“Marriage is an adventure, like going to war. ” – Gilbert K. Chesterton
So, you want to change the way the world sees marriage? Reclaim it from those who say a relationship between two person of the same sex is marriage? Then begin with yourself firstly. I ask that you bear with me. First, I must beg your forgiveness in rather presumptuously claiming I have the answers.
Let me begin with an observation I had tonight. I have been seduced into watching the TV show, Vikings, by the attraction I have to the milieu and history. It includes the story line of a monk who is devout but captured as a slave. He is eventually made a free man and it goes so far as to show how he changes and fights with and for the vikings on raids, all in the context of his faithfulness to the main character, Ragnar. It is a rather grotesque show and I am not recommending it here, but I found myself especially intrigued by the story of this monk and so have continued it into Season 2. What is interesting about this monk, Athelstan, is how he remains true to his faith and even virtuous at times in spite of the pagan practices around him. Slowly he begins to transform so much that the viewer begins to question if he is still Christian. At random points throughout the story it does seem that he returns to key elements of his faith. The sympathy I feel for him is inexpressible, and I find myself making excuses for him when he does err from a Christian life. “It would be hard to practice the faith as a solitary Christian amongst pagans,” I say. Tonight though, a new thought struck me. See, the writer of the story clearly misses the depth of Christianity when he tries to illustrate how this Christian character would relate in this setting, but what he does well is capture the feeling I think many of us Christians have in our secular culture. There are times he is certain he has abandoned his faith, only to find himself rooted deeply in it in moments of crisis and temptation (even when it is not welcome). Cue my identification with him and I think perhaps you as well.
There are times in our lives when we look at what we do and ask ourselves in all honesty, “am I really living a Christian life? I watch the same movies. I eat the same foods. I work the same jobs. Buy the same products. At the extremes, I have even looked at pornography, had sex before marriage, used contraception, engaged in drunken behavior, had an abortion”, and the list goes on. Yet, shockingly we still call ourselves Christians—more to it, Catholics—ascribe-ers to the sacred teachings of Holy Mother Church.
See, the reality here is that many of us are like that monk, unwillingly conscripted into a world not of our choosing; we may at times feel like slaves, but other times we might feel ourselves being attracted to the pervading culture. We may begin to think some things are okay or even a good idea. How many of us have even embraced some things as necessary? By some measurement we all fluctuate and do better with some Church teachings than we do with others, ergo the cafeteria Catholic. All kidding aside, we do find it hard to embrace all the Church’s teachings. Such is our fallibility as human beings. And here is where I would insert what I believe to be the two keywords that juxtapose one another and yet carry the very essence of our faith. What I will try to do is harmonize how contradictions can actually be living our faith rightly. These two words are: Strive and surrender.
To strive means that we are never content to remain where we are, but to constantly reach higher. In a negative light this is the alcoholic, the addict, who’s thirst is never satiated. Deep down they know there is a longing no drink can ever satisfy and yet they waste their lives in pursuit. But in the affirmative, we could see this is played out in the likes of Mother Teresa who was once asked something to the effect of why was she trying to pick up one person off the street when there were thousands more she could never save. She kept up with her work, rescuing, cleaning, caring for one person at a time. Others joined her. Needless to say, her sisters have cared for millions. What is important to recognize about her response is that it was one of hope and not despair. She did not look around, say to herself while throwing her hands in the air, “their are too many, I might as well not even start.” Her phrase was, “God calls me to be faithful, not successful.” And yet, look how much she accomplished even in her fidelity. We too, as fallen human beings, are prone to sin. There are millions of them within us, but to start with one is like Mother Teresa caring for that first person. We may never succeed in removing all our sins, but we can deal with the ones set before us for the day. It is a grievous thing to despair at the sight of our own faults and so to give up trying (or perhaps we are more the type to justify instead?) To strive then is not to despair, but rather to persevere in working away at our sins. This example is overly cliched but I can think of no better one than Teresa of Avila, in that we are a garden and we must weed away our sins. If you have ever weeded a garden you know it is an unending task, but it is not entirely unpleasant to see the progress we make. In like manner, if we work at our sins we shall make progress which will be a means of encouragement—deep seated happiness. On to Surrender.
“One leads us down so that we might finally ascend—as Dante did from his Inferno to his Paradiso. ”
Surrender-is not giving up the fight, but giving the fight over to God and instead you focus on what he puts before you for the day. Surrender would be the most successful military strategy in the world if we understood the goal was to lose to conquer. Lose the world, our selfishness, our plans. Conquer the world, our flesh, and the devil. One leads us down so that we might finally ascend—as Dante did from his Inferno to his Paradiso. Surrender is the channel through which loss turns to riches. What is put before you then is a journey, a task, a mission—but only for a day. Surrender says I do not have to fight because I have something else assigned to me in this moment, a grace to respond to, and as John of the Cross came to understand when he asked God, “What is grace?”… “All that is.” All that is set before us is an opportunity for grace. In this opportunity surrender is the soil awaiting the seed. Without it the seed will wither and die for lack of roots. Try it and see what fruit it bears. My prediction? Serenity.
So back to marriage and wanting to change the way it is seen. You must strive to be authentic and attractive. You must surrender the desire to fight the world’s evils. In a word, “to strive,” is how we change ourselves. And “to surrender,” is to leave the rest to God. We can do no more. If more of us lived by this rule what holiness would abound! What attraction there would be to the Christian way of life. And people would not ask “why cannot I marry whomever I want?”, but instead, “how can my marriage—my relationships—reflect the happiness and serenity of my life?”