In the Sacrament of Matrimony, we are called to love each other fully in word, spirit, and deed, not only on our wedding day, but every day of our lives. That’s why the celebration of love just once a year on Valentine’s Day – the origins of which include a Roman fertility ritual and the execution of the martyr Valentine on February 14 – felt counterintuitive to me. It didn’t help that Valentine’s Day evolved into a consumerist holiday benefiting greeting card and chocolate corporations. But, after I got married, I realized that we can reframe this day in a Catholic way: Valentine’s Day can be an opportunity for couples to reenergize their commitment to each other.
The best place to begin this re-commitment is the Bible. Though many relationships in the Old and New Testaments reveal the pitfalls of sinfulness and the reality of our human brokenness, many also demonstrate how spouses can be wholly committed to each other. These holy unions, while far from perfect, are built on similar foundations, and we can use these lessons as models for our own marriages.
Trust triumphs over darkness.
Every marriage faces hardships, but we can survive life’s struggles together if we put our trust in God. Early on in my marriage, for example, my husband and I found it challenging to spend quality time together, as he had a rotational work schedule that made him spend most weekends at work. Our days off hardly ever coincided, and planning for family gatherings was a logistical nightmare. We realized that to deepen our union, we had to take time in our daily lives to fully enjoy each other’s company, which took commitment and communication. But these were lessons that benefited us in the long run. And now, in our fourth year of marriage, my husband’s schedule was finally adjusted to reflect a standard work week. Weekends together now feel like long-awaited blessings, and we soak in every minute of our time together.
There are many struggles that can strain a marriage. Several couples in the Bible faced a particular challenge: infertility. Many modern married couples, including some of my close friends, also suffer this specific struggle in private silence. Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 15-23), Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24-27), Elkanah and Hannah (1 Samuel 1–2:21), and Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-24) relied on God to direct the course of their lives. Through prayer and patience, they remind us that we are never alone in our struggles. God is with us to comfort and carry us. Ultimately, God blessed these couples with children – and some exceptional ones, too, like Jacob, Samuel, and John the Baptist.
However, whether or not children are part of God’s plan for us, we can strengthen our resolve as married couples by trusting in his will – and accepting it. We must be patient when our marriages are tested, keep praying even when things seem impossible, and remember that God’s blessings are always worth waiting for, in whatever form they come.
Kindness is key.
There’s a saying I’m particularly partial to: “Happy wife, happy life.” But there is truth in this: If spouses aim to keep each other happy, marital life is more peaceful and joyful.
One way to maintain authentic happiness is through kindness. Being kind to each other goes a long way, as we see in the story of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 1-4). Ruth, who had been living in the land of the Moabites, lost her spouse and had no one to turn to. She and her mother-in-law Naomi returned to Israel, and Ruth sought out work. She found herself in Boaz’s fields, and though she was a foreigner, Boaz permitted her to work there. He ordered his men not to touch her and to treat her with respect. Boaz gave her lodging and invited her to share meals with him. In return, Ruth was grateful for all the help she could get. Eventually, Boaz and Ruth wed.
This power couple shows us that kindness means accepting and respecting each other. It means being patient with each other, helping with chores, taking on more when your spouse is stressed or exhausted, listening, and forgiving. Kindness is loving the person – and showing it.
Shared goals give purpose.
Shared values and vision provide purpose for a couple’s shared life. Working towards something together is often more meaningful and enjoyable than going at it alone. My husband and I, for instance, agree that we want to live a life as simply and naturally as possible. This means having adventures in the great outdoors, prioritizing time with our family, and attending to daily joys together, like cooking and dog walking. In the long run, we hope to have our own homestead, raise chickens, and build a family in faith. In the New Testament, Priscilla and Aquila also shared a vision, playing an integral part in the spread of the early Church (Acts 18:2-3, Acts 18-19, Acts 26; Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). After Claudius had evicted Jews from Rome, the couple settled in Corinth. There, they met St. Paul and followed him to Ephesus to evangelize, housing disciples and training them in the faith. The couple was so in sync with each other that Priscilla and Aquila are never mentioned separately in the Bible. In this way, they teach us that married couples are strongest when they are working together. This doesn’t mean spouses should always be glued to the hip, but that the strongest marriages are those unified in values and vision.
A good Christian marriage is a holy one.
To find a true, authentic model of Christian marriage, we need look no further than the ultimate power couple: Mary and Joseph. There were many tests in their marriage: Mary’s pregnancy before being betrothed to Joseph; King Herod’s decree of infanticide which drove them to flee to Egypt; losing their son Jesus in Jerusalem during the Passover festival. And there were no doubt many private hardships that Mary pondered in her heart (Luke 2:19). But through it all, Mary and Joseph strove to lean on each other to uncover God’s purpose for them and follow his path, wherever it would lead them. And this ultimate partnership – this ultimate true love – enabled them to create a holy home, one which raised the Son of Man and Son of God.
These power couples from the Bible can inspire us to recommit ourselves to our spouses this Valentine’s Day. Though it is conventionally a secular holiday, we can celebrate it in our own Catholic way, by reflecting on our role in our marriages, recommitting all our strength, faith, and love to our chosen ones, and dedicating our union to God. Plus, it is a good excuse to just have a little fun. We usually crack open a bottle of champagne and cook a meal together. (So, despite my prior jab at the consumerist aspect of the day, husbands and spouses alike, take note: flowers, chocolate, a date night, or a wonderful home-cooked meal will still be happily accepted.)