On marriage vows
For those of you who are married, I’m sure you remember when you took your marriage vows. Even if it was 50 or 60 years ago, that moment doesn’t fade from memory. It is one of those life-defining moments that you simply cannot forget. I know I certainly don’t forget it.
But there seems to be a crisis in vows today. A lot of people don’t seem to know what they mean. Vows are public statements that we are making a commitment for life. We don’t know what the future will hold, we don’t know everything there is to know about this particular person we are marrying, but by God’s grace, I will commit myself to him or her and by that commitment, I will help myself and my spouse get into heaven.
You know, I think that’s something a lot of people forget about marriage. Marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Sure, the Church recognizes that marriage is a natural institution made by God at creation, and so all marriages, whether Catholic or not, are presumed to be valid. But she also recognizes that marriage has been raised by Christ, for those who believe, to more than a natural state. It has been elevated to help the spouses get into heaven.
That’s right, folks, marriage is supposed to help you get to heaven; it is supposed to help make you holy. That’s what the sacraments are all about, isn’t it? When we get baptized or confirmed, when we receive the Eucharist or the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or Confession, we know that we are receiving grace to grow in holiness. And we know that those who receive ordination are called to be holy and to help the rest of us become holy by administering the sacraments to us.
But when it comes to marriage, I’m afraid too many of us look at it as simply the Church’s blessing on our desire to live together. How much we’re missing when that’s what we think. Everyday you are married, you wake up and you are living in the grace of marriage. Think about that. Think about the fact that every time you engage in marital intimacy, you are renewing your wedding vows.
You know, I think that because marriage entails so much of the nitty-gritty of daily life, the grace that’s present in it is simply overlooked. But that’s really where the grace is – in the nitty-gritty of everyday life, of changing diapers, making meals, driving kids to soccer games, hashing out the money problems, going to the in-laws for Thanksgiving – all that stuff is to help make us holy.
So when we take those vows, we are committing ourselves to living in God’s grace with this particular man or woman. That’s why the Catholic Church only has two options for taking marriage vows. Today a lot of people make up their own vows and there are even websites that have sample vows. I was looking through some of those and you know what’s really interesting? A lot of those so-called vows don’t include a vow to a life-long commitment. And if doesn’t have that, then it’s simply not a vow.
A vow is a public statement that I will be committed to you for the rest of my life, no matter what happens. A vow is not a mere promise; it is much deeper than that. If I break a promise, that’s something between me and the person I promised. But if I break a vow, not only have I broken faith with my spouse, I have also broken faith with the people that I made that vow in front of, and in marriage, that means breaking faith with the Church.
Now, I know there are a lot of you who took vows but who made a mistake of one kind or another and I know that happens and it’s very painful when it happens. But I also know that very often we simply do not commit ourselves to the vows we took because we look at them as something less than they really are. If, however, we commit ourselves to those vows, then God will act and bless your marriage abundantly.