I know it sounds crazy. Going into uncharted territory always sounds crazy. I think it is possible to live out the evangelical counsels in marriage. It’s not for everyone, just like the expatriate or Foreign Service life, but for those who are called to live out these counsels, they will bear much fruit for our brothers & sisters in Christ.
I started out writing about a contemplative life in marriage. Quit Netflix, video games, recreational reading to simplify my life. Give myself more time to pray. It is not natural, I admit, while my flesh is still stronger than my wounded soul. My biology, my ego, and my passions are in alliance against the contemplative life. My soul was once like a starved prisoner, shackled by years of habitual sin and charmed into compliance by the natural pleasures of the world (cf. Ps 106:14-15). Christ freed my soul with Baptism on Easter 2009. It’s like a mixed martial art battle with my body. For the first few years, my soul lost battles more often than it won. These past couple months, though, my soul has been winning more often. Structured prayer and frequenting the Sacraments (especially weekly Confession and the Eucharist) have strengthened my soul. The Holy Spirit has been the strength behind my K.O. punches. The goal? Total submission of my body to the direction of my soul and the Holy Spirit. If I follow the spirit of the evangelical counsels, I believe I can achieve that goal.
How can I practice poverty in marriage? Easy. Give all my money to my wife. I need to ask her every time I want to buy something. I should stop eating out at lunch and bring leftovers from home. Her virtue of temperance is a lot stronger than mine. So, I would benefit from her counsel.
There is a bit of irony, though. My wife doesn’t like managing finances. So, I still make our investments, do our taxes and plan for our financial security. I have all the responsibility, but none of the (temporal) fun. Ah… suits the spiritual life just fine, then, doesn’t it?
As a Catholic, I obey God and His appointed leaders. There is the Pope and his encyclicals. There are the councils and its documents. There is the Magisterium and its decrees. These people and bodies are all divinely delegated authorities by Christ. He gave them to me (for all of us, really) because he knows how frail I am when left to my own devices. We all want to be pope and define right and wrong; few want to be slaves to the liturgy & doctrine. Little do people suspect that there’s freedom in divine slavery!
As a husband and father, I obey my wife. Obedience to my wife doesn’t mean I’m spineless or pusillanimous. Just as Christ gave authority to his bride, the Church, to “bind and loose” on earth, so I give authority to my bride to bind and loose in the household (cf. Mt 16:19 and Mt 18:18). I respect my wife’s domain, just as God respects His Church’s domain. By obeying my wife, I am practicing the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity in the home.
As a diplomat, I obey many bosses. They have rightful authority over me. As long as I am not called to sin in the eyes of God, then I ought to obey my rightful superiors. As it is in the divine order, so it is in the temporal order. Obeying a command from a person I don’t like, or to perform a task I don’t want to do — again, as long as it does not lead to sin — would be good for my soul.
Chastity in marriage is misunderstood. Dawn Eden’s article “10 and a Half Reasons to be Chaste,” reprinted at Catholic News Agency, explains the difference. It’s worth reading because most people equate “chastity” with “celibacy.” It’s possible to have unchaste sex in marriage. Practicing Natural Family Planning would be an act of chastity in marriage. Abstaining from sex, or what spiritual writers call continence, seems impossible without resentment. However, I can testify that by the grace of God not only is chaste sex possible, but even joyful abstinence is possible in marriage. Is that too much information? Well, “what is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27; also Mk 10:27 and Mt 19:26)
I live in a culture where sex is pleasure divorced from creation, where everything is sexualized: men & women, young & old, animals, inanimate objects… everything. Ignorance of sex’s divine power to create new souls creates a mentality where it’s considered okay to use one’s spouse for sexual gratification. Even well-meaning Christians use the Bible to “prove” that spouses are supposed to have sex even when one of them is not interested (Eph 5:22-23). We can see the error in that interpretation when we logically extend it to the whole passage. Husbands are supposed to imitate Christ by sacrificing their own life to help make their wife spotless before God, just as Jesus died on the Cross to make His Church spotless in Heaven. The Church obeys Christ because of that sacrifice. Wives would obey their husbands, too, if men were so self-sacrificing.
Dear God, thank you for protecting the wealth of knowledge in your Church, handed down from generation to generation. Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange, pray for us. May your work reach out to other souls. May it continue to guide me deeper into Our Lord’s intimate life. Amen.