As children, we loved the fairy tales that lead us to believe that we would one day find the love of our lives and live happily ever after, writes Angela McCarthy.
The fairy tale indoctrination shifts to a level of idealism as we move towards adult life with the hope that we will have a happy life with someone we love.
For many that is experienced in marriage, but this has become a hot topic of late.
In the '60s and '70s, there was a great defiance against the 'institution' of marriage by those who sought liberation of various kinds; but that has turned around in our contemporary society with recognition of varying relationships seeking to be defined as marriage.
Recently my husband and I were discussing what we have learnt through 39 years of the experience of being married.
Certainly we have learnt a lot about love and how it is expressed in abundant ways.
We have learnt to have patience just to ‘be’ and let things ‘be’ until something is given in wisdom and a way forward is available. To be happy ever after requires a capacity to see joy in the journey, to see the possibilities and embrace what can be found.
During one annus horribilis, my husband had a serious road accident. While standing alongside a policeman in the emergency department, I heard him ask the ED specialist whether or not the injuries would be permanently disabling as he needed to know whether the charge would be grievous bodily harm or not.
The specialist’s affirmation solved an issue for the policeman but not for me. What would life be like now? How disabled would he be?
Fortunately, our experience of marriage was based on an understanding of sacrament – that place or state of encounter with God within human life.
I learnt many new ways of being supportive and strong, and he learnt many new ways of being vulnerable and grateful.
This was grace from God in our suffering that further strengthened our relationship. Our marriage has a strong support base from family and friends and we managed to find joy in the journey.
Two years and five operations later he was back on his feet. Can’t genuflect or kneel, but I don’t think God minds!
In this long and beautiful journey, we have discovered the need to administer the sacrament of marriage to each other on a daily basis – through all of life’s difficulties, the daily administration of the sacrament through simple acts of kindness, holding onto one’s patience, gently approaching difficulties, sharing in many different ways, appreciating and deepening our intimacy, working to move from a place of “I love you” to a state of “we love us”.
The marriage industry hypes up the idea of a bride being 'princess for a day' – this is her day!
To me, this is a horrible fallacy which soon lets the bride down! It is the beginning of something between two people, supported by family, friends, and for some, the presence of Christ through the gathering of Church. The wedding day is a special day of public acknowledgement of a new relationship, a new branch of the family but it is not the marriage.
We have discovered that the sacrament of marriage can’t be pinned down and described by juridical norms. There are times of exultation when one actually enters into the creative nature of Godself through the sacredness of our productive sexuality.
But there are also times of great barrenness and discontinuity where we have to find new ways and new directions and know that God is still present. We have to find ways to continue to be faithful and of service to each other and depend on God’s presence to see us through.
Marriage is also a way of serving the Church and the world through the support of children, but also the support of the community around us through the intimate support of each other.
The self-giving nature of sacramental marriage enables the couple to grow in ways that reach out into the community offering a secure means of support.
When we reached the 25 year mark, we instigated in our parish a celebration of marriage so that the community could recognise and value the sacrament in a broad and accessible way.
Since then it has become an important part of the liturgical calendar and couples from other parishes come to join us and the idea has been taken up elsewhere.
This is a way of Church being supportive in recognising the value of the sacrament of marriage.
It is lovely to see those who have been married for 60 years or more (once you get that far you can come every year!). As each wedding photo goes up on screen, and a certificate is presented, the community has the opportunity to acclaim each couple.
Our conversation about living together for 39 years also lead us to talk about indissolubility.
We agree that it didn’t happen simply through a Church ceremony and our initial experiences of sexual intimacy.
Indissolubility becomes a reality when the grace of the encounter with God in faith leads to utter faithfulness and a recognition that neither one of us could turn our backs on the other in this life.
We are graced by God with the expression of the faithfulness of Christ to his Church in the daily way we share the sacrament of marriage.
- Dr Angela McCarthy is a lecturer in Theology in the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Perth.