I remember one time sitting around the table with my brother. We had found a box of old family pictures of mom and dad when they were young, along with wedding pictures of grandma and grandpa, uncles and aunts, and photos of them in the early years of their 67 year marriage. In these photos, we began to notice a change in grandma and grandpa’s appearance. There was this one picture taken on a camping trip and we couldn’t tell whether the picture was of grandma or grandpa.
This started us to look more deeply at the photos.
“Hey, my brother remarked, “as they get older they start looking more the same.” We dug through other photos of mom and dad and uncles as they aged, and concluded that each couple started to take on similar looks over the years. I was convinced of the scripture that over time, “two shall become one flesh.”
On Oct. 21, 2001 Pope John Paul II beatified a married couple. Luigi Quattrocchi (d.1951) and Maria Corsini (d.1965) Beltrame were married November 25, 1905. He was a lawyer , she a teacher. They raised four children.Their feast day is their wedding date.
The Beltrame children recall that their parents led a simple life, like that of many married couples, but their lives were always characterized by a sense of the supernatural, a state of holiness shared between the two of them.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all marriages worked out so well?
It is good to think that the church has come to recognize marriage and family life officially as a “state of holiness” for a couple and their family.
Marriage is more than a call to holiness. It is a “state of holiness.” In the Sacrament of Matrimony, it is always there, even if we don’t recognize it. This holiness in marriage, delight in the other, is a reflection of God’s delight in us.
Yet there is no secret to the reality that marriage and family life are difficult. It seems always to have been. Even thousands of years ago, Moses attempted to deal with marital breakup by permitting some kind of divorce because of hardness of heart.
As we hear in the readings today, there are basic premises and ideals for marriage.
Right up front is the need for companionship: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
Genesis tells us that God provides a companion for man, one who is the man’s equal. This is why the man leaves behind his birth family, becomes faithful to his wife and the two become one flesh. Who knows, maybe over time they might even begin to look like each other.
Jesus builds on the Genesis account and responds to his critics, “What God has joined together, no one must divide.”
That is true. That is the ideal.
External pressures from society, culture and the economy all take their toll on family life. The ideal, “What God has joined together, no one must divide” becomes lost in many of the struggles.
Many families face such basic problems as homelessness, lack of food and safe drinking water, unemployment, insufficient education, periods of separation and so on. Internal issues such physical and mental health and expectations and poor patterns of communication developed during childhood all play part in family dynamics. These are the struggles of many who marry, many who live within our parish.
I have been blessed with 47 years of marriage. We have nine children, and I can say that we have experienced some of these struggles over the years. They just come with family life as it grows and changes through the years. Change occurs with the birth of each child and through the years of raising a family. There are changes in children and spouses, changes in health, changes in employment. That’s family life.
There are times when you work day and night to pay the bills and times of getting up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child. That’s family life.
I know families who struggle with kids’ sports. I remember a time when had five of our nine kids playing on five different baseball teams, all of which made demands on tight schedules. Each child needed time time and wanted me to be at their game. That’s family life.
Looking back there had to be a “state of holiness ” which overshadowed us even though we may not have been aware of it at the time. This same state of holiness continues to sustain us today in our marriage.
This is the sacramental married life: to live into marriage where God becomes the One joining two, to live as companion for the other, to continually work on the call of holiness together, to delight in one another and in the family.
I was told of an exercise at a marriage retreat where spouses were directed to think (not say aloud) all of the things that frustrated or angered them about their spouse; to call to mind the annoying habits of the other. The room fell silent. Then the couples were directed to take a deep breath, exhale the toxic thoughts and take a few moments to think about the best qualities of the other, treasured memories, fond intimacies shared, things for which they were grateful about the other, and all of the other good things about their spouse in which they took delight. There were no words spoken, but the somber quiet was broken by smiles, laughter, joy, and hugs. It is not possible to hold onto negatives while placing our minds on what is good and worthy of praise. This is delighting in the other. These couples were taking a moment to live in the “state of holiness.” And it is in this state that couples can feel God’s hand of care around both couple and their family.
God’s hand of care is experienced by the care we extend to one another, to other couples and their families. In our church family, We also need to offer each other support. We are all in this together. We, the church, are called to be of service to families as they struggle with the realities of daily living. Parents need to know that we, the church, support them in all kinds of issues: when out of work, or embroiled in hurting issues, housing insecurity, etc. They need to know that they are welcome at Mass with their children, who might like to run and play rather than sit quietly. Parents with special needs children need to know what a joy it is to welcome and include them. We want parents to feel our welcome when their babies cry during Mass. Parents need to know that they are welcome to all functions with their families, regardless of economic status or other perceived barriers. We, as church, need to be God’s hand of care extended to them so that they only feel welcome and not shame or embarrassment. And finally, all of us need to delight in each other, to support the state of holiness in each person within the family.
These are all just a few thoughts that come to me from my experience of marriage and raising our family.
The ideals of a lifelong marriage and a stable family which are held up to us in the readings today are very valid even though we may struggle to reach those ideals. We are limited and frail. We rely on God’s understanding and mercy, God’s grace within the call to holiness.
We ask Blessed Maria and Luigi to intercede for all couples and families, especially those with the greatest challenges and the fewest resources, that we may grow in the “state of holiness.”
The Gospel concludes today with people, parents, bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them. Jesus embraced the children and blessed them as he placed his hands on them. What a beautiful image, a powerful picture of what it means for us and our families to be in state of holiness, that is, to be in the loving embrace of Jesus.
Many of us have children; all of us are children of God. In a few minutes, as in the Gospel, we will be touched by Jesus as we hold the Eucharist, Jesus’ body and blood. Can you see Jesus embracing you and your family? He’s blessing you and your family and placing his hands on you and each person in your family.
God’s gift of marriage is the “state of holiness.”