by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5, I visited my nephew David and his wife Dee Dee, who resides with their four children in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
We were celebrating their third child’s, whose name happens to be Joseph, fourth birthday. Young Joey is the new and improved version of Joseph Naumann.
Joey had had some tough days lead- ing up to his birthday. He was battling pneumonia and had been on a regimen of antibiotics. By Super Bowl Sunday, Joey was mostly recovered. At dinnertime, Dee Dee prepared Joey’s and his younger sister’s — Emily’s — plates first, getting them situated while the adults were still making their way through the buffet line. Joey had not made much progress with his meal, when all of a sudden he began vomiting — not just once, but three times.
Squeamish as I am in such circumstances, I quickly moved as far away as I could get from the birthday boy, while my nephew David, on the other hand, swooped Joey up to take him to the bathtub to clean him up. Similarly, Dee Dee sprang into action, cleaning up the contaminated area of the table and floor that was the recipient of Joey’s regurgitation of the dinner his mother had so carefully prepared. I tried to console Dee Dee by commenting that I did not think the dinner was that bad.
This little episode of the reality of family life reminded me of a theological symposium that I had attended a couple years ago at the University of Notre Dame. At the time, I was serving on the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Marriage and Family. The symposium was part of our preparation for planning the initiative of the bishops to strengthen and support marriages and family life.
One of our presenters exhorted us to help couples appreciate that the living of the marriage vows is realized in thousands of daily and seemingly inconsequential decisions to love each other — to place the good of one’s spouse and one’s children before one’s own wants and desires. He challenged us to try to help couples realize the importance for their marriage, for their family, for the community, for society, for the nation, for their church, of these daily small choices to love each other.
Picking the Cheerios out of the toddler’s hair or doing the dishes or the laundry so your spouse can have some personal time or calling your wife in the middle of the day to check out how she is doing and to let her know you are thinking of her or to clean up vomit off the floor while at the same time attempting to comfort and console the perpetrator — these are some of the countless small choices that collectively have a huge impact on the vitality of a marriage.
It is difficult for couples, in the midst of the reality of the ordinary routines of daily life, to grasp the bigger picture of how these many small decisions that demonstrate their love in such tangible ways, have an enormous impact on their relationship. It is probably impossible to appreciate how these seemingly insignificant choices are determining the destiny of their marriage and family.
How a marriage partner chooses to respond to the daily opportunities to put the good of their spouse first and their wants second impacts not only their relationship, but the lives of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Most of us rarely reflect on the great amount of good for the community that emanates from a healthy family and, conversely, how many societal problems result from dysfunctional families. Family life founded on the committed, faithful love of a married couple is the principal social institution for transmitting principles to, and fostering virtues in, the next generation.
The family is so important for society, our nation, our culture and our church. Strong, healthy families give life and form well the next generation of citizens and parishioners. Families are built upon the foundation of marriage. Healthy and vibrant marriages result in healthy and vibrant families. It is that simple. What married couples choose to do each day to strengthen their marriages, in the long run, has tremendous implications on the health of our society, nation and church.
If you are married and want to do something to make the world a better place, then begin by doing something to strengthen your marriage. A good Lenten practice for married couples is to make some daily sacrifice that manifests your love for your spouse. If you want to change the world, then do everything you can to communicate your love and admiration to your wife or husband.
Recently, I was at an event where a couple gave me a letter in which they described how making a Marriage Encounter weekend 27 years ago, and using the tools they learned on the weekend, has enriched and strengthened their marital love. If you have never made a Marriage Encounter weekend, I urge you to do so. Marriage Encounter has helped thousands of struggling marriages improve and good marriages become better. If you are experiencing serious problems in your marriage at this moment, then I exhort you to attend a Retrovaille weekend. Retrovaille has helped hundreds of couples save and rebuild their marriages.
If you are interested in a Marriage Encounter weekend or Retrovaille weekend, contact our archdiocesan marriage and family life office. The staff in our office will be delighted to assist you. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a website devoted to this at: www.foryourmarriage.org. On the website you will find a wealth of information about marriage, as well as helpful suggestions on how to strengthen your marriage.
If you are not married, I urge you to make a commitment to do something this week to show encouragement and provide help to a married couple. Let them know what a blessing their marriage is to you and to others.
Finally, as the archbishop, I wish to thank all married couples in the Archdiocese for your example of faithful and committed love. This week, when you are picking the Cheerios out of your child’s hair, or doing the laundry to help your spouse, I hope you realize that because of you, our world is a better place.