Strengthening the ‘domestic church’ in the Year of the Family: Some basics for a strong marriage

With the publication of his pastoral letter, “Enriching the Church: The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond,” Bishop Robert J. Cunningham announced a special Year of the Family, which began in the diocese on Dec. 3, 2017.

 In his letter, Bishop Cunningham reflects on the mission of the modern family — evangelization — and how it can be accomplished by forming an “ecclesia domestica,” a “domestic church,” through prayer and worship, formation, community, and service. Throughout the Year of the Family, the Diocese of Syracuse and its ministries will focus on each of these pillars and provide resources families can use to build their domestic churches.

This week: A look at some basic principles that can help all marriages, presented by Chris and Linda Padgett. High school sweethearts Chris and Linda have been married for more than 20 years and have nine children. Chris is a lay evangelist, author, musician, and teacher who travels the world giving missions and concerts. Linda is a blogger and has a ministry to women. Together, the Padgetts lead marriage missions, retreats, and marriage preparation classes for the Diocese of Syracuse.

You don’t accidentally have a good marriage. The truth is every good marriage and every difficult marriage has gotten to that point through a series of choices and priorities that were implemented or disregarded. There is one thing that is for certain: no magic pill exists that guarantees success. 

Through the years, we have witnessed many of our friends’ marriages fail. This led us to consider what made our marriage different. We concluded that there were seven points that we have incorporated in our marriage that have contributed to its success. (Three are presented here; the remaining four will appear in next week’s issue.) None of these points are novel or original. We call them The Basics because that is exactly what they are. 

Freedom. Freedom in marriage is expressed through allowing each spouse to be distinctively himself or herself, and through accepting your relationship and family as being unlike any other. It’s easy to compare yourselves to others, but just as God doesn’t have repeat saints, he is not looking to have you model your marriage after another. He is inviting you to become a unique expression of His love in time. The way you love each other as a couple is meant to be a one-of-a-kind gift to the world. Grant each other freedom while also being comfortable with your unique version of marriage and family. 

Dignity and respect. We show dignity to another by respecting him or her. Respect for our spouse is most simply expressed by the way we speak to them and about them. If words matter in the workplace, how much more should they matter at home? Your spouse needs to hear the most encouraging and loving words from you, not anyone else. However, we must also be careful to guard the way we speak about our spouse to others. Too often we get in the habit of complaining about our spouse to our parents, friends, or even our children. We may think that we are just being silly and don’t mean what we say; however, the truth is, if we say something long enough we will start to believe it. Those words of complaint find a home in your heart and begin to take root. Without you even being aware, your lack of respect for your spouse voiced to other people will grow into a large wedge that drives you apart. 

Wise choices. “Wise choices” is all about you, as a couple, making the choices that will help you become the saints you are called to be. As Catholics, we have the amazing gift of the sacraments. Placing them in a position of priority will not necessarily guarantee a life of ease and children who never mess up, but they will equip you to weather the storms of life with greater fortitude. Making your faith and the sacraments a central part of your relationship will be the absolute wisest choice you can make.