Happily Even After
What is Your Marital Spirituality?
by Stacey Noem
When Josh and I work with engaged couples and speak about the Sacrament of Marriage, we present a strongly “Christological” approach to marital spirituality. That is to say, we emphasize that marriage is a participation in the suffering, dying, and rising of Christ. We name how couples each individually will have many, many times during their married lives when they will be faced with opportunities, large and small, to be self-sacrificing. That is the nature of marriage. And it is the nature of the Paschal Mystery that that self-sacrifice is always met with new and abundant life.
Now, if you have read one of our blog posts before, this may sound quite redundant. You may have already stopped reading because we sound this trumpet all the time in our posts.
But a couple weeks ago, I had a bit of a paradigm-shifting experience reading and discussing Amoris Laetitia. I am in a group working our way weekly, chapter by chapter, through this latest apostolic exhortation – trying not to “rush the text” as the Holy Father recommended – and we were discussing chapter 3, “Looking to Jesus: the Vocation of the Family.” Based on that title you may not think I was in for a paradigm shift. The chapter sounds pretty Christocentric.
While it was focused on Jesus, the chapter and our conversation also introduced the Trinity and the nature of a Trinitarian understanding of love. A Trinitarian approach to marital spirituality emphasizes that the love between God the Creator and God the Son is so intense it becomes another person (the Holy Spirit). In this light we emphasize not only the inherently communal nature of love but also its fruitfulness. Pope Francis beautifully emphasizes that this fruitfulness may take form in children, but it could also be a couple’s shared service to the world and communities around them in any number of capacities.
So this is all pretty theological stuff. I bring it up here because I think both approaches are not only helpful but necessary for the fullness of our sacramental witness as married couples in the world. Additionally, I think that each of these points of emphasis are more helpful at different stages in our married lives.
For example, when we were newly married and I was trying to figure out how in the world to harmoniously share space with Joshua, everything was different – from when we shower to what we eat, how we eat, where we put our clothes, how we fold our clothes, and on and on. There were opportunities time and again (and again, and again) to live into the self-sacrificing model of Jesus. And every time I held my tongue or communicated gently, it did indeed lead to new life for us.
Now as we move into a new phase of our relationship — expanding, raising children — I see that a Trinitarian lens becomes newly helpful for understanding our shared call to be a sacramental witness to love in the world. Each member of the Trinity exemplifies how to give differently of ourselves. God, the first person of the Trinity, is the epitome of creative love. The Son is the paradigm of obedient and self-sacrificing love. The Spirit demonstrates the nature of expressive sanctifying love. As a wife and mother and daughter, each of these is called out of me most days of the week!
It was an incredibly helpful lesson for me to broaden my comprehension of marital spirituality. While Jesus is and always will be our model for discipleship, our faith tradition offers even more to help us understand how living the Sacrament of Marriage is a participation in the Triune nature of God. Love can be understood and incarnated in many good and holy ways. What does your marital spirituality look like?