The Catholic Church has taught me a thought-provoking and humbling view of marriage: that its goal is for each spouse to help the other get to Heaven. Even if you don't believe in Heaven, you might be able to at least support the core notion that married couples ought to be helping each other to become better people. If that's the case, my husband is certainly up for a challenge, because I have my fair share of vices to kick. Fortunately for him (and for me), I've found that simply the state of being married is in and of itself good for my soul. Every day of our marriage gives us abundant opportunities to grow in the four cardinal virtues - prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. These are habitual attitudes which, when acquired by effort, allow a person to lead a peaceful, joyful life.
To be prudent is to make careful, wise decisions that are for your ultimate good. My husband and I have been offered many opportunities to practice prudence, especially when it comes to our finances. As we struggle to incorporate a baby girl into our budget, we have to carefully weigh our priorities and make decisions that may not lead to immediate gratification but will ultimately be the best choices for our family. If we were each on our own, we'd only have to meet our own needs, but being part of a marriage forces us to put the good of others ahead of our individual desires.
To be just is to strive for equity in human relationships according to each person's due. My husband and I try to be fair in everything from housework to entertainment. He might not want to do the laundry, but he knows it's not fair for me to do all the chores. I might not want to watch the comedy that's shown up from Netflix, but I know it's not fair for me to choose every movie we watch. Sacrifice may be required, but it ultimately shows that we're equal partners in our marriage and creates a sense of harmony.
According to the Catechism, "The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions." My husband is my rock. His patience and reassurance when my world seems to be crumbling down around me give me the strength to face whatever comes. One of the most beautiful aspects of marriage is having a partner who has promised to never leave, no matter what. Having that constant source of strength allows me to grow in fortitude.
To practice temperance is to be able to resist temptations, keep from overindulging, and master instincts. One key way in which my husband and I grow in temperance on a regular basis is through the use of Natural Family Planning. Each month that we decide we cannot financially, physically, emotionally, or mentally support another child, we have to practice temperance in our sex life. To have control of our instincts helps us to grow closer as a couple and, as Christopher West teaches, makes the "yes" mean so much more.
Sometimes society refers to marriage as "unnatural" and claims that human beings aren't meant to spend their whole lives with just one person. Well, one could also argue that virtues are "unnatural." It's human nature to be selfish rather than to give to another, to cave to desire rather than overcome it. But perhaps we're called to rise above human nature - to conquer our vices, strive for virtue, and ultimately realize a different and more complete happiness. My husband shows me the unconditional love I need in order to feel safe enough to make mistakes and strong enough to strive toward a better version of myself. Perhaps he will help me get to Heaven after all.
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