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9 Wise, Funny and Totally Catholic Takes on Marriage


Our Sunday Visitor

Serena Sigillito - published on 01/27/15

A new book of personal anecdotes and academic research on marriage

In a new collection of essays edited by Art and Laraine Bennet, a diverse group of men and women lend their voices to a rising chorus. Their message? Marriage is hard — but it’s oh, so worth it.

Catholic and Married: Leaning Into Love brings together nine essays that delve deeply into the challenges facing married couples in contemporary society. Should we have children? Is it okay to use contraception? How do we raise faithful kids? How do we handle our differences in personality and communication styles? These questions are all addressed with sensitivity and humor in a way that is readable and relatable — and always orthodox.

It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her work, but Simcha Fisher’s chapter is a standout. Fisher is the author of the wise, funny, and no-nonsense Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, resident blogger at the National Catholic Register, and contributor to books such as Style, Sex, and Substance (in which she gives the single best treatment of the feminine gift of receptivity that I’ve ever encountered).

In Catholic and Married, Fisher tackles the topic of children — specifically, the ways children change you and your marriage. In Catholic circles, we often hear that every child is a gift. But what does that really mean?

What kind of gift [is a child]? The gift of giving us a reason to change, to repent, to see right and wrong clearly, and to choose.

Some gift, right? It sounds like the kind of gift that demands things from the receiver…. When you have children, your life will be changed forever. It will be harder to do whatever you want, and every decision you make will be tethered by the consideration of how it will affect your children. Once you have children, your marriage will never be the same.

And you will praise God for it. You will never regret this life of joys and sorrows, frustrations and exaltations, petty duties and profound revelations. You will, as it says in the rite of Baptism, thank God for the gift of your child.

Fisher lays out specific lessons that having children teaches you, illustrating them with honest and gritty personal experiences. For any couple trying to reconcile our culture’s message that children suck the joy out of life with our church’s teaching that they are the source of joy, Fisher’s chapter is a must-read.

Obstacles to Marriage: From Divorce and Pornography to Premarital Sex and Cohabitation

But the book isn’t just for married couples. It also addresses the hopes and fears of young men and women who want to get married someday, but aren’t quite sure how to get there. In one essay, clinical psychologist James D. White gently acknowledges the experiences of children of divorce, who are often hesitant to marry, fearing that they will repeat the mistakes of their parents. Himself the child of divorced parents, White tells young adults what they need to know to make their marriage succeed, weaving concrete, practical conclusions from social science with a theologically rich explanation of the graces of the sacrament of marriage.

Other essays grapple with the realities of premarital sex, porn, and cohabitation. In an excellent chapter entitled “Stars in the Night Sky: Contemporary Challenges to Marriage,” Brandon McGinley dives deep into the murky darkness of sexual sin. He examines the deeply disturbing prevalence of porn usage and explains how it cripples the human person’s ability to love.

The statistics McGinley cites are not new. But no matter how many times articles report that 70 percent of men and 30 percent of women use internet porn, the fact remains shocking. It seems impossible to understand, let alone
accept, the enormity of the distorted sexuality that number signifies — the broken relationships, lies, and darkness.

At this moment, the emotional low point of the entire collection of essays, McGinley stops to explain the metaphor in his chapter’s title. He writes:

By this point, the state of marriage must seem pretty bleak. But it’s precisely in this darkness — like gazing at the night sky out in the countryside — that the points of light shine brightest. Amid these challenges, those who pursue the Catholic vision of marriage stand out in deep contrast to the culture. In these difficult times, it is actually easier to be the signs of contradiction to worldly living that we are called to be.

…the truth is that most people want the stability that comes with Catholic marriage, but they think it’s no longer possible. By modeling joyful, faith-filled relationships, we show that authentic marriage is more than possible — it’s wonderful.

Though McGinley’s essay is the most depressing, it’s also — paradoxically — one of the most inspiring. Again, the message is clear: the world needs to see the love, forgiveness, and joy of faithful and fruitful Catholic marriages.

It’s Wonderful: Why Love Stories Matter

The final chapter of
Catholic and Married is simply titled: “It Takes Two.” Written by Catholic blogger
Hallie Lord and her husband Dan, a
rock star-turned teacher and
author, the chapter moves away from sociology and philosophy to address something more appealing: romance.

When we talk about building a culture of marriage, sometimes it can be easy to be so distressed by the big picture (Look at those divorce rates! Look how many children are born out of wedlock!) and engrossed in proposed political solutions (Maybe if we just outlaw gay marriage? Or increase tax benefits for married couples?) that we lose sight of what we’re fighting for. We look at the dark night sky, but it’s hard to see the faint, far-away stars. Hallie and Dan’s whirlwind love story, their growing family, and their honest reckoning of the ways that grace and love have come out of their suffering all make marriage seem beautiful,
sexy, sanctifying, and — ultimately— deeply appealing. They exemplify what McGinley calls “evangelism-by-marriage.”

In fact, in nearly every essay,
Catholic and Married does this, combining personal stories with academic insights into the nature and practice of marriage. In this way, it demonstrates a growing trend within both the Catholic world of the New Evangelization and the pro-marriage movement more generally. As
I’ve argued before, all conversion takes place as the result of personal encounter, whether face-to-face or
over the internet. Human beings are incarnate creatures, and we’re also social ones. When we’re trying to decide what we believe or how we should act, we naturally look to others for their example. We don’t just want to hear an academic argument that marriage is beneficial — we want to see the real, tangible benefits lived out by living, breathing human beings.

That’s why stories are so powerful. Sites like
I Believe in Love and initiatives like
CanaVox’s reading groups pair personal stories with academic analysis of what works in marriage — and what doesn’t.

Catholic and Married: Leaning Into Love is an important contribution to this increasingly influential genre. But because it is written from a Catholic viewpoint, this book has an advantage: the authors can openly reflect on the graces that flow forth from the sacrament of marriage. Out of midnight diaper changes and the stomach flu, angry fights and trips to the confessional, just as he did out of the agony and pain of the cross, God brings goodness, love, and light.

Serena Sigillito
is Managing Editor of
Public Discourse,
the online journal of the
Witherspoon Institute
. She holds a BA from the University of Dallas and an MA from the Catholic University of America.

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