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My son got married last weekend, and his Christmastime nuptials made me think of how the Holy Family’s lessons apply to everyday life. Here are four.
First, God makes things way harder — and way happier — for you.
I know a priest once who had a saying: “Mary got Jesus, and then all her troubles began.” It’s true. Even those God appoints a special task — especially those whom God appoints a special task — can expect things to get harder, not easier.
We see it every Christmas: Because God chose them, Mary and Joseph had to travel and have their baby in a manger, then flee to Egypt.
Having Christ in your family life doesn’t make problems go away. There are new levels of planning that have to happen, new duties and new prohibitions.
But would Mary and Joseph have been happier in a quiet Nazareth life, with no hosts of angels, no gold, frankincense and myrrh? Of course not. And even if they’d had a trouble-free life, a life with no divine purpose, no friendship with God, and no religious ritual would have been far less happy — for them, and for us, too.
Second, your spouse’s flaws are what save you.
Joseph didn’t have to deal with sins in Mary, and we don’t know of sins Mary had to put up with in him. But we do know that she had to travel to Bethlehem for him, and that he had to live a very different marriage to be with her.
We have it worse. Early on in our marriages — and, truth be told, later on, too — our spouse’s flaws seem like our living nightmare. We feel we have put our whole life in the orbit of someone who is too loud, or too quiet; too selfish or too squeamish; too sloppy or too strict.
In fact, though, the things that grate on you like sandpaper turn out to be the very things that smooth out your rough edges. Realizing that you will never have the life you want is the necessary first step to learning that life isn’t about having things you want.
In the end, a “perfect” spouse who met your every selfish desire would be the real nightmare.
Third, you learn that dying is the only way to get to heaven
Another paradox of family life is the enhanced pain of losing family members. Jesus, Mary and Joseph saw this in a stark way in the Magi’s gift of myrrh, a resin that is used to prepare bodies for burial. When Herod’s massacre of the innocents came, it might have seemed that the gift was appropriate because they would have immediate need of it themselves.
At my son’s wedding, the family of the bride had to leave behind a grandmother entering hospice. Marriage brings death closer than ever to us, as we feel the loss of two families’ loved ones.
Ultimately heaven is the only acceptable answer to the mystery of death. Praying for souls’ salvation has the power to let the pain of death lead to greater love rather than greater despair.
Fourth, you learn that to serve is Godlike; being served not so much.
Last, marriage puts us in a position where we must serve others and we place others in a position where they serve us. Serving brings harmony and happiness; expecting to be served breeds disharmony and strife.
This stands to reason. Look at how God behaves. We only stay in existence because God keeps us in existence. That’s true metaphysically — we are contingent; God is not — but also in ordinary ways. His providence gives us what we need, his talents earn our salary, his hope keeps us alive.
So if God isn’t too good to devote his very existence to serving you, you shouldn’t be afraid to give your life to serving someone else.
Look at the action verbs ascribed to Mary and Joseph in the Gospels this Christmas. Mary “believed,” said “be it done to me according to your word,” “wrapped him” and “laid him” in the manger. Joseph “took Mary” “went up” to Bethlehem, “rose” from sleep, and “took the child and his mother” by night to Egypt.
If feelings of love die out in your marriage, do what they did and act. Feelings follow actions, not the other way around.