Ten Ways to Improve the Catholicity of Your Marriage
Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote that marriage is a combination of physical, emotional, and spiritual love. He developed these ideas from classical Greek thought, which taught four ways to love: familial, physical, affectionate, and spiritual. Three of the ways are natural. Indeed, there are already plenty of articles on physical love and improving affection and communication in marriage.
That leaves spiritual love. How do you improve spiritual love in your own marriage? Spirituality, after all, can be hard to measure. You can’t touch it. Over time, you can look back and realize that you and your spouse may have greater spiritual maturity than before, but how did you get there?
Here are ten specific ways to improve the Catholicity, and thus spiritual love, in your own marriage. Some of these ideas cost money; others are free, but they all involve an investment of time with huge spiritual returns. The ten ideas are generally listed from lesser to greater spiritual intensity.
10. Read the same Catholic book.
You can either get two copies, or just take turns reading it. Then, schedule time to get together and discuss the book. This will involve listening to each other without interrupting. Your discussion should also allow your spouse to state what he or she thinks of the author’s ideas and to ask questions. This does two things: increases your Catholic knowledge and improves your marital communication skills.
9. Visit a mission or some other Catholic landmark as a family.
This requires some planning. Is there an old mission church or some other Catholic landmark within a day’s turnaround trip? Or do you want to make it part of a family vacation? Perhaps it could be as simple as visiting an old church building downtown and viewing the original architecture and statuary. The point is to go somewhere as a couple, and hopefully with the kids, to expand your Catholic way of life and have a renewed appreciation for your holy Faith.
8. Share something inherited.
This can be an old family Bible, an old Missal, heirloom statuary or even fine china, or anything that reminds you of the continuity of family life. If you didn’t inherit anything, buy something valuable and timeless to hand on to future generations. This earthly inheritance can help strengthen the roots of your marriage by reminding you that your own family now holds the family heirloom. Marital strife is temporal, but your family life goes from generation to generation, just the way God intended it.
7. Get a first-class relic.
This can be from the saint whose feast day is your wedding anniversary date. You might consider getting a namesake relic for everyone in your family, holding the children’s relics until they reach adulthood, of course. You might also consider reading about the saint of your wedding anniversary and invoking him or her every week together with your spouse.
Catholicism involves both the “visible” and “invisible,” as the Nicene Creed states. Relics and other sacramentals in your house pull together the material and spiritual to help you obtain graces from Heaven.
6. Choose a “virtue of the month” for your family.
Every month, choose a virtue for your family to practice. These do not have to be the most important ones all the time. Otherwise, you’ll always do patience, patience, patience, month after month. Our family is practicing docility for the month of December. You might choose magnanimity or courage. The important thing is that the father chooses the virtue and the whole family practices it for a month. This focus on one virtue will increase all the virtues in your soul. Spirituality does not neatly compartmentalize itself: When anything is practiced out of love for God and neighbor, the soul is thereby refined and grows in love, grace, and virtues. God is never outdone in generosity.
5. Lead nighttime prayers as a family.
Gather the family together for a few prayers. You might always include a short examination of conscience as part of your night prayers. These prayers do not take a lot of time; probably no more than five or ten minutes at the most. It’s the last thing before the kids go to bed. When your spouse sees the consistency of your devotion to God, it instills trust and confidence. When your children grow up with this consistent devotion, they learn that they always have to answer to God, every night.
4. Do the Sacred Heart enthronement.
This is a formal enthronement ceremony conducted by a priest inside your home. The priest will read prayers of enthronement before an image of our Lord’s Sacred Heart displayed prominently in your house. You’ll want to schedule this enthronement with your pastor. You may also want to invite family and friends and then have a celebratory evening together after the enthronement. Some families combine the event with a house blessing. It is usually advised to do a new enthronement and house blessing every time you move. There is also the annual Epiphany blessing of a home. This is another opportunity for your pastor or another good, traditionalist priest to make a pastoral visit and strengthen the spiritual bonds of your marriage and family life.
3. Spend more time together in prayer as a couple.
Prayer is supposed to be the foundation of marriage. The angel Raphael stated this forcefully and clearly in Tobias 6:18. Prayers as a family are essential, but prayer together as a couple is critical. It’s hard to remain angry with a person who is praying a string of Hail Marys right next to you. Remember the priorities of life: Marital strife is always temporal, the marriage itself is permanent until death, but the sacramental grace gained from it is eternal. Today, a lifetime, and forever: Couple prayer gets you through.
The important thing is that the couple spend some time in prayer every day, or at least several times a week. These can be spontaneous, formal, planned, informal, or a combination. If you are not accustomed to praying with only your spouse, it will seem awkward at first. But the discomfort will pass, and trust will take its place. Another thing to remember is to pray WITH your spouse, not against him or her. Ask that God’s will be done, and do not use prayer time as a weapon (“…and please help her get the dishes done on time. Amen”). Prayer is a letting go and surrendering your relationship to God the Holy Ghost, who is the bond of your relationship, as Bishop Sheen put it so well in his book, Three to Get Married.
2. Make a visit to the tabernacle as a couple.
You may already have a weekly date planned. Even if it is running errands together with your spouse, take a few minutes to stop and pay a visit to our Eucharistic Lord. This can be spontaneous, informal, and without coinciding with a scheduled adoration. Visit our Lord in the tabernacle, kneeling in the quiet of the church next to your spouse, and ask God to bless your relationship.
What you ask for doesn’t matter as much as simply kneeling next to each other in the presence of God. That is the point. This is probably the most direct way to re-orient your relationship exactly where it belongs: In front of God Himself.
1. Offer Mass for each other.
When you attend the same Mass with your spouse, or even separate Masses due to circumstances, you can receive particular graces for your marriage because of the spiritual unity with your spouse. The important point is to offer Mass for your spouse. One of the primary purposes of marriage is to get each other to Heaven. By offering your Mass intention for your spouse, you orient the sacrament of Matrimony back to God, the source of your sacramental grace.
Remember to make your Mass offering for your spouse as a person, and not only as a petition to solve particular temporal problems in your marriage. You’ll offer plenty of Masses for those intentions as well, but the point is to make a Mass intention specifically for your spouse. An entire Mass offered just for that person: This is true charity practiced in holy Matrimony. Remember your spouse when you receive our Lord in Holy Communion as well.
Readers will no doubt think of other ways to improve the Catholicity of their marriages, as the scope of this article allowed for only so much discussion. Take what you learned, as well as other ways that may come to mind, and you can help your relationship grow into the abundant, loving bond that God intended it to be.