There is a world of difference between a wedding homily and a funeral homily. At a wedding, the couple has the whole span of married “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” yet to be lived. At a funeral, one can examine how, through time, the Lord has been at work in the person and in his or her marriage.
And yet at both a wedding and a funeral, Jesus Christ invites us to consider what the gift of a whole life looks like in His wise and loving plan. In my 16 or so years of working with couples preparing for marriage, I have come to realize that Christian marriage is rooted not simply in the couple’s life-long commitment to each other — crucial as this is — but rather in their commitment to the Lord. And this commitment is itself more deeply supported by the Lord’s commitment to them. Christian marriage is ultimately a celebration of Jesus Christ’s irrevocable belonging to a husband and wife, making of their two-in-one-flesh union a new creation.
My vocation to the priesthood began by way of teaching high school theology. My high school teaching career, however, passed by way of too many hours of my adolescence spent watching David Letterman. For better or worse, Letterman’s template of Top Ten Lists formed me. Thus, students at St. Joseph High School (from 1991-93) and Marian (from 2001-07) came to receive my Top Ten Dating Tips as my best advice to discover their vocations. Some of them still carry these Dating Tips in their wallets!
As former students met their future spouses and prepared for marriage, what I have come to call my Top Ten Marriage Tips emerged as a necessary sequel to the Dating Tips. In my homily to each couple on their wedding day, I share a variation of these tips as summary of best practices for living happily ever after. I make no claim to originality and actually consider these maxims to be the distillation of the wisdom I have seen embodied in the happiest marriages I have been blessed to know.
1. Your work must always serve your family, rather than your family being sacrificed for your work.
2. Don’t just pay the bills but “pray the bills” each month, so that money worries are given to the Lord and do not become a source of division between you.
3. Give to God the first portion of all that you make or receive. By tithing the first percentage of all the financial treasure that becomes yours (the biblical ideal is 10 percent) to the direct service of divine charity, your generous love will first extend the generous love of God.
4. Use your planning calendar as an instrument of prayer, tithing one-seventh of your week for resting in the Lord on Sunday. Such Sabbath rest includes participation in the Mass every Sunday, this one hour constituting precisely 1/168 of your week to “God’s family time,” as Christ wishes.
5. Remember your home to be a domestic church — the first place in which the Lord is worshiped and adored. Bless one another at the beginning and end of each day by tracing the sign of the cross on the other’s forehead. This continual sacrifice in your home, united with your sacrifice at the altar, forms of your lives an undivided eucharistic mystery in which Christ’s words become your own: “Take, this is my body given up for you.” Your children will inherit this blessing.
6. Continually and tenaciously embrace the cross, realizing that love is not fundamentally a sentiment but a sacrifice. In other words, love is not a feeling but a commitment, specifically a commitment to seek what is good for the other person regardless of how one may or may not feel. The embrace of Christ crucified is the first and final true measure of what it means to love “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.”
7. Fight fair, never making serious resolutions in a state of anger or desolation (St. Ignatius Loyola). Practice the art of admitting that neither one of you is able to resolve a given problem immediately; but rather, mutually agree to think about it, pray about it, seek counsel and then come together again to resolve it, so that the Evil One, who is called the Accuser, is cast out of your relationship (cf. Rev. 12). And receive the forgiveness of the Lord in the sacrament of confession as He intends, regularly — at least as often as you change the oil in your car: every few months or several thousand miles, whichever comes first! Forgiveness in marriage is not first self-generated by us but received as a gift from the Father of mercies, on His terms — that is, in Christ’s sacraments.
8. As the cathedral builders of old hid precious objects in the foundations and on the heights of their work that only God was intended to see, leaven your married life each day by innumerable hidden acts of kindness that will not be discovered by your spouse right away, and perhaps only fully be revealed on Judgment Day. Neither one of you will then be burdened with trying to calculate here below who is doing more for the other.
9. You must share your faith to keep your faith. Continually invite new people into your home and life. The more you give the faith away to others, the more you will receive back again — 30-, 60- and 100-fold!
10. After obtaining a can of dark blue paint and some glow-in-the-dark plastic stars, and after consulting a star chart from a local observatory or the Indigo Night website of the major constellations in the night sky over the church on the day of your wedding, transform your bedroom ceiling into an icon of your home open to the heavens. You will be reminded every day of your married life that your love is older than the stars, because it comes from God; that your love is made to outlast the stars, because it is ultimately consummated in the eternal Wedding Feast of Heaven; and that your love abides in a holy communion of persons desiring your happiness greater than that which appeared at your wedding. Your family includes the whole host of angels and saints — the hidden supporters of your desire to live happily ever after.
Obviously, these Top Ten Marriage Tips are pointers, not conclusions. Each couple must integrate them according to the unique particularities of their situation. Nonetheless, habits are essential to forming character and good habits are essential to forming happy, thriving marriages.
If I were to add a final tip as a bonus, it would be that a couple should always be reading a book together; just a few pages a day. It is the equivalent of inviting a wise, good person into their home to catalyze and enrich a daily, ongoing conversation about what the good life is and how to share it. The book could be placed on the kitchen table, in the bathroom, or on the nightstand — anywhere husband and wife would ordinarily have to spend a few minutes each day anyway.
Even as I continue to offer my Top Ten Marriage Tips to each of the couples I prepare for marriage, I leave the writing of books to the professionals. Some great books for wedding gifts are Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” Emerson Eggerich’s “Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires and the Respect He Desperately Needs,” and Deacon James Keating’s “Spousal Prayer: A Way to Marital Happiness.” Reading books is more satisfying than the entertainment of gadgets, especially given that Late Night With David Letterman is no more. Rest in peace, passing amusements — here’s to living happily ever after!
Father Daniel Scheidt is the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne.
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