For those who have discovered that the only thing that matters in this life or in the next – the only thing that can give true happiness – is to love and to be loved, married life can be a source of continual and untold suffering, even when on the surface it appears to be a success.
What women may have to suffer in this way, is beyond the power of any man to describe. There are husbands who consider their wives as glorified housekeepers or secretaries, as an ornament in their home and a hostess at their table, a social acquisition, a mere means of pleasure and self-gratification, in fact as anything but as what a wife really is: another and better self, a partner in living, one who is a continual influence for the development of all that is good. So few men realize that a man’s wife is his best friend. So few men realize to what an extent their family life, and in particular that part of their family life which they share with their wife, should be the principal part of their life in this world.
They work for their own ‘advancement’ – whatever that may mean. They have a ‘career’ and they feel everything else must be subordinated to that.
One wonders to what extent educators and the media are responsible for this folly. How many boys leave school with the idea that if they are not going into religion or the priesthood, they can do no better that carve out for themselves a career of worldly ‘success’! What a return to offer God for all He suffered for us! It is true, of course, that it is desirable that Catholics should stand in society as an asset to it, and that they should have the poise and assurance that success brings. This is especially true in a society where Catholicity is despised or where it has just emerged from a state of siege or of persecution. To that extent, the policy of our educators is, perhaps, justified. But God forbid that we should make an end of what can only be a means to an end!
It is also true that, although a man’s wife has first claim upon his devotion, she has not got the only claim. He has a duty to his parents and to the society to whom he owes his origin and development. In the particular case of a man whose work is of Catholic importance such a work has an added claim upon his time. But if he is married, he is married – and he must devote himself in the first place, adequately and generously to his wife and family. It is utterly wrong, for example, on the excuse of important social work, to rush out on all or many evenings of the week after the evening meal to some philanthropic work or meeting, or even to some exercise of devotion. Yet one often finds good Catholics doing just that. The point is they are giving away something that is not their own – they are stealing from their wives to serve – as they imagine – God. God does not want such service. Far, far better for a man, and more meritorious, to spend the evening at home with his wife, or to take her to some entertainment which they can both share, and so to develop and manifest his love for his wife and their community of life. He will find Christ in his wife on such occasions more certainly, more fruitfully and more intimately than he will in all his needy neighbours, or even – I would venture to say – in a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. For Christ is present and is to be received wherever His will is to be done – and His will is that they whom He has joined together should not be put asunder by any man.
There are other sufferings that women have to undergo in secret. There is the shy husband who will not tell his love, the timorous man who is afraid to let his wife know his love for her, the man with that peculiar, but by no means unusual, habit which makes him set his face and assume a mask of solid indifference when his wife shows her affection for him in any way, despite the fact that there is a song in his heart that seems unending. There is the husband who has no tact, there is the husband whose sense of humour manifests itself by teasing. There is the man who always patronizes his wife and who will never show her any deference in public. But there is no need to extend the list – it could not be completed even in a book. It is however clear that nothing but a deep spiritual life will enable a woman to sustain such continual disappointment and suffering and still remain happy. God will always fill the void in her heart.
Of course, it is not always the man who fails to reach ideal standards. Not every single wife brings to marriage a sufficiently high ideal of self-surrender and self-sacrifice. And failure on the woman’s side has more far reaching consequences than on her husband’s. Both man and wife have need of a spiritual life to succeed in their own individual part, and to sustain the effects on them of failure by their partner.
The ideal is a high one, and the difficulties of married life are far from negligible. Only the continual grace of God can make such a life successful. Only the grace of God can make it possible for a man or a woman to live, as it were, in front of a mirror, with somebody who knows one in ways better than one knows oneself, who can see through all one’s self-deception, and realize all the motives behind one’s every action.
No low standard can be safely set for husband and wife than to be ‘another Christ’. So much so that the ideal of Christian marriage can be stated in St. Augustine’s words: ‘And there shall be one Christ loving Himself’.