Make no mistake: every spouse will be called to struggle. During his 1987 visit to our country, St. John Paul II told the American people this:
Christian life finds its whole meaning in love, but love does not exist for us without effort, discipline and sacrifice in every aspect of our life. We are willing to give in proportion as we love, and when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave his life for our salvation. (Address at the Cathedral of Saints Simon and Jude, Phoenix, Arizona, September 14, 1987
The struggle requires constant effort, discipline, and sacrifice. Yes, marriage is a grace from God. It is a gift, and God is faithful. But God will not force any couple to open their wedding presents, even the gifts that come from heaven.
Husbands and wives must, every day, call upon the grace of the sacrament, never letting their love grow old or cold, even though many decades may have passed since their honeymoon.
When a husband and wife struggle to live up to their marriage vows, they do more for world peace than a dozen Nobel Prize winners. They do more for the economy than any gathering of the titans of industry. They do more for society than any programs the federal government will ever offer.
If our social order is unraveling today—and many people believe that it is—then it is because individual families are breaking down.
God created marriage to be the one-flesh union of one man and one woman, for life and for the procreation of children. It is astonishing how quickly government and the media have vacated that definition of all its content. It is equally astonishing that so many people have accepted the redefinition, believing they will be happier if they ignore the designs of nature and the revelation of God.
We should not let our hearts be troubled. The gospel was first proclaimed in a world that paid lip service to marriage but didn’t live it well. Divorce was common among the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Persians. Jesus noted with sadness that even his own people permitted it. Yet Jesus himself did not. Nor did his apostles. And his gospel indeed was the force that prevailed.
The ancient world was tired and it was dying. Apart from Christ, it had no hope. The pagan way was one of promiscuity, adultery, easy divorce, abortion, and elected sterility. The pagan world sought to squander everything it had on momentary pleasures that ended in emptiness.
It should not surprise us, then, that Christianity prevailed. It should not surprise us that Christian marriage stood out as a sign pointing the way to an experience of heaven, even here on earth.
The Roman persecutors had to grudgingly admire what they saw in the Church. “See those Christians,” they said, “how they love one another.” They said that Christians wore love as if it were a brand on their bodies or a tattoo!
Love was what the pagan world was missing. They would never have known, however, if they had not seen it. Those who saw it wanted what they saw. They wanted it for themselves. It made them, one person at a time, seek Christ and find him. And the world underwent its first conversion.
The world wants the same today, but people won’t know what they’re missing until they see it in Christian homes. They won’t know it, perhaps, until they see it in the marriage God wants for you.
Excerpted from The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (The Word Among Us Press, 2015). Available at wau.org/books