An avid hiker and adventurer decides to hike the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME. This is not a journey for the faint of heart. There are many days of fatigue, sore muscles, blisters, rain, and cold. There are also moments and days of breathtaking beauty, accomplishment, excitement and ultimately triumph at the end of the trail. The excitement is sustained because of the goal and the commitment to the goal. This excitement is sustained through the fatigue and the rain and the cold. And note, the excitement comes not just at the triumph at the end, but also before and during the journey.
There are certain things you can’t measure based on any given instant in time. Happiness (or excitement) in marriage is such a thing. Yet present culture only measures the instant, as in, instant gratification. (You can't compare marriage to a long hike, but the analogy has some merit.)
For example, I heard a promo for a radio show a few months ago which promised to discuss why the rate of infidelity in marriage increases the longer couples are together. The stated premise of the radio guest was that a marriage cannot sustain excitement as the marriage progresses in time.
Mostly what we read about infidelity concentrates on the means and opportunity. Unfortunately, the means and opportunities have become more frequent and advanced with technology and culture.
But regardless of the means and opportunity, this doesn’t address the question of marriage. We can’t sustain happiness or excitement in marriage if we don’t understand what marriage is and what the purpose and ends of marriage are. Of course these things are exactly what our present culture is confused about and struggling with.
Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical Casti Connubii wrote about marriage: Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place. And: The second blessing of matrimony which We said was mentioned by St. Augustine, is the blessing of conjugal honor which consists in the mutual fidelity of the spouses in fulfilling the marriage contract, so that what belongs to one of the parties by reason of this contract sanctioned by divine law, may not be denied to him or permitted to any third person…The Church teaches marriage has a procreative and unitive purpose as described as blessings by Pope Pius XI above.
Our present culture believes that everything boils down to sex. And I guess if that were true (or held to be true), most marriages would be doomed. The fact is, that marriage has a unitive purpose which is not all about sex, and a procreative purpose, which is also not all about sex.
One of Dietrich Von Hildebrand's theses in his book on marriage (Marriage - the mystery of Faithful Love [Sophia Institute Press]) is that the primary end of marriage is procreation, but the primary meaning of is love. But what is love?
Love is an act of the will-desiring the good for the object of our love. It is obvious from this definition that love does not have a time period. For if one desires the good for another, does one desire this good only for two years, or fifteen years? When you fall in love, do you put this time limit on how long you will love? Do our marriage vows have a time limit? What do the vows mean if they have a time limit? The answers to these questions, whether they concern love for a spouse, a child, or a friend demonstrate the willful aspect of love and the nonsense of the phrase “I have fallen out of love.”
Marital love has a special character in that it imitates God’s creative love. God’s love is so great He wants to share His life, so He creates Man. Man and woman love each other so much that they want to share their lives, so they procreate. But just as God’s love doesn’t end in the act of creating man, man and wife’s love can’t end in the marital act. God nurtures and cares for his creation. Man and wife must nurture and care for their creation. Caring for their creation involves both nurturing their offspring and, importantly, each other. Note that love again does not have limits and is not stingy, something to be kept between one or two people. By nature love shares and multiplies.
So what about this excitement! If the goal of the family is to journey together to Heaven, than the journey is one of both fatigue in daily tasks and tribulations, but also excitement at the daily fatigue and tribulations. The journey also has moments of intense beauty and enjoyment. There are always new challenges, some of them painful, but with perseverance for the goal, God helps us melt these challenges. Gold is purified by fire, the gold we seek with excitement
So what of the spouse seeks excitement elsewhere? He or she is doomed to failure because the excitement they really seek is not momentary-but that is all they get, a moment. Thus they will go on seeking, but never finding. Our hearts are truly restless until they rest in our Lord.
I end with words from Humanae Vitae:
Then, this love is total, that is to say, it is a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations. Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner's self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself.
Again, this love is faithful and exclusive until death. Thus in fact do bride and groom conceive it to be on the day when they freely and in full awareness assume the duty of the marriage bond. A fidelity, this, which can sometimes be difficult, but is always possible, always noble and meritorious, as no one can deny. The example of so many married persons down through the centuries shows, not only that fidelity is according to the nature of marriage, but also that it is a source of profound and lasting happiness.
Oremus pro invicem!