The following is a talk given by Tim Rohr at the Catholic Men's Conference, January 19, 2013, Santa Barbara Parish Church, Dededo Guam.
While I am not known for my lack of opinions on a variety of topics, the fact that I have been married nearly 28 years to the same woman and am the father of 11 children, ages 27 to 4, makes marriage and family probably the only topic on which I am actually authorized to speak.
However, by way of a disclaimer, I speak only for myself and do not represent the Catholic Church or this Archdiocese in any official capacity. Thus, if I say anything that does not comport with your views or your understanding of marriage and family, feel free to disagree or ignore.
I do hope however, that something I might share will give a few here the encouragement to keep at it, even if only for one more day, and then the next and the next, if you know what I mean.
The title of my talk is The Sacramentally Married Couple and the Call to Spiritual Warfare, and while it is not uncommon to think of warfare and marriage in the same thought, my talk is going to be about something a bit different than what those two words may first bring to mind.
In short, this whole talk can be boiled down to a single statement:
Your spouse is not your enemy. Satan is.
I came across this statement in a book entitled HOW TO ACT RIGHT WHEN YOUR SPOUSE ACTS WRONG, of which I will speak more about later. It probably would have had little effect on me had I not been immersed in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
The whole beginning for John Paul’s theological presentation of sex and marriage, Theology of the Body, is Genesis 1:27-28, which reads:
God created man in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female* he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.
Let’s take that apart. But first, let’s look at the verse immediately preceding this where God says: “Let US make man in our image.” “Let US”. So who’s he talking to? .... Of course He’s speaking to the other persons of the Blessed Trinity.
John Paul II emphasizes that God is a “community of persons”, thus when God makes man in his image, he makes a community, a “them”, a male and female. But that’s only two. Where’s the third?
In the Nicene Creed we speak of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity as proceeding from the Father and the Son. John Paul II notes in TOB that it is the Father eternally loving the Son which eternally begets the Holy Spirit.
We are now getting into deep mystery and theology and we needn’t go further. But we can see that God, in making man in his image, in making them male and female, and right out of the box, commanding them to be fruitful, wherein the two beget the third, we can see that the fruitful married couple is God’s design and the earthy image of the Trinity.
As an aside, this is why the artificial negation of fertility in the marital act is wrong because in intending against the issuance of “a third person”, it offends against the image of God as Trinity.
A word needs to be said here about natural infertility. The marital act in which one or both partners are naturally sterile is still just as fertile by intent as a marital act between both partners who are naturally fertile.
The reason is this. The married couple, regardless of their ability to conceive, only have control over the pro-creative act, not - assuming there is no attempt to artificially prevent conception - over whether or not a sperm unites with an ovum. That part we leave to God - which is why the Church considers non-natural conception (artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization) just as morally wrong as artificial contraception, but that’s another topic.
God’s command to the couple to be fruitful and multiply is not an afterthought, it is part of a single creative act. He at once creates them, creates them married, and creates them fruitful. Their union and the fruitful nature of that union can no more be separated than can be the Trinity in whose image they were created.
But this being created in His image is precisely why, ever since the Fall, marriage has been ground zero for all the powers of hell. Satan hates God, but cannot attack him directly. Therefore Satan attacks the next closest thing: God’s image. And what is his image? Us, the sacramentally married couple.
Should we then be surprised when all hell breaks loose in a marriage? Marriage is a cosmic battleground. All the forces of heaven and hell are arrayed on either side of the marriage bed. And you thought you were alone.
But before we go on, I’d like to establish one more thing. It is common for popular lecturers on this topic to speak of a married couple who is "open to life”. But this is an unnecessary and perhaps even misleading appendage.
As mentioned earlier, the fertility of the first married couple was not an afterthought but intrinsic to their creation, to their being made in the image of the Trinity. Thus, at least in my mind, it is incorrect to speak of a sacramentally married couples who is “open to life”, for not to be open to life is simply not to be married.
However, I do understand that its usage is today sometimes made necessary given the propensity of married couples to play God with their fertility.
Let’s review. We have established 1) that the sacramentally married couple is the very image of God in this world; 2) that Satan hates God but cannot attack him directly; and 3) unable to attack God directly, Satan attacks the next closest thing: the sacramentally married couple.
And these days he has more weapons than ever: government mandated contraception, gas station condoms, pornography on your phone, hundreds of channels channelling soul-enslaving smut into what should be the sanctuary of your home with but a touch of your tired thumb.
And he’s winning. Divorce, abandonment, abortion, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, the normalization of homosexual acts, child abuse, the redefinition of the family.... And in case you think we are talking about somewhere else, think again.
Guam has the second highest divorce rate in the world, has an out-of-wedlock pregnancy rate that is 1.5 times higher than the rest of the nation, a child abuse rate 10 times higher than the rest of the nation, ranks 17th in the world in number of abortions per capita, aborts one child every 1.2 days, aborts one out of every 10 pregnancies - 75% of which are Chamorro and Filipino and thus probably Catholic.
And when we put those numbers up against the fact that Guam is host to the largest Catholic population per capita in the nation it is all the more evident that Satan is winning and winning where it really matters: with Catholics.
But of course Guam is not alone. The Catholic world everywhere is fast unravelling. Catholic Ireland is about to legalize abortion. Belgium, the home of St. Damien of Molokai and many other great missionaries, is at the forefront of normalizing euthanasia. Italy, once the most Catholic nation on earth, has the lowest birthrate in all Europe.
And the Philippines, the most populous Catholic nation in the world, has just accepted government mandated birth control - the measure being passed by a Catholic legislature and signed into law by a Catholic president.
Pope Benedict recognized that Satan would win - for a while - that there would be a winnowing of chaff - that the Church would be “sifted like wheat” - when at the beginning of his pontificate he made reference to his belief that the Church would get smaller before it got bigger.
In saying this he was referring to something he had said thirty years earlier and only a few years after the close of Vatican II. While many at that time were looking towards the much promised “springtime of the Church”, the future Pope said this:
The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.
It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death. (Faith and Future)
Of course, for the Pope, as for all faithful Catholics, our hope is in Christ and in his promise that the gates of hell will not prevail. And this is where we as married people come in.
The world has lost sight of God because the image of God on earth has been shattered. It is up to us, sacramentally married couples, to restore that image that the world may once again look upon it and be healed.
And we will restore that image when we return to our original nuptial essence, when we embrace the original design of fruitful union wherein the image of the Trinity and the creative power of God is most concretely realized, in the begetting of a “third”.
But we cannot do that so long as Satan sits at our table and pokes us in our beds.
Once upon a time, Catholics were better equipped for spiritual warfare. Even the most basic children’s catechisms taught us of how to recognize the evil one, how to combat his evil design, and the dreadful consequences of not doing so.
Spiritual warfare was not just an art left to monks. The ordinary layman had access to this art through the examples of saints, through great manuals of the spiritual life such as the Imitation of Christ, and St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, and warfare specific manuals such as Dom Scupoli’s Spiritual Combat, as well as the constant encouragement of clergy and religious to be ever vigilant against the Evil One as Christ had warned.
But somewhere along the line, we got soft. Sure, minus those constant reminders of sin and hell we may have a kinder, gentler, and more welcoming church. But let’s face it, there are a whole lot less people to welcome, and certainly a lot less children.
It’s not that the Church is not aware of this attack on marriage, it’s just that, in my view, most of our leadership does not know how to fight back. The USCCB website ForYourMarriage.org offers the typical relationship advice: improved communication skills, recommendations for date nights, sentimental marriage success stories, and the like. And most books on marriage do the same.
But apart from the magisterial teaching of our Popes, nothing addresses marriage as warfare. Nothing recognizes the sacramentally married couple as Satan’s target. Nothing arms the married couple for the cataclysm and satanic hatred that awaits them on the other side of their marriage vows.
And then there’s the target within the target, the contraceptive manipulation of the marital act into an act of sexual fraud, a lie perpetrated by the father of lies. A lie which leaves married people old before their time, riddled with regrets, sick with loneliness, and, as science is now exposing, victims of chemically spawned cancers.
We cannot engage Satan’s attack on marriage by just learning new skills on how to be nice to each other. All of Hell is arrayed against our sacramental commitment and we’re reading books about how men and women come from different planets.
So what to do?
First we must recognize that Satan hates our marriage. Next, of course we must arm ourselves with sacramental grace and with prayer. But we must also become wise in the ways of spiritual combat so that we know when to run and when to stay and fight. And for this there is no better book than the classic SPIRITUAL COMBAT. At first, it may seem foreign, but you will soon be nodding your head.
Then we must become students of marriage, of God’s plan for marriage so that we don’t confuse it with our own. Two books I recommend here are COVENANTED HAPPINESS and SEX AND THE MARRIAGE COVENANT.
There’s more, but I’ll finish with this. We must understand the cost of unconditional love. And most of us don’t.
One very overused story at most weddings is part of the problem. The pastor tells the story about the pig and the chicken who plan to have breakfast together with the chicken providing the eggs and the pig providing the bacon. The pig complains that he has to put in 100% while the chicken only contributes partially.
The story is used to illustrate that in order for marriage to succeed, the self-donation of the spouses cannot be 50/50 but 100/100. It sounds nice and everybody smiles, but in fact, it is not only incorrect, it may possibly set up expectations that will soon lead to disappointment and divorce.
The real success ratio is 100 to 0, because this in fact, is precisely what unconditional love is: the willingness to love fully and keep one’s commitment not only when there is nothing in return, but even when one’s giving is met with disdain, insults, and hostile rejection, and with no hope of that situation every changing.
And this is what the book HOW TO ACT RIGHT WHEN YOUR SPOUSE ACTS WRONG addresses. Almost every other marriage self-help book deals with restoring your relationship. HOW TO ACT RIGHT deals with the fact that you may never restore your relationship, you may never fix your marriage, you may never “be in love” again. But despite all that, you can and must act right anyway. And then the rest is up to God.
The vulnerability of marriage, in that it requires both emotional and physical nakedness, is a vulnerability like no other, which means that a spouse can wound you in a way that no one else can. And this is precisely why Satan likes to pick at us. A mere look or tone, that no one else would find offensive, will shoot through an offended spouse like a rifle shot and twist and wound your soul like few things can.
This is why it is critical that you see Satan as your enemy and not your spouse. It is Satan who hates you not your spouse. He or she is just the unwitting tool.
Lest you think that I’m a little too heavy on the dark side, here are a few reminders of what Scripture says:
Mark states that Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons" (Mark 1:39).
John warns: "the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19)
Jesus referred to Satan as "the prince of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)
And Paul called Satan: the god of this age" (2 Cor.4:4)
Th imagery of spiritual warfare is most especially displayed in the Book of Revelation when after the War in Heaven (Rev.12:7), the beasts and kings of the earth wage war against God's people (Rev.19:19), and a final battle ensues with Satan and the nations of the earth against God himself (Rev.20:8).
Thus the battle between heaven and hell rages on the earth with us caught in the crossfire.
The challenge for us is to engage the battle and win heaven for ourselves, our spouses, and our families. And we will do this when we stop warring with each other and together begin warring against hell by restoring our marriages to the image of the life-giving Triume God they were destined to be.