12 Keys to a Sacramental Marriage

After 35 years of marriage, we look back and see clearly how the wisdom of others has shaped us. We have benefited from many stakeholders who opened their lives to us to witness their love through good, bad, fun, tragicÑholy times.

Jesus tells us in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. ”

Letting God’s light shine through us is our way of following Jesus. He instructs us in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. ”

Here are 12 ways sacramental marriages let God’s light shine through them and put their lamp on a lamp stand. We will be using personal examples to illustrate this. Readers can make their own adaptations.

1. Laughter

Life throws us many curves. In good times and bad we need laughter, something to lighten our hearts. Couples in sacramental marriages develop the ability to laugh at themselves. Couples play together and look for joy, even in the midst of strife.

A good sense of humor helps. Spouses need to be attentive to and seek out humor. We have found that when there is little to laugh about we need only look at ourselves.

A risk here is when humor has a victim. Laughing with each other at the expense of someone else doesn’t reflect the compassion of God. Nor does laughing with each other over something the “victim ” finds sensitive. Healthy teasing that respects the other, though, can help us laugh at ourselves.

2. Celebration

Those in sacramental marriages know how to celebrate. They have sacred ritual in their livesÑrituals of love and family rituals. Ritual gives us elasticity to God. It pulls us back to our goodness. Whether it’s singing “Happy Birthday, ” meal table prayer or bedtime stories, rituals create in us habits for celebrating goodness in our lives.

Our celebrations of summer began in 1979 when we camped through Michigan and found our way to Mackinac Island. We have continued celebrating summer each year on Mackinac Island for some 25 years since. We initiated our children into this family ritual.

Now in the grandparent stage, we are looking forward to continuing this holy summer outing with our married adult children, their spouses and our adorable granddaughter.

Family celebrations through rituals call us back to a truth about ourselves: We are holy.

3. Living in the Now

Sacramental marriages enable spouses to live in the here and now. Couples recognize that the most important time in their lives is now. They take in beauty and wonder and are capable of being awed. They recognize God’s presence in the quiet, and in everyday situations-Ñmusic, poetry, movies, books.

We discovered the beauty of the autumn season on our honeymoon in the Poconos. It is so beautiful here! we thought. Coming home to Chicago after a week in the Pennsylvania hills, however, we were awed by the beauty of autumn right in our own backyard. We wondered how we could have missed this wondrous beauty for so many years. It was there all the time. We just didn’t notice it.

This is true for the beauty in us. Sometimes it’s not so easy to see. Sometimes we don’t notice it. But it’s there. The key is to look for it. Looking for beauty, awe and wonder pulls us into the moment at hand. Living in the moment is void of anxiety about what will come. It shuts the door on past hurts, disappointments and low expectations. We are better able to be “blown away ” by each other and others in our lives.

4. Climbing Into Love

Falling in love is easy when the relationship is new. The newness and fascination aid what we experience as a compulsion for each other. We just can’t help it! The notion of “falling ” suggests
that even gravity assists.

When the newness fades into sameness, however, life with each other becomes predictable and even stale. Romance seems much more elusive than before. So couples in sacramental marriages have to create romance rather than wait for it.

They should have dates. When spontaneity is in short supply, they make it happen by reserving time and attention to their love for each other. Theirs is an attitude of “romance by any means necessary! ”

Early in the relationship, theirs was a mountaintop experience without the difficulty of climbing the mountain. Sacramental marriages don’t depend on spontaneity or gravity to help them in the romance department.

They know that, to gain and sustain that mountaintop experience, they need to climb the mountain using communication skills, working together and supporting each other. They also know that, though falling in love was good, climbing into love is so much better.

5. Synergy

Sacramental marriages experience synergy in their relationship. Couples recognize that their marriage is more than the sum of its parts. They have confidence, believe in their marriage and understand that “this marriage is bigger than we are! ” They also recognize that they need others as stakeholders and benefit from the support of their community. Our liturgy reflects that.

In 1981 we celebrated our marriage through a convalidation service. It was bigger than our wedding almost six years earlier. We planned the whole thing: the music, the readings, everything. The songs were among our favorites and spoke so well to who we were as a couple and as friends. The readings, which included poetry and texts other than Scripture, did the same.

Bishop Jim, Andrew’s uncle, flew in from Cleveland to officiate. We handed him the well-planned liturgy laid out in a very nice binder. He proceeded to edit and undo what he (and the rubrics of the Roman liturgy) deemed improper.

When we protested, he said to us, “You need to understand that this isn’t all about you. ” Though we didn’t fully get it at the time, we have learned through the years that, for our marriage to thrive, we needed to recognize that it was more important than either of us, and that we were accountable to others, including our families, friends, parish, neighbors and all who have hopes invested in us.

Our synergy includes the two of us bonded with our stakeholding community and reminds us of our promise.

6. Setting a Great Table

Those in sacramental marriages appreciate their unique blend of talents and tastes that creates a certain style of hospitality. They respect and value each other’s gifts. And they rejoice in the presence
of others.

Our friends John and Pam have been a strong influence on our hospitality style. Their attentiveness to guests makes them feel very much at home in their home. John and Pam set a table that makes guests feel honored. Pam’s artistry with cooking and John’s gifts of mixology and banter join forces for an always amazing experience when they are hosting.

The idea of setting a great table is not just what sacramental marriages do in their homes; it also applies to how couples treat people in their presence. Their attentive ears and compassionate support help them to make people feel at home.

7. Adventure

Sacramental marriages are open to new adventures. Couples should be willing to remake themselves and take risks. Should life become boring, they find new involvements. They are lifelong learners who are ever expanding their horizons.

Our friends Pete and Elba have helped us in this area. With them we have explored and enjoyed many adventures, such as camping, canoeing and skiing. With their influence, our urban backgrounds didn’t limit us.

Taking dancing lessons, enrolling in a class, traveling to another country, learning a new language or attending a marriage retreat are all ways a marriage can stretch itself.

8. Knowing Where Their Treasure Is

Sacramental marriages don’t need things to be happy. Couples learn they can’t buy happiness in a store. They don’t try to fill themselves with the latest fashions and inventions. They focus on the meaning of life rather than on possessions and achievements.

In today’s consumer-driven, materialistic culture, many marriages fall prey to living over their means. Doing so not only puts them in financial stress; it also diminishes their capacity for being generous to others.

Quelling their appetites for things helps couples know where their treasure really is. The “kingdom of ‘thingdom’ ” offers them nothing but grief. A couple’s treasure is in the Kingdom of God, where generosity, good judgment and simplicity reign.

9. Making Room for Each Other’s Issues

Sacramental spouses have moved beyond efforts to remake the other. They have learned to live well with one whose ways are different than their own. They make room for each other’s issues. To do so, they strive to understand their spouse. And when understanding eludes them, they strive to accept.

For most couples, their rationale for committing to their spouse was formed under the influence of “rose-colored glasses. ” They were convinced that their differences were those little things
that made the other interesting, or that their future spouse complemented them and filled their void.

Some fully expected that those irksome characteristics would fade in time under their influence.

There is the joke about the three rings of marriage: the engagement ring, the wedding ring and then the suffering.There is some truth to this joke. In marriage we do suffer one another.

In making room for each other’s issues, we put up with each other’s bothersome traits. It’s the cross we bear. It is how we are shaped into who we need to be. It expands us and makes us more tolerant, more forgiving and more loving. It is how we become married.

10. Forgiveness

Sacramental marriages know brokenness. Hurting couples have carried the cross, which is often each other. They are in touch with their own failings and know how it feels to stand in the light of having been forgiven.

In making room for each other’s issues, they carry with them a spirit of reconciliation. They have a willingness to listen, pray and move to the desert to seek solitude with God. They fight well without “hitting below the belt. ” They protect the dignity of each other and look for “win-win ” solutions.

Their love doesn’t always easily flow from their spouse’s deservedness; their love flows sometimes through difficulty when their spouse is not deserving. They know that forgiving is not necessarily forgetting; it is often repenting and remembering. They have witnessed miracles in living with painful issues that no longer have power over them.

11. Shared Spirituality

Sacramental marriages seek to share a spirituality through worshiping together and recognizing their marriage as sacred. Spending time together in prayer and at worship helps them to experience God in their midst.

Worshiping with the faith community as a couple helps them experience the support of others. It lifts their committed, covenantal love from under the bushel basket and puts it on a lampstand.

Early in our marriage we found it difficult to pray together. It felt awkward. We both were used to praying either alone or with many people. The notion of praying with just one other person made us feel naked.

But in that nakedness, in time, we found that praying together gave us a deeper level of intimacy. It also gives us the opportunity to pray for each other when we are apart. God knows the longings of our spouse’s heart, and so do we.

Worshiping together shapes our life and gives us new identities as followers of Christ. Through our involvement in the faith community we benefit from the witness of other marriages, which encourages us and gives us confidence that Christian marriage is doableÑnot easy, but doable.

12. Mission

Of the seven major sacraments of the Church, two are sacraments of service: Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. The vocation of marriage is a call to serve. That service is not just to each other as a couple. Nor is it just service to their family. That service is to the People of God and the world.

To do this, couples need a shared sense of mission.

Reflecting God

Being sacramental means reflecting God through marriage. It’s important to understand that marriage is not always a reflection of God who sits in glory on the throne of heaven. In our life together as a married couple, we sometimes reflect our God who suffered on a cross and died for undeserving people.

Our faith informs us, however, that because of that cross something happens in us and to us. We rise to new and transformed faith, shaped by God to be who we need to be for our marriage, our family, our community and the world.

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