Holy Spirit in marriage and family
THE HOLY SPIRIT IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
I received an invitation card from my friend for their 25th wedding anniversary. This is what the invitation read, “You are cordially invited to our twenty five years of voluntary imprisonment with hard labor”. I called him to find out exactly what the heck he meant. Then he told me it was their wedding anniversary. Why describe your marriage as “Voluntary imprisonment with hard labor?” He explained that their marriage had been like a self-imposed prison, that he and his wife had been voluntarily imprisoned in each other for the past twenty five years. According to him, training the children was their hard labor.
I once visited a family on appointment. I rang the door-bell about three times but no one answered. But voices were clattering inside. As I made to leave, the man came and opened the door for me. He apologized for keeping me that long anyway. We all sat down, then their six years old child rushed at me and said, “Father, did you know that dad and mom had been quarreling? Dad was yelling at mom and mom was yelling back”. The couple looked away for a while asI tried to dismiss the innocent kid. He persisted, “Mom and dad always yell at each other. Sometimes, I get scared”. At that point I became curious and asked the parents sitting there whether that was true. The man was quick to say, “Father, never mind, we were doing our home-work, just a little exercise”. I have no doubt it’s registered in the child's little brains.
St. Paul says,“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal.5:22-26).
Saint Paul invites us to live by the Spirit and to keep in step with the Spirit. Let’s think about this, do you know why some couples yell at each other for every little thing? Everything they do is like competition between them. Everything causes conflict- television remote control, car keys, washing the dishes, dressing kids up or taking them to school, going to church, paying mortgage or bills, etc. They can’t understand the reason, but they feel constant tension in their homes.
First, we must acknowledge that families and marriages today are in crises due to pressures from society. But in reality, some families have distanced themselves from the Holy Spirit, and so become vulnerable. How do we identify the presence of the Holy Spirit? The Church us the gifts of the Holy Spirit-Wisdom (making choices motivated by God not by societal pressure), Understanding (penetrating the very core of revealed truths), Counsel (sound judgment), Knowledge (discernment of the will of God in our faith journey), Fortitude (spiritual boldness), Piety (filial relationship with God), and Fear of the Lord (wonder or profound reverence for God and for holy things). The gifts of the Spirit in turn produce the fruits of the Spirit. “For where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Cor. 3:17). That doesn’t rule out the fact that such families encounter challenges. But the Spirit helps them to handle and overcome.
Can you take your mind back to the first moments of your marriage, when you got wedded in the church? I guess a lot of things have changed in your relationship with God. It is either an upward growth (progression) or downward slope (retrogression). Has your spouse contributed to this development? Were you a better Christian as a bachelor/spinster than now, or worse? Did marriage play a significant role in your spirituality? Was it more of a social event? How about your role on your husband/wife? Did you make your spouse a better person spiritually or worse? Did you notice any growth in him/her because of you? Any serious influence? Did you grow together or slack together? Was he pulling you always or were you pulling him?
Let's think about these in at the moment. I'll proceed to talk about the fruits of the Holy Spirit in relation to marriage and family in Part 2 of this write up.
Let’s examine the family/married life in the light of the fruits of the Spirit.
Love: A man called me about the tension in the family. I asked him how he and the wife were doing regarding the situation. The answer he gave me was, “At least there is temporary ceasefire for now”. Temporary ceasefire in marriage! Yes, that is the best way to describe absence of love. It’s a war-like situation in the house. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is the commitment which sustains marriage bond. Couples look beyond faults and errors where there’s love. They concentrate on positives. Love gives to the other person absolutely, without reservation. It accommodates. It dispels tension. In marriage love is called “conjugal”. Pope Francis describes conjugal love as “a love sanctified, enriched and illuminated by the grace of marriage. It is an affective union, spiritual and sacrificial, which combines the warmth of friendship and erotic passion, and endures long after emotions and passion subside” (Amoris Laeticia120).
Joy: Joy comes from the Holy Spirit in form of supernatural gladness. It transcends happiness because it comes despite the hard times of daily living. Joy means contentment in family life. Think about the smiling presence of your wife even when she’s sick. In those circumstances of failure and hardship, joy comes from knowing Christ in the family.
Peace: Christ’s words to his disciples were, “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace I bequeath you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (Jn.14:26-27). Peace means tranquility (not ceasefire); it comes irrespective of external trials and temptations. Families that have peace of Christ are able to manage difficult situations. They believe that God is always in control.
Patience/Forbearance: This is one of the very tough fruits of the Spirit. Patience has to begin with the self; it endures all things. We get angry with others because we are not patient with ourselves. If I am patient with myself, I’ll be able to control my anger first. But because I am not, I get frustrated easily at situations. I extend my impatience to the person beside me. He/she becomes the subject of my anger. Patience means endurance, steadfastness, perseverance.
Kindness: means ability to recognize the feelings of others, to share in such feelings. Kindness means extending oneself to the other. It is akin to humility. It moves a person to actions for the sake of the other. It produces sacrifice in marriage.
Goodness: Seems a bit tougher than kindness. It is the strength of character, a desire to bring out the best in you for the other. Goodness reflects the character of God. The good couple supports one another.
Faithfulness: This means steadfastness to one’s belief. Faithfulness is devotedness to God and to one’s spouse. It means conviction to hold unto what you believe at all times. Marriage thrives on faithfulness because it is the reflection of God’s love.
Gentleness: This means being considerate, deferring to the other. The gentle person appreciates the weakness of the other person, does not count fault. The gentle person is non-judgmental.
Self-control: Self-control is that ability to discipline the senses, to put a check on the desires of the flesh. Saint Paul writes, “be guided by the Spirit, and you will no longer yield to self-indulgence. The desires of self-indulgence are always in opposition to the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are in opposition to self-indulgence: they are opposites” (Gal.516-17).
The Holy Spirit gives couples courage in two ways- to withstand suffering and to resist evil. The presence of the Holy Spirit gives courage in sickness and pain. It makes couples see suffering as a means of liberation. It makes you to feel the presence of God as couple when you pray or stay together.
On the other hand, the Holy Spirit helps couples to perform their parental roles. He provides courage to speak up against evil forces. Evil forces of hatred, unforgiveness, drugs, alcohol, abortion, exist in marriages and families that lack the Holy Spirit. Many marriages and families have been captured by internet spirit instead of the Holy Spirit. Men and women have given in to self-indulgence on the internet. They watch sites that put them away from their spouses. They prefer spending time on sites that gratify their flesh rather than with their partners. Men and women in marriage have become victims of pornography because of lack of self-control. Pornography destroys marriages. It destroys family life. It drives away the Holy Spirit because its victim no longer thinks for the other but for self and the flesh.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis talks about the illumination of the Spirit in marriage. Words of consent which couples give to each other “illumine all the meanings of the signs” of the sacrament (#214). Couples should allow their eyes to be illumined to see God’s gift in the embryo from the moment of conception (#168). The language of sex education should be presented in such a way that it is an illumination for living in a mature way and embracing the joy of love (#280). That’s what Pope Francis calls the joy of love; that means love illumined by the Holy Spirit.
Couples must let their marriages be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, else it shrinks.