Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Necessary Incompatibilities of Marriage

Divorce of Josephine and Napoleon.
There is the idea among many people in the modern age that any "incompatibility" serves as an indication that two people should not stay together, nor should they be required to adapt to those incompatibilities.  The advent of no-fault divorce perpetuated this idea through the United States of America.

Quite to the contrary, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, "We're not abnormal if we have certain tensions. . . . for example, a tension between body and soul . . . between what [an individual] is and what he ought to be."  There are tensions in all aspects of life and between all people.  Does that mean we should abandon our friends, ignore our coworkers, and push away our family?  Of course not!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen discusses marriage and incompatibility in the following video, and my discussion afterwards is a brief summary with my thoughts intertwined.

"Was there ever in the world a perfectly compatible couple?"  
Archbishop Fulton Sheen
I'm sure we've all seen the "perfect couple" - but more likely than not, we caught only a glimpse of what their relationship truly is.  In any marriage, as in any relationship, there are tensions between the spouses - between husband and wife.  These include the tension between things held in common vs. differences, sex vs. love (whereas the first can separate the act and the person, which is not good while the second incorporates the first and is concerned with the whole person.)  

How do we resolve these tensions?  Archbishop Fulton Sheen gives two methods, both applicable in marriage and outside of it, and both utilized at various points within marriage.

Wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra.
First, he says, "The only way one can ever escape the mediocrity from a barrenness in love and affection is by some kind of sacrifice or self-denial.  Love never mounts to a higher level without a death to a lower level."  Married love is typically a life of ups and downs.  Some may think that that is just how married life is and that we simply need to weather the storms to arrive at the happy points again.  But that essentially stagnates a marriage, where the couple tends to simply co-exist and get through life rather than growing closer to each other and to God.  

How do we reach the higher level?  According to Sheen, "It [love] goes to a higher level through a sacrifice."  
"Marriage will go along in this dull, drab line or else be nothing but troughs and swells UNLESS every now and then there comes a moment where the ego is crushed.  There has to be the unfolding of a mystery.  Then there is something noble."  
It is in the dying to oneself and serving the other that love can truly grow and ascend higher.  It is through this mutual self-sacrifice between the husband and wife that draws them closer together.  A sample "crisis" is the birth of a new child.  "Egotism has to be crushed in the husband and wife [when a new child is born].  The new life demands some kind of surrender."  

As he says, "The only truly progressive thing in the world is love. . . . It feeds on only one kind of food - the crushing of the ego and the beginning of the living for another."  We are all called to be saints.  Some may say that sainthood can only be achieved by extraordinary sacrifice and monumental achievements for the Lord.  Rather, "[w]hat makes the saint is the one who is willing at each and every crisis of his life to make some act of self-denial.  Then love truly is an ascension, both the love of man for woman and the love of a soul for God."

The second method for resolving the tensions between these incompatibilities is an infusion.  "The richer helping the poorer.  The stronger helping the weaker.  There is such a thing as an infusion."  "It is possible to have an infusion between husband and wife."  Between husband and wife, infusions happen on various levels - physical; mental; spiritual.  Of these, the spiritual is the most important.  "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband." 1 Corinthians 7:14.  Fulton Sheen says, "The faith, the goodness, the virtue can pass from one to the other."  A husband can lead his wife to God, and a wife her husband, by their virtue and example and support.  One of the primary functions of marriage is to get your spouse to Heaven.  As St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the Gospel at all times.  When necessary, use words."  Our example to our spouse and to our children can be one of the strongest tools we have to assist them in their path to salvation.  There is another saying that you are the company you keep.  If your spouse keeps your company, and you are a faithful and virtuous example, they will begin to imitate you.  And vice versa.

Ultimately, in marriage and in life, 
"There are incompatibilities, but there must be.  Yes, the chase in a certain sense takes away the thrill of the capture, but there ought to be a way in which we can have both.  And there actually is, and that is Heaven.  When we capture perfect love, then we will need an infinity of chase in order to enjoy the eternity of the capture of that passionless passion and wild tranquility which is love divine."
Embrace them.  Seek the truth.  Pursue the faith.  Love your spouse and your children.  Put your all into getting them to Heaven, and they should do likewise.  And together, with God's abundant grace, you may attain it.

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