Over the past several years, as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life, I’ve had the privilege of listening to many couples reflect on their marriage. Repeatedly, I’ve been struck by how many speak of their sense of helping each other to heaven. They instinctively grasp St. Paul’s call to “a still more excellent way” in which their married love, which is God’s power alive within them, leads them to heaven.
As Christians, we understand this call to growth as a call to a holy, or virtuous, marriage. “Virtue” may sound like an old-fashioned word, but it lies at the heart of spirituality. A virtue is a stable part of one’s character that allows a person to perform good acts and to give his or her best (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1803).
Couples, like individuals, acquire virtues through the repetition of particular practices and behaviors. They make the virtue their own by freely choosing to act in certain ways, every day. The question posed in our radio and TV spots, “What have you done for your marriage today?” is really an invitation to grow in virtue through a gentle word, a generous deed or an act of self-sacrifice.
No one brings all the necessary virtues into a marriage, and the virtues that spouses do bring need to be developed. So marriage is a “school for virtue,” in which spouses learn such virtues as forgiveness, kindness, and humility. It’s the work of a lifetime.
A holy marriage, one that is a communion of persons and a sign of God’s love, is made up of many virtues. In this series, we’ll look at several virtues that characterize a holy and happy marriage. Each article will consider how the virtue can be practiced in marriage and offer one or two questions for reflection. I hope that couples will be able to set aside time each month to read and prayerfully discuss these articles.
Love, of course, is the more excellent way that includes all the virtues. As a couple grows in virtue they also grow in love. Hand in hand they walk the journey to holiness. I pray that you may persevere in this journey, knowing the love of God, the encouragement of the Church, and the support of the many couples who are walking this journey with you.