Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, Huntington, Ind.; $14.95.
“I think it’s very important in a marital relationship to have a light touch and sometimes say to oneself, ‘What’s this or that really going to matter in 100 years?’ You have to have a sense of humor and sometimes a light, very light touch.”
That observation by a long-married spouse joins several hundred other very brief and not-quite-so-brief quotations on marriage, family life and parenthood in “The Catholic Marriage Wisdom Book” compiled by Donna Marie Cedar-Southworth. There is advice here – from Scripture, novelists, theologians, famous individuals — for making marriage work, along with reflections on what marriage means and how spouses grow as persons within marriage.
This is the type of book people read because in just a moment’s time it provides them food for thought. It is a book of insights and little stories – a book, perhaps, that might be given as a gift.
Readers are likely to derive inspiration from many of Cedar-Southworth’s selections, while taking issue with some others. That seems only natural with a book that places current thinkers alongside great thinkers of past centuries, a book, moreover, that I did not find ideological in nature.
One thoroughly enjoyable, two-page story tells about the house a husband designed a long while back. He was so proud of it, and “it started out large enough for us,” he recalls. The house included a study, a guest room and a sewing room. But over time these carefully planned rooms were transformed — into children’s bedrooms!
“So it really doesn’t look right now as if I’m much of an architect,” the man says. But he believes the house “will get larger again,” as one by one the children move away and into their adulthood. Then the house will not be empty, however. It will remain “crowded with memories,” and the man and his wife expect to “sit quietly by the fire and listen to the laughter in the walls.”
I am always happy to be reminded that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta considered the human smile a wonderful and inexpensive gift to give. In Cedar-Southworth’s book, Mother Teresa advises readers that:
“The world would be a much better place if everyone smiled more. So smile, be cheerful, because God loves you.”
The book shares something Evelyn and James Whitehead wrote about marriage as a journey. The long-time writers and speakers on marriage said that “marriage as a journey suggests that this relationship is not a location in life but a pattern of movement. Marriage is not a place where we live but a way we travel through life.”
The Whiteheads advise readers that “even after this trek is well begun, we continue to learn new things about our self and our partner.” Some of what is learned may be “subtle and confusing”; it may also prompt the realization that God “visits our life in strange and unpredictable ways to give it meaning and direction.”
Readers may find the book’s anonymously written set of “Twelve Rules for a Happy Marriage” amusing or right on target – or possibly neither or both. “Never yell at each other unless the house is on fire,” one rule advises. Another rule reminds couples to remember that “it takes two to make an argument. The one who is wrong is the one who will be doing most of the talking.”
In developing her book, Cedar-Southworth asked numerous couples married as long as 40 years or more to comment on the workings of marriage and the role of faith in their life together. Most of these comments are collected in one chapter. I particularly welcomed one man’s humorous honesty in saying, “I did not win my wife with my looks, but with my jokes.”
One of these couples outlined what they called the “Three Fs” for marriage: “Number 1 is fidelity – fidelity to God and fidelity to each other. Number 2 is friendship. We have to be friends to each other as well as to our other numerous friends. Number 3 is fun. It is important to have fun with each other, and to have fun with family and friends.”
A couple married 33 years stressed that “marriage is a working proposition – it doesn’t just happen by itself – just as you’re always being re-credentialed with your job, taking workshops and courses to better yourself in your profession, you need to do that with your faith and your marriage.”
Readers will find much to ponder and discuss in this book. After all, for most couples marriage is an ever-changing and developing relationship that demands attention.
With that though in mind, allow me to conclude with this comment in the book by Dolores Leckey, the well-know U.S. leader in Catholic marriage and family ministry:
“Marriage and faith are like peeling an onion — they both go through many stages and mean different things at different times.”