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The Fight for Marriage: Renew Your Marriage Vows

May 3, 2010

I remember the day Michelle and I got married. At least, I think I do. Either that, or the pictures of that day have convinced me I remember it.

It seems a universal experience that the wedding day goes by in a blur. There’s the anticipation and excitement, the family and friends, and the endless line of people you haven’t seen in years. There are stolen moments between the bride and groom and countless people telling you where to go and what to do.

However, there are parts of that day I remember with vivid detail: the look on Michelle’s face when I first saw her, the moments of joy and laughter we shared on our horse drawn carriage ride from the church to the reception, and the way the evening seemed to swell with music and laughter.

While all of those memories are sweet and wonderful, the purpose of that day was rooted in the vows we took in committing our lives and our whole selves to one another. How often, I wonder, do we seek to remember those vows?

In a collection of sermons delivered by John Paul II, now dubbed his Theology of the Body, the Pontiff makes the claim that a husband and wife re-declare their marriage vows every time they engage in the sexual act. While I fully acknowledge this statement and believe its truth, I wonder how many husbands and wives think about sex in these terms. Thus, it seems necessary to be more direct in the way that we recommit ourselves to our marriage vows.

To do so, we must consider anew what it means to give ourselves to our spouse in mutual submission. The second century church father, Tertullian, truly encapsulated Christian marriage when he wrote:

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.

They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit.

They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations.

They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts.

Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God.

Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.
-Tertullian

Does this describe your marriage? While I earnestly desire it for my own, we don’t always live up to the image described by Tertullian. I can’t help but ask, “why not?”

True, Mutual Submission
As I reflect on Tertullian’s words, I am struck by the fact that they so perfectly describe a relationship of mutual submission that the apostle Paul prescribes in his letter to the Ephesians when he says:

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…”
“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”

Unfortunately, we too often associate submission with weakness. We are culturally conditioned to think of ourselves first and foremost, defining sucess and/or failure in terms of our individual accomplishments.

And yet, the call to marriage should shatter our individualism because in essence, we are no longer a single individual, but two parts of the same body. The first man, Adam, said it perfectly when, in the book of Genesis, he looked on the woman, Eve and declared, “Surely this is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!” In teaching about marriage, Jesus echoed the words of Adam, saying, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

If, then, we become one in the sacrament of marriage, we must commit to oneness, not only in body through the sexual act, but in every area of our lives. We must put off the notion that we continue to be two individuals in a relationship. Rather, we must think of our lives as intimately connected. Successess and failures, joys and hardships, triumphs and travesties are yours together because you are one. There should be no competition, no bitterness, no resentment, only recognition that you both contribute to the whole of your life together.

True submission comes about, not through subservience, but through the conscious efforts of a husband and a wife to define themselves by their marital relationship and unity in body, soul and spirit.

Making the Leap
So, are you ready to recommit to the vows you made on your wedding day? Perhaps even more importantly, are you ready to make the vow of mutual submission to your spouse?

If so, I invite you consider the vows I’ve adapted from the words of Tertullian. I hope you’ll meditate on them and what they truly mean. Then, I hope you join me in taking the leap of making them a promise to your spouse.

I, _________________, take you ______________________

to be my one in hope, desire, and in way of life.

Having entered into the sacrament of matrimony with you, I will put off everything that divides me from you, whether in flesh or spirit, so that we may be united as one body and one spirit.

I promise to pray with you, worship with you, fast with you, instruct you and be instructed by you, encourage you and be encouraged by you, strengthen you and be strengthened by you.

I will stand by you at the banquet table of the Lord, and through all of life’s difficulties.

I will boldly serve the body of Christ with you, and seek to be more like the person of Christ by seeking Him in acts of devotion. As I do this, I will encourage you to do the same, that we might both be more beautiful in his eyes, and more perfect in our spirit.

This I promise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. victoria Martinez permalink
    May 12, 2010 8:57 pm

    “Committing to oneness …” Clearly and beautifully explained. Working to keep marriage focused on the sacramental love relationship is so worth it !! It also makes it stronger. Thanks for the thoughts.

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