Marriage and the First & Second Beatitudes

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The first Beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” At first glance, this Beatitude seems to be talking about a material poverty. And certainly, one of the major sources of conflict and divorce in marriage are money fights and problems. But to stop at the solutions of proper financial management and budgeting techniques does not adequately address the motivation of why to have sound financial practices in the first place. Ultimately, the desire to limit consumption and be a proper steward would come from the deeper understanding of poverty, particularly poverty of spirit.

Poverty of spirit allows the couple to realize that their happiness does not consist of “keeping up with the Jones” but rather “keeping up the Martins.” Louis and Zelie Martin, recently canonized, were a married couple that exhibited poverty of spirit within a middle class lifestyle in Post Revolutionary France. They lived a restrained life, focusing on the Lord’s will in their married lives within a materialistic culture. The Martins demonstrated poverty of spirit with this sentiment, “Blessed are they who know they need God. God can do little for those who do not know they need him.”[1] The Martins detachment from materialism would allow them to see the responsible use of their finances as a tool for following God’s will. An immediate secondary effect of this detachment is a unified peaceful marriage in regards to money.

The second Beatitude is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Surely this Beatitude talking about profound sorrow has nothing to say about being happy, and in particular happiness within marriage? But is that true? What do mourning and blessedness in marriage have in common?

Consider the definition of marriage, which is, “A covenant or partnership between a man and woman which is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children. When validly contracted between two baptized people, marriage is a sacrament.”[2] To be quite honest, does it not seem impossible for two different sexes to remain devoted for all of one’s life?

Within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns his attention to marriage and divorce. In Matthew 5:31-32 Jesus declares with authority, 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew again repeats this new law in Matthew 19:8-9. The disciples respond in verse 10 “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” Expedient is a mild word. Not marrying at all would seem to be their opinion because divorce was so commonplace both within Judaism and the larger Greco-Roman world. Consider this observation from preeminent biblical scholars, “But the disciples holding a view of marriage and divorce akin to that in Ecclus 25.16-26, and reasoning that a lifetime commitment to one woman is more burdensome than no commitment at all, reach a conclusion also reached by certain Essenes and Greek and Roman philosophers: it is better not to marry.”[3] If one adds to a daunting command of monogamy with the task of raising children, suffering and mourning are sure to follow. Jesus promises blessings in this situation as well.

Many a couple has bought into the Disney lie of “happily ever after”. When suffering and hardship comes, or the feelings of romance wane thin, thoughts turn to disappointment, regret, and divorce. Perhaps, a well-meaning friend might suggest therapy and better communication techniques, which are certainly quite helpful, but not without a presupposition that suffering is a universal experience with positive value.

All experience suffering. Yet the media often makes trials and suffering in marriage a reason for divorce. Jesus, of all the ways He could chose to save mankind, chose suffering because it is universal. “It is the power of Christ’s love that suffering is transformed and becomes the instrument of the Gospel. Here a bond is forged between suffering and love. We can already perceive an image of this at the level of human love.”[4] Jesus through his example of a crucified love takes something harsh and transforms it into something good. The couple also has this same capacity from the graces bestowed from the sacrament.

Good communication techniques, though helpful, are not adequate to support a couple that mourns the loss of a child or a debilitating illness. Only the love of Christ, who experienced suffering Himself, will sustain this couple. Marriages founded on Christ can find comfort in the midst of their afflictions and those most united to Him will ultimately find peace. How many times have I both heard and experienced within mourning, the comfort that the Father gives to those who love Him. There is a “happy ever after” but not in the Disney sense. It is in the “Resurrection” sense. Couples would be better served if this Beatitude of mourning were honesty faced, with the Paschal mystery given as the solution. Then the various communication techniques would have a stronger foundation. Closely tied to poor communication as a stumbling block for many couples is the response of anger and revenge.

To be continued…

            [1] George Montague, Companion of God, Cross-Cultural Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Paulist Press: New York) 51

            [2] CCC §887

            [3] W. D. Davies and Dales C. Allison, Jr., The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Volume III, (T&T Clark: Edinburgh) 19

            [4] Servais Pinckaers, OP Pursuit of Happiness- God’s Way, Living the Beatitudes (Wipf & Stock: Eugene, OR) 87

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