Writing this post is going to hurt. In all honesty, it will border on hypocrisy due simply to the fact that I am not a perfect husband. I am immature, selfish, and tend to hold everyone to incredibly lofty standards… including my wife. In the most humble way possible I would like to acknowledge that I am a work in progress. Any improvements that I have made in loving my wife were not the result of my own, independent resolve but were, in fact, moments of personal conversion. Wait… what? Yeah, as cliché as this might sound (and as prevalent it might be in the Catholic blogosphere), I didn’t begin to make improvements in the ‘being married’ department until I began really taking my relationship with God seriously.
Before coming into the Catholic Church I had little understanding as to what penance meant. You see, I was raised to believe that when you did something wrong you would offer up a quick prayer to God and try to do better. It was sort of a quick fix for sin. So actually becoming acquainted with the Sacrament of Reconciliation (penance) was a slow-developing process for me. Basically, my understanding was when certain things weighed heavily on your conscience THEN you go talk to the priest. I think I went to confession maybe once during my first year in the Church. I didn’t ignore the sacrament, I just felt that I didn’t need it that often. The reality of my sacramental habit was much uglier. It wasn’t until I started doing research on the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a youth group discussion topic that the overwhelming amount of pride in my life came to light. I was trying to inspire the youth to frequent the sacraments as an essential first step towards awakening their relationship with God. Preparing that topic wrecked my life.
Since my wife and I have been together we’ve been best friends. Ever since we were in that ‘get to know you’ phase, we got along very well and the attraction that soon followed was ultimately based in the companionship we had developed. One of the most fruitful aspects of our relationship is that we helped each other grow in character and leaned on one another when tackling any baggage from our past that might have hindered us going forward. I can truly say that I married my best friend. One thing that I had not previously considered, at least not until I began to explore the Sacrament of Penance a little more, was that I had a very inflated view as to how good of a friend I was to her. I was lazy; not only in matters of needs around the house but in the fulfillment of my role as husband. I have always been quick to unload my problems and my burdens on her but would go on to count the minutes until she finished ‘nagging’ about her problems. I was constantly focused on my dreams while convincing myself that I was doing what was best for ‘us’.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. – Ephesians 5:25-27
I had tunnel vision and the only thing I could see was my future, not the future of our growing family. Something had to change. It wasn’t until I began to see how un-Christ-like I was that I realized our marriage was heading for the rocks. As a husband all I ever did was take from my wife; never giving anything in return. Disgusted with myself, I returned to the confessional after an extended absence. I poured myself out to the priest. I told him that I was a sick person and desperately needed to be cured. I remember that my assigned penance was to pray the rosary but the advice that this priest imparted was that I frequent the confessional more often. I had reached a breaking point. My wife didn’t deserve the way I treated her.
Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). – CCC 1431
Being a good husband, especially in a culture that promotes a self-seeking mentality, requires a great deal of penance. One can’t simply overcome their sinful tendencies with a quick fix. In order to lead a more virtuous life we must do battle with our sins. We must seek the intercessions of the saints and rely on the sanctifying grace we receive when we throw ourselves at the feet of the Church’s providence. We need Jesus in the most desperate way; a physical encounter that we can only get in the Eucharist. Jesus, after all is the only way that we might be healed of our fallen nature. All of the Sacraments, originate from the Eucharist and orient themselves toward the Eucharist. So ultimately, we must engage in an eternal struggle against self so that we might lose our sinfulness and gain Christ.
I am broken. I need Jesus. That is the only way that I can ever hope to be a holy and virtuous husband. Currently, I do my best to confess my sins at least once per week. It might seem excessive but it is extremely practical. Not only does it keep my relationship with God in check, Reconciliation prepares me for Mass and keeps my shortcomings at the front of my mind so that I might struggle on. Struggle is important in our journey towards holiness because it shows that we are still fighting. I chose this; I traded in the quick fix faith for the sacramental life. Why? Because God wants each and every one of us to struggle on towards holiness. Holiness isn’t as simple as forgive and forget; it requires that we forgive and deal with it. The only way we can effectively live out the Sacrament of Matrimony is to keep the Eucharist as our central focus. The only way that we can continue to receive Christ in this powerful way is to keep our sins nearby so that we can do penance and rid ourselves of selfish tendencies. I must fight for the rest of my life to sanctify myself so that I can help my wife along our shared journey. I am not perfect, but I am a work in progress.
Bonus: These weekly trips to confession have become a family affair!
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