We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, "the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life." Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live "sober, upright and godly lives in this world," knowing for sure that "the form of this world is passing away."
For this reason husbands and wives should take up the burden appointed to them, willingly, in the strength of faith and of that hope which "does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Then let them implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and, most of all, let them draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist.
If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life which the Apostle sets out in these words: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church. . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 25
Reflection – So we continue to make our way through these last paragraphs of HV, and we see here the Pope acknowledging the fact that is pretty well known to everyone, and certainly to anyone married. Namely, marriage is really hard. It is a very challenging vocation, even in the best and most compatible, mature, harmonious marriages.
Even before children come along and raise it to the next level of difficulty and challenge (and joy and richness, too) there is an intrinsic difficulty in the profound intimacy and union that is the heart of marriage. Two human beings, wildly different in temperament, background, expectations, communication styles, each with his or her own set of wounds and weaknesses, vulnerabilities and challenges along with strength, beauty, and gifts, bind themselves to each other for life, to forge an unbreakable bond of unity, oneness of mind and heart. It is no easy thing, and many do fall short of the ideal or struggle for years to attain it, often with great pain and at great cost.
The secular world, faced with the challenge of marriage, wants to change marriage so that it is less challenging. Make it temporary, not permanent, for example. Make it almost as easy to end a marriage as it is to begin one. Remove children from the equation, or at least make them extremely optional. Even, in some extreme circles, make marital fidelity optional, the so-called ‘open marriage’.
The Church, looking at the same difficulties and challenges of marriage, but recognizing that the thing itself is a divine creation which we have no authority to change for any reason, says, essentially, ‘Turn to Christ.’ The grace of God meets us in the difficulties and stresses of whatever our life is. The Eucharist is the strength of our soul. Reconciliation is the healing of our soul of the wound of sin. Christ is with us always, through the graces of baptism, confirmation, and the special sacramental grace of marriage itself.
We can look at the difficulties of Christian marriage and easily say that it’s just too much, the Church or God is asking too much of people, and it’s just completely unreasonable, even deeply unkind, to expect people to rise to such a level of greatness of spirit.
Or we can look at those same difficulties and say that God must simply expect every married couple to really live by faith, to really learn to pray, to turn to Him, to receive from Him the strength and the grace to do what they themselves cannot do.
It really is that way with any truly difficult situation in life. We can be faced with any challenge in which to apply the Gospel and the moral law requires from us great sacrifice or generosity or suffering. We can say, ‘It is the Gospel and the moral law that are wrong. I’m going to do something else.’ Or we can say, ‘Jesus, have mercy on me. Help me, Lord, for I cannot do this by my own power. Thank you for giving me your grace to do this.’
Two different answers, two different attitudes, but what a difference in outcome. One leaves us in our own limited, mediocre selves, defining the whole world and God too by the terms of our own subjectivity. The other breaks us open to the abiding presence of God with us, God within us, Christ behind, beneath, above, beside me, the kingdom of God which is alive and active and in which we grow to the full stature of Christ. This is what the Lord, and His Church, are offering to all of us, but here in HV, to married couples specifically—a chance to become saints. Isn’t that good news?