March 7, 2008


Success in marriage requires cooperation with God’s grace

In the mid 1970s, the late Msgr. Charles Koster traveled from Indianapolis to Saint Meinrad once a week to teach a class on the sacrament of marriage to seminarians.

Msgr. Koster was well-qualified for this assignment. At the time, he was judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

Having personally dealt with thousands of married couples—in both good times and bad—Msgr. Koster was keenly aware of the importance of this sacrament for the health and vitality of the family, the Church and society.

During one of his classes at Saint Meinrad, he summed up his view of marriage by saying, “It’s unreasonable to think that any two people should be able to stay together for life—without the grace of Christ assisting them. There are many serious obstacles to a successful married life. God’s grace can overcome these, but only if the couple cooperates.”

Success in marriage involves much more than simply “staying together.” It requires a partnership that is spiritual, emotional and physical.

It means committing to a lifelong journey that will require ongoing conversion from self-centeredness to a genuine openness to another.

And it requires the willingness to sacrifice individual goods and desires for the sake of others—spouse, children and an extended family that opens out to the entire community.

Without patience, perseverance and a profound sense of the presence of God’s grace, the sacrifices that even ordinary married life demands can seem overwhelming.

And in times of severe doubt or trial, God’s grace is especially needed to keep the couple together, to heal their wounds and to strengthen the bonds that selfishness, sin and serious neglect too often weaken or tear apart.

What’s the secret to a long-lasting, happy and holy married life? If “God’s grace” is the answer, as Msgr. Koster believed, what should married couples do to cooperate with Christ—in good times and bad—and achieve success in their married lives?

A recent survey of Catholics about marriage conducted in June 2007 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University has identified some simple but very important information.

According to Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ subcommittee on Marriage and Family Life, the survey shows that “Catholics are neither more nor less likely to get divorced than anyone else.”

But the archbishop goes on to say that, based on the CARA research findings, those who attend Mass weekly are more likely to have a Catholic spouse, to say they are very familiar with Catholic teaching on marriage, and to have views about marriage that are informed by their faith and consistent with Church teaching.

As Archbishop Kurtz notes, “Religious affiliation and practice are related positively to marital stability and vice versa,” not only for Catholics but also for people of all faiths.

In other words, Catholic married couples who practice their faith and who attend Mass weekly tend to have stronger marriages. This statistic would not have surprised Msgr. Koster—or his successors in the Marriage Tribunal or pastors in parishes throughout the archdiocese.

There is a correlation between participation in the sacraments and success in the vocation of marriage— just as happy, successful priests are found among those who take seriously their commitment to prayer, to fidelity in priestly ministry and to the sacrificial gift that is celibacy.

Frequent Mass attendance does not guarantee a successful marriage. But it does make a difference in whether married couples are practicing their faith. As Msgr. Koster taught in his class on the sacrament of marriage for seminarians more than 30 years ago, God’s grace makes all the difference—if we cooperate.

Lent and Easter are seasons of special grace for those who take seriously this time of the Church year. Let’s use this as a time to pray for the gifts of marriage and family life.

Let’s also pray that those who are called to the married life will take seriously the opportunities they have to cooperate with God’s grace through their active participation in the prayer and worship of the Church.

—Daniel Conway

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