Since, according to a friend, it's marriage prep weekend in the Pembroke Diocese and the Kerrs are actually going to a wedding this afternoon, I thought I'd write a little bit about marriage. I actually want to write about friends of ours - married for 26 years, with 8 children. I won't name them - they would be mortified.
What's especially appealing about them as a subject is that they defy certain a priori conceptualizing. They are not your typical holy-rolling mass-reproducers, for lack of a better expression. They do not see maximizing reproduction as an end in itself, as, let's be honest here, some pro-lifers seem to. That is sinful. Every life is an end in itself; a life is not a number. I dislike all this treating souls like numbers business. How many times have I been told, "They've got ___ children!" - as if that was an indication of anything! How do they treat these children, I ask? Are they happy, well-cared for, loved as individuals, or is mom so overwhelmed that she lies in bed all day as the children raise themselves or the neighbours raise them?
But for my friends in question, there is no doubt: each of their 8 kids, who range from 24 to 4, are loved thoroughly, and as individuals. What my friends were able to pull off was to me a great comfort as Anne-Marie and I faced the very difficult decision of moving our kids from homeschooling to the local Catholic school. Since their children turned out so good - the older ones anyway - I realized it was possible for ours to be okay too. And I'm not a person easily convinced.
I knew that they raised their children well, for one, because of the way these young people would take care of my toddler when we'd come to visit. Two, they honoured their parents, despite the fact that these are normal, energetic - and for the most part - young men. They all had great work-ethics too, just like their parents. There is never any offensive or disrespectful language in their home. It's their second oldest son who I know the best, and in fact I knew him before I knew mom and dad. He is - next to me - the funniest guy in Barry's Bay. He always has me in stitches. But more than this he is one of the cleanest living guys I know. I won't elaborate, but take my word for it, he impresses me.
In the end, they are a close family, who, despite all the obstacles in today's world that makes family life difficult, they are a shining example of what a loving marriage can produce.
And it all traces back to mom and dad. Good-living defines them. They are not wealthy; they are hard-workers. They help each other, they pray together, mass is the centre of their lives. They have had hard times and, thus, are blessed with a humble understanding of who they are and what life is all about. We actually bonded over the similarity of our trials, and we have profited greatly from their wisdom and encouragement. The thing that impresses me most about this mom and dad is that they love each other and never put anyone or anything above the other. He is a model for me in how he treats his wife. She is his queen, but not in a way that is based on weakness of character and on a failure to lead his family. He doesn't joke about other women. She is the most beautiful woman in the world to him, and that is important for a wife to hear, to know.
They are normal people - I know that I've used that word already. By 'normal' I mean people for whom doing the right thing is a struggle against real physical drives within them. I cannot relate to people who never have trouble with virtue, who never have to hold themselves back. Such people scare me actually. Virtue is doing the hard thing, consistently. It is not doing the 'right' thing because you have long been terrified against life. Virtue is not phobia that has been ensconced by one's over-bearing mother since the nursery - believe it or not. Virtue is obeying God and reason because you love the Good God more than yourself. It is not obeying the ever-living ghost of one's mother, having failed to grow-up. I am more impressed when I see the twinkle of mischievousness in the eye while yet choosing to do the right thing. That is my experience.
I don't have a recipe for a perfect marriage. And our friends who are marrying this afternoon will have a great number of struggles - and more than likely a greater number of blessings - there is no preventing the former. So, if I was at this marriage prep stuff, what would I want to say? There would be a number of things - contraception can only hurt your marriage, for one. But I guess it would be most of all follow the Gospel. Love each other. Husband be a husband, wife be a wife. Forgive, embrace, discuss, compromise. This is what I see in the couple I have been discussing today.