It’s wedding season. If your parish is beautiful, chances are, it’s booked for the next couple of months or more. For many couples, the perfect wedding includes a May or June reception, and all the beauty that comes with spring, and it’s not without significance: spring is the birth of beauty, just as marriage should be the birth of an unbreakable union dedicated to beauty, holiness, and truth.
Marriage in the United States has been under political assault for some time — and I’m not just talking about our recent fracas with homosexual unions. In fact, our modern struggle with homosexual unions is really just the natural progression of a general assault on marriage that has been moving in force at least since the sexual revolution. This same assault is affronting family life, and its effect on the stability of society and the health of inter-personal relationships in general has been much-discussed and well-documented.
So my intention in this column is not to contribute to the heap of arguments stacked up against gay “marriage” or the explosion of no-fault divorce or any other assault on marriage. What I am more interested in as a priest is fixing the problem.
My Uncle once taught me about a concept called the “sphere of influence.” Each of us has a group of people with which we have some influence. Some people can influence only a couple of people — perhaps just a spouse or a child. Some people have influence over thousands — folks like the President or the Pope. Our sphere of influence really defines how we are able to practice our faith: it controls the degree to which we can witness to the love of Christ in the world.
The principle of the sphere of influence means that I spend the vast majority of my efforts trying to influence those whom I have the ability to influence. This is an extremely important thing to recognize if we are to re-evangelize the world. Who is it that I am able to influence? First, my immediate family, then, my friends, and then, perhaps their friends. If I am going to be successful, I have to stick within my competency.
I’m not trying to denigrate the general Christian witness. All of us have had experiences where the actions of a stranger have moved us to be better people. A Christian is a Christian at all times and in all things, but, our active efforts, our apostolates, our evangelical activity — these must begin within the realm of our sphere of influence.
When we consider the assaults that are being leveled against marriage on the national and international levels, we can be paralyzed by the grandness of the problem and the smallness of our influence, but we must have faith: if I influence those with whom I have some pull, then I am doing an enormous good. The witness of one beautiful and holy marriage can change dozens or even hundreds of marriages, or maybe it just changes one, or maybe it just nurtures saintly children. The point is, we have to be realistic about what we can do, and we have to recognize that the small changes we are able to make will have much more effect than all of the polemic we might level against our adversaries.
All of the complaining in the world about the assaults against marriage will not produce one good marriage. Good marriages come from faithful people who recognize that they themselves are fallen and have to work on their own basic Christian lives, who surround themselves with good people, and try to share the joy they have received from God with other people, one person at a time.
Marriage was being destroyed by Christians long before other groups jumped on board, and frankly, it’s a bit ridiculous for us to only now be so up in arms about it. Marriage prep has been in shambles in our country for years, and even good people can be very closed to the truth of the faith, not to mention that those who prepare couples are often afraid to speak of the truth!
If we are going to reclaim marriage as a gift from God, as the expression of a true vocation — a call from the Lord, as the one means for a particular man and a particular woman to make it to heaven, we have to begin with renewing existing marriages. It begins with your marriage and with your family, and it involves making choices. We cannot be completely plugged in people busy every single night with never a moment to spare for living in an actual family if we are going to live the vocation we have been given. Those of you who have families: your call from God, the very way you are going to get to heaven, is through your family. It’s not a matter of how you might think you’re doing. After all, we often have heightened opinions of our own efforts. The question is whether God, who knows you inside out, would look at every action of your day and question whether it is oriented to your fundamental vocation — be it marriage, consecrated life, or priesthood.
If, when I stand before the Lord, I cannot defend every action of my life as being in keeping with my vocation as a priest, then I’m in trouble. If you cannot stand before God and defend every action you do in the world as in accord with your family and your marriage, then you will be in trouble. God is merciful (thank goodness!), and he gives us the sacrament of Confession to help us overcome our failures, which are many, but we cannot be satisfied with failure. We have to cooperate with God’s grace, and we have to influence others to do the same.
The defenses of marriage that are going on right now are important and timely and, frankly, inspiring. But more important and more inspiring is the witness that you as a married person offer to those around you. The renewal of marriage begins with you! Your simple witness will be more effective than all the legal actions in the world, because it is through witnesses, from person to person, that our faith has always been and will always be shared.