexpected and sudden death of a parent. Marriages can sadly often break up when the death of a child occurs.
So, it’s important when marrying and during marriage to keep the question of death in mind in a sensible and common-sense way. The marriage vows themselves mention death, but, understandably, it’s something which is psychologically kept very much on the margins at least in the early years of married life. Part of maturing and growing in marriage is surely to face the big questions of life together and seek to have a certain wisdom as to what they are and as to how they are to be faced. One such question is death, one’s own death and the death of one’s loved ones.
In the Gospel today, Jesus says to his apostles that, if they loved him, they would have been glad to know that he was going to the Father, i.e. dying and ascending to God, for the Father is greater than he. So, we need to look on death, not as a failure in the family, but to look on it within the context of our faith. The person we have loved so dearly has gone to One greater than us, to Someone who loves them even more than we do. This way, we can surrender them with trust to God. That does not take the sorrow or pain of loss away. If you love someone, you have to have that sorrow and pain, otherwise it would mean you did not love them. The truth is, as the marriage vows say so clearly, that we are not made for this life: “until death us do part.”
Death, of course, is not a definitive departure. It is not utter catastrophe or “The End” as in a film. No, it is until we meet again. It is an au revoir. Our relationships will simply move to a new phase, their definitive phase, when we all pass to the house of the Father.
My hope is that these reflections on family prayer, the three little words, marriage vows and death as au revoir, will help a little in regaining perspective during these difficult days when we are all on top of one another in the home a bit more than we usually bargain for. We ask the Lord to renew our love in our married and family lives to help see us through this present trial until it is over. May his peace be upon us and within us and strengthen our marriages and families.