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Sunday, February 23, 2014

THE MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE: Crucible for the Saints

by Susan Fox

“What you don't understand is I'd catch a grenade for ya; throw my hand on a blade for ya; 
I'd jump in front of a train for ya.
 You know I'd do anything for ya. Oh, oh, oh, oh, I would go through all this pain, take a bullet straight through my brain.
 Yes, I would die for you, baby.
 But you won't do the same ....” (Grenade by Bruno Mars)

“But will ya change a diaper for her? Will ya clean up vomit off the wall for her? Will ya wash the dishes?” (Susan Fox)
Mysterious Marriage: Lawrence Fox photographs his
 wife Susan. In the background, a homeless man is
 captured in the picture eating the rest of Larry's dinner. 

The homeless man scarfed down my husband’s dinner leaning over the garbage can right in front of us. He was expressing his gratitude.

He didn’t speak. 
He didn’t have to.

Larry had carefully eaten only half his dinner of Chile Colorado, rice and beans at the Old Town Mexican CafĂ© in San Diego. There was nothing finer than food from this restaurant in Larry’s mind, and Chile Colorado was his favorite dish. He had hoped to eat the rest for breakfast.

Then as we were taking turns taking pictures in front of the restaurant, Larry noticed a homeless man digging in the garbage can for food.

I didn’t see the exchange, but eventually it dawned on me that my husband’s leftovers were now in the hands of the dark curly-haired man standing over the garbage can in front of me. He was frantically eating them.

Without lifting a finger, I had participated in a tremendous act of charity. I was married to the man who gave up -- the rest of his dinner.

“And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband.” (1Cor 7:13-14)

Though St. Paul in the quote above referred to mixed marriages between a believer and an unbeliever, how much more so is the believing spouse sanctified by acts of charity done by the other believing spouse?

My husband stuffs information into my head before every blog post and then congratulates himself because his wife is shortening his time in Purgatory when she writes.

Holy Marriage is a mystery.

The Catholic Church regards marriage and family life as one of the “most precious of human values.” Yet witness the difficulty Christians encounter in trying to explain why the Church is not able to endorse same-sex "marriage." Simply put, “same-sex marriage” is a misnomer in the language of the Church, because no union can be a marriage if it is intrinsically (by created structure) closed to new life.  

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invites us to look at the issue from the point of view of the child of such a marriage. “Our own experience informs us. We all have a desire to know, be connected with, and loved by our own mother and father regardless of our relationship with them. This experience of God's plan for creation has been stamped into our very nature.”

“Rather than merely biological artifacts, moms, dads and siblings are part of our identity. Every person has a right to be part of a family, to be born to a mother and father united in marriage,” (Donum Vitae )

The  Pursuit of Truth website further explains the matter: “a specific choice needs to be made by each of the spouses to invite Christ to be the center, the pinnacle, and the anchor of their union.”
And why should they build their marriage on the Rock, who is Jesus Christ? On Oct. 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m. I cowered under my desk at the San Francisco Examiner Building in San Francisco, while the earth shook to the tune of 6.9 on the Richter scale. 63 people died, including a woman from my parish in Alameda, who was buried in the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct. Thousands of people were rendered homeless. I was a business reporter, so shortly afterwards I was near the epicenter of the quake walking through a multi-million dollar house with an insurance adjuster to do a story for my paper. The house was built half on rock and half on sand. The part on rock was perfectly solid and untouched by the quake, but when we walked into the rooms built on sand I could touch the wall and it would sway -- a multi-million dollar house rendered useless by the movement of the earth.

The Catholic Church neither favors "homosexual" nor "heterosexual" marriage. That's right, we refuse to discuss marriage in "heterosexual" terms or to define people according to their sexuality. The Catholic Church defines people according to their relationship to a Divine Person so they can live life in its fullness -- anchored in an eternal and infinite God. Holy Marriage has Christ, the Rock, at its center.

And you guessed it! That means when the earth moves, the marriage anchored in Christ doesn't sway like that portion of the house built on sand at the epicenter of the Quake of '89. Marriage has an enduring permanence about it, and that is only possible if the spouses wholeheartedly put Christ at the center of their own self-embraced identity.

“Thus, a Holy Marriage will exhibit the virtue of chastity, because our desire for chastity increases the more and more we actually look to Christ first and foremost for our fulfillment." (www.pursuitoftruth.ca)

And Lawrence Fox would put that this way: “Marriage is like going into a candy store. Everything you ever wanted is in there, but you find out you can’t have everything at once.” So you have to practice chastity.

The problem is that modern man doesn’t understand the purpose of sex. How many times have I heard it said that marriage is an emotional feeling of love? That definition completely opens the door for someone else to define their same-sex relationship as marriage because they love each other, right?

But feelings are notoriously unstable. What happens when your feelings change? Obviously, you get a divorce, weeping, “I don’t love you any more!” And relationships between people of the same sex are short-lived and often include other parties by mutual consent. The “feeling of love” is the wrong foundation in which to enter a permanent relationship with another person.


Everything has to be used according to its proper purpose. The eye is for seeing. It is not for tasting. Hold a brownie up to your eye. Can you taste it? No, but you can see it! Stop trying to taste the brownie with your eye. Put it in your mouth. Yum.

If you think man is only a material creature with no spirit, it’s easy to believe sex is a play toy that can be used with multiple persons of both the same and opposite sex. But people who try this lifestyle experience enormous personal suffering and emotional pain – as well as sickness --  because they have not understood the nature of man nor the purpose of sex. 

Man was created by God in His image and likeness to give back to God and neighbor the Love we receive from God. We are body/spirit creatures who can express love in multiple dimensions – in language, looking, prayer and touching. The Church recognizes that the human person can express its vocation to love in only two specific ways: chaste marriage and celibacy, which is the mastery of chastity for a single person.

That concept of man has been entirely swept away by a tidal wave of free sex, contraception, same sex experimentation, divorce, abortion and pornography.

There probably isn’t a television program or a romance novel written today in which sex is not celebrated outside marriage, and having sex before marriage without making any demands on your partner is not regarded as a virtue. The most deviant sexual relations are glorified in “romance” novels sold in Costco Stores where the whole family shops.

That is a vile deception and sure route to unhappiness. But our children are being exposed to that thinking in their schools, all the social media, on television, in the homes of their friends, and at the doctor’s office.

Sexuality is not a purely biological function. It concerns the innermost being of the human person. “It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a women commit themselves totally to one another until death,” according to Pope John Paul II (Familiaris Consortio), who asserted that total physical self-giving is a lie if it is not a sign and fruit of total personal self-giving. We are persons. Even the neurochemistry of our brains bonds us to previous and current relationships regardless of our specific choices. You can’t just give your body and assume that "no one is getting hurt." 


Therefore, “the only “place” in which this self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage,” Pope John Paul said, adding that marriage is the “covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God Himself.”

So the true purpose of sex is self-giving, including a life-long commitment and openness to new human life, only physically possible between two people of the opposite sex. And its proper place is marriage. Get the difference? The world thinks sex is a play toy. But it’s real purpose is self-giving. Take the brownie out of your eye. Put it in your mouth. The stable family is the cradle of civilization.

Everything else – pornography, free love, adultery, strip dancing, and every other form of unchaste activity – is an attempt to enjoy the goods of marriage outside marriage. There is undoubtedly pleasure in these activities, but like my mother used to say, “Susan, there’s a time and a place for everything.” Life-long committed marriage open to life is the place for sex. A sacrifice today will be a sure investment for the stability of your family in the future.

In my door-to-door work in the Legion of Mary, I met a young man who was living with his girlfriend. They had just had a baby and she was suffering from an extremely severe case of Post-Partum Depression. I spent an hour and a half trying to convince him to marry her because he told me he loved her, he loved the baby, and he didn't want to ever lose her or the baby. But it was very hard for him to come to that decision because he was probably going through one of the worst ordeals of what should have been his married life.

Meanwhile his future wife was in the process of becoming embittered and angry against him because he couldn't say, “I love you, I give myself to you completely -- even when you are suffering from a condition resulting from the birth of our child.“ And his child’s life was in terrible jeopardy. He was born in that part of the house built on sand, not on the Rock. Even if the parents married now, the fact that they cohabitated before marriage made their eventual divorce 50 percent more likely.

And that baby’s tragic circumstance is becoming increasingly more common. Today more than 50 percent of births to women under 30 occur outside marriage. That means more children growing up in poverty, without a father and a greater chance of abuse and emotional distress from an unstable home. 

Because we had no prior sexual relationships before our marriage, when Lawrence and I married, there was a real single-hearted devotion that developed between the two of us. Thus we were no longer two, but one flesh.

This single-hearted devotion is a safe and secure place to be when you have a miscarriage, suffer financial difficulties, get depressed or do something stupid. There's never the issue of “I'll marry her when she isn't so upset all the time. I'll marry her when I have enough money. I'll marry her when everything’s perfect.” That's the key to insecurity, fights and utter misery because the nature of the marriage covenant is "for better or for worse" and things are absolutely guaranteed never to be perfect.

But there are many different kinds of marriages. Not every married man and woman has physical children, yet every fruitful marriage will be expressed in motherhood and fatherhood. Sterility does not cancel openness to new life and the structural design to achieve it.  

Lawrence and I have close friends, who suffer the tragedy of infertility. So they got training to teach Natural Family Planning, which is both a means to delay birth and a vital means of achieving birth for infertile couples. They were about to embark on their new ministry, and I ran into them after Mass, and without thinking, I announced, “You will become mother and father to many children.”   In fact, each baby born as a fruit of their ministry would be their child. What a wonderful married vocation! Countless human beings enter the world because of a sterile couple’s shared and married commitment to teach Natural Family Planning.

Every holy marriage embraces the cross. No one will find the cross in a relationship based only on “a feeling of love.” Some day, you will have to clean up your kid’s vomit on the wall, or sleep in the hospital room with your sick spouse because a male nurse scared her, and where will that “feeling of love” be then? Those experiences are unpleasant.

But for 29 years my mother’s marriage bed WAS her cross. For my stepfather was emotionally abusive. He didn’t do it on purpose, but because he was mentally ill. In the 1970s, I came home from graduate school and had my mother weeping in my arms because “Hutch was so mean to me.” She always was a strong woman. This was very unusual.

“Mom,” I said, “You have to get counseling.” So she did. The priest psychologist had her outline my stepfather’s behavior and then gave her a diagnosis. Though there were drugs for his condition, we both knew if we tried to get him to the doctor the roof would blow off the house.

Technically speaking, my mother could have gotten a Catholic annulment. But with typical Mom logic, she said, “Hutch didn’t know he was ill when he married me, and so I can’t abandon him.” And so she freely embraced an incredible life of physical, emotional and mental suffering until she died in 2001.  Her last confession was in my dining room. I was in the back bedroom, but I heard the sobs, and the words, “Hutch, Hutch, Hutch.”

The physical suffering came from her health, but having my Dad as her guardian in such trying circumstances made her health issues worse.  She was sitting in the chair in her living room one time, one leg amputated and great pain in the other. And I said, “Mom, you know all this suffering will probably save Hutch.” With great passion, she said, “I dearly hope so. Oh God, I hope so.”

And so it did. Mom’s marriage to Hutch exemplified St. Paul’s quote above about the unbelieving spouse being sanctified by the believing spouse. Mom even had a vision of that some years earlier. She saw Hutch following her up to Communion. He was not Catholic.

As far as we knew, Dad was never baptized. In fact, he was somewhat anti-Catholic. When Mom was sick, the local Legion of Mary president – her best friend – visited. And he shouted at her, and threw her off the property. At that stage of his life, he couldn’t stand the Legion of Mary.

But Dad drove Mom to take Communion to the Sick, and drove her to the nursing home to visit the sick. Heck, he even drove her to the trailer park to take communion to a woman who had been a prostitute and was dying of AIDs.

He was deaf as a doornail, but he also went to Church with Mom every Sunday and sat in the very back. One time, I was giving communion to Mom in the hospital and I looked up and surprised such a look of longing on my stepfather’s face as he looked at the Holy Eucharist. “My goodness,” I thought, “he knows it’s Jesus. And he wants Him!” 

So Mom died on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul in 2001, and Dad continued to attend Mass on Sunday – deaf as a doornail. The Legion of Mary president he threw out of the house previously? She got ill, and while she was in the hospital my stepfather went to visit her. She was terrified. But Dad was oblivious. He simply wanted to visit the sick like Mom had done.

I said to him, “Dad, why don’t you become Catholic so you can get the sacraments too?” He answered, “Susan, I do not qualify.” I weakly tried to tell him a priest could change that. But inside my heart, I thought, “Congratulations Dad. Jesus died on the cross for every member of the human race except you.”

I sent two priests to him to ask him to be baptized. But one taught him the Rosary and the other simply invited him to Mass. He was in the nursing home now, so the invitation to Mass was good because he went to Mass every Sunday in the nursing home, including the week he died.  He couldn’t hear a thing. He wouldn’t wear hearing aids. But he knew the Real Presence and he desired Him. That is what the Catholic Church calls Baptism by desire.

I lived in Arizona when he died in Washington State. But the Lord permitted me to say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for him just before he died, which means he received all the graces necessary for salvation. I had no knowledge his condition had taken a turn for the worse, as my stepbrother didn’t tell me until after Dad was dead.

The Mass readings on the day he died told me the outcome: “Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.” (Gal 3:6-9) Because he died with the faith of Abraham, Dad will live in the bosom of Abraham (an image for heaven), sealed by the Holy Spirit.

My stepfather was literally sanctified by his marriage. Holy marriage is supposed to be a crucible, a training ground for saints.

The Catholic Church is full of stories of marriages that sanctified both spouses and children. I think of St. Theresa of Lisieux. Both her parents have been declared blessed by the Catholic Church.

St. Theresa herself understood she came from a family, and she owed her holiness to her parents, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin. She embroidered a picture of her family with roses symbolizing each family member on a priest’s vestment. The two big full mature roses were her parents. The smaller roses – she and her three sisters. And she sewed two little buds because her mother had two miscarriages. Even the little buds count. What a holy family life!  

Larry and James Fox in 1990:
"Daddy be a horsie"
Larry cleaned up lots of vomit too!
I was in my Aqua Zumba class today with an elderly married couple. He was tall and thin. She was short and stout. No one would call them beautiful. But when they looked at each other, it was like the sun came out from behind the clouds. Why they were both beautiful! And each looked at the other as if they beheld gold.
 
Lawrence spoke to me this week from the San Diego Airport. We had just been there together two weeks ago. “I can’t believe how empty this airport seems without you,” he said.

Such is holy marriage.






4 comments:

  1. The highest form of love is agape love. It is heaven's love imparted in those whom have given their heart and life to that of Christ Jesus, the King. When one confesses their faith in Christ the miracle of rebirth takes place as he or she receives the "In breathed" Spirit of God within. They are then ready for heaven but they have not been empowered to do the works of Christ Jesus until they have received the "Outpoured" Spirit of God. When a believer receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit in which it is Christ the one who baptizes and anoints them for his divine service, with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, which I will not elaborate on right now. What has this to do with marriage? A marriage has taken place within the heart or spirit of a man or woman who receives Christ, Their spirit become "One" with Jesus and they are one with the Father. This is man's completeness in life. They are complete in love, power, they have the fruit of the Spirit as well as the gifts of the spirit in operation within their life and this is what the devil fears most. When two people both filled with the Holy Spirit of God, God has taken up residence within them. As unto marriage, God speaks about two virgins coming together and as vows are said, they bond has not fully occurred until the very act of sexual intimacy has taken place, which we know according to holy scriptures, is a divine "Blood Covenant" made unto God. This is why God cannot nor will he bless or consider "Holy" the act of marriage between two men or two women. The blood covenant cannot be acted upon and their union is cursed and an abomination in his eyes, yet we see today, that laws are being passed to bring together such unions and they are all deceived to think that God is blessing their act of marriage, to which he is not but judgment is coming their way. Thank you for allowing me to share. May God richly bless you in all that you are called to do. In Jesus name..

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  2. God bless you Danny. Thank you very much for sharing. You write beautifully and obviously love God very much. Your relationship with Him is a gift to us all. Susan Fox

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  3. What a wonderful and thought-provoking post!!! I love reading your reflections; it is great to see good Catholic friends spreading the Gospel in this manner.

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  4. beautiful! Thank you for this posting.

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