Monday, 21 November 2016 17:09

Marital Bliss and Marital Blisters

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Once upon a time, in a place far, far away from here, there lived a man who hated his wife. He hadn't always hated her. Things were good for the first few months, even for the first year. But they'd been married for over fourteen years now, and he was well and truly sick and tired of her.

One day when he was out walking the family dog, he saw an old lamp lying in the tall grass at the edge of a meadow bordering a forest. Leaving the main trail, he waded through the high grass, reached the lamp, picked it up, and rubbed the dust off it. Lo and behold, a genie appeared and offered him three wishes.

The man didn't have to think twice: "I wish my wife was dead," he said.

Sure enough, when he got home, his wife was lying dead on the kitchen floor. There was a slice of her favorite cake and a cupful of cold tea on the table. Word got out, of course, and family members and friends gathered around quickly to mourn the death of their dear friend, and to console her poor widowed husband. It all happened on a Friday, and she was to be buried the following Monday morning. Over the weekend, people shared stories about the deceased woman, favors they had received from her, memories of her virtues, her good humor, and her good examples in so many ways.

As he listened, the husband had to recognize that many of the things they said were true. Some things he had forgotten, others he had never seen, but he saw them now -now that they were spoken of aloud. He had to admit they were right; she was not such a bad person. She was, in fact, quite a good person. He regretted his decision and made a second wish that she return to life. To everyone's dismay, and then delight, she sat up in the coffin and asked for a slice of her favorite cake and a cup of tea.

The man decided to take the lamp back to where he had found it. On the way, the genie emerged from it again and invited him to make his third wish. The man answered that he had made a huge mistake with his first wish, but, thank God, he had been able to correct it with his second wish. However, since there would be no fourth wish, he preferred not to make any third wish, for fear he might get things horribly wrong again, and never be able to put them right.

The genie answered: "Well, then, why don't you simply make the wish to always see the good in everyone and everything? That is a wish you will never regret." Seeing the wisdom of the recommendation, the man made this wish, and he and his wife lived happily ever after.

What a stupid story! There’s no such thing as a genie's lamp. The real answer is Christ crucified on the hill of Calvary.

Some time ago a Brother told me a story about a married couple he had shared a meal with. At one point in the conversation, the husband said to him, "Oh, so New Hampshire is north of New York, and New York is north of New Jersey, right?" The man's wife, overhearing him, interjected: "Darling, be serious. What do you know about the geography of the United States of America?" End of conversation.

A few minutes later the man took out his cell phone and did a search for a map of the United States. Having confirmed his suspicions, he turned to his wife who was now immersed in conversation with another couple at the table: "Look, honey, it's right here. New Jersey is under New York and New York is under New Hampshire!" His wife turned to him and responded wearily, "Okay, dear. It's really not such a big deal, you know."
The Brother asked himself: "If they act like that to each other when I’m present, what must it be like when they’re alone together in their house! Why do they do that to each other?"
Why, indeed.

Human instinct would tend immediately to place all the blame on the wife in this scenario. That would be playing into the devil's hands. He wants us to play the blame game. In the Book of Revelations Satan is referred to as the accuser: "the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down"(Rev 12:10).
The accuser builds up walls of cold hard hate slowly but surely in the heart, as in the case of the man who wanted his wife dead, or else he poisons relationships with the hellish dynamic of endless bickering, as in the case of the wife who despised her husband’s knowledge of geography.

We fatten our inner monster with exaggerated grievances, fabricating a false version of ourselves as poor innocent victims and of our neighbor as evil villains. Pope Francis puts it this way: "...Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ (Lk 23:34) Yet we keep looking for more and more faults, imagining greater evils, presuming all kinds of bad intentions, and so resentment grows and deepens” (Amoris laetitia, no. 105).

A total change of approach is called for. Surely marriage must be more about mutual construction than mutual correction, more about building friendship than building walls. Beginning with, “What can I do, Lord, to make my spouse happy?” And following through with a conscious campaign of pleasant surprises, gestures of appreciation, communication, affectionate encouragement, attention to details, cheerful friendliness, and discreet affirmation.

St Teresa of Avila said: “God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person.”

 St John of Avila said: “Anyone who wishes to serve God and be his friend should cultivate a permanent sorrow in the soul, like a wound often refreshed, a heartache arising from having in the past fallen short of the fidelity owed to his Lord and God.”

One effect of turning our eyes to Christ crucified is to realize, “It was me. I did it.” It’s a painful discovery that needs to be made daily, but there is a liberating sweetness in it too. His unlimited love lances our marital blisters, and opens the way to marital bliss.

Fr Colm PowersFr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother. Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the FFA blog "Random Reflections".