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Vision: To Foster Catholic Men's Spirituality in Chicago Southland
Marriage Ethics
Most Reverend Joseph N Perry
“I” is the most important word in cultures of western society.  For us moderns, the “I”, one’s own ego, is the defining lens of reality.  If I say it is, then it is.  If it looks this way to me, then it must be.  If I think it is right, well it’s right and no one can tell me otherwise.  Copernicus got it wrong. The world does not revolve around the sun, it revolves around the “I”.  The universe is not heliocentric, it’s egocentric.
“Want” is the second most important word in western cultures.  In effect, it is the driving force of all action.  Ask any person why they did what they did and eventually when you press back far enough it will come down to the fact that they “wanted to.”  Why did you go to college?  To get a job.  Why did you get a job? To make money.  Why did you make money? To buy the stuff I want.  Why do you buy stuff?  Because I want to!

String the words together and you get the defining phrase of western culture: “I want.”  Deep within us is a longing desire in search for fulfillment – but fulfillment to what end or for what purpose?  The “I” is in search for stable ground on which to anchor our contingent existence. And so we grasp. Our quest is to simply obtain the desire of whatever our ego wants.  Christian wisdom has always advised that this desired fulfillment be directed away from us, away from the ego.

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) instructing Christian faith have something to say about our quest for personal fulfillment.  It is to be found not in the “I” but in the “thou.”

Christian marriage, in particular, demands the sacrifice of this self-serving ego.  Rather than a mutual agreement between two “I wants” marriage is a covenant between two “I do’s.”  One reason it might be set forth for the lack of success of marriages in our day is that marriage, in the Christian sense, is antithetically opposed to the idolization of the “I” in our culture.  But, it’s in the air we breathe and we hardly notice it until we are forced to our knees with some regret for the way we are behaving or moved by some piece of inspiration .

It is the difference between lust and love.  Lust desires the other for the sake of self.  Love desires the other for the sake of the other.  Lust wants.  Love gives.  It is the difference between “I want” and “I do.”

The paradigm for this ethic is found in the life and death of Jesus Christ, the one we call Savior of our lives.  Jesus gave himself for the likes of us and underwent the worse that human beings can mete out to another human being for reasons that he and his Father and the Spirit that fuses them both are in love with the human race.  This Trinitarian God of Christian faith wants us where He is.   This gospel narrative – this paradigm of self-sacrifice is supreme inspiration for all our friendships and especially our marriages and family life.  Some can do this; others don’t have it within them to do this, unfortunately.

So, how does one move from the mindset of “I want” to “I do?  Jesus, in his life’s pattern, death and resurrection gave us reason for living  away from the “I” where human fulfillment is premised precisely in subtracting from ourselves in order to add to someone or some thing else.

How does one change the focus of reality away from the “I” to someone outside of himself or herself?  Such changes are necessary if one is to succeed in a Christian marriage. What we are talking about is a change in the pattern or mode of thinking.  It is a change in habit.  It is the cultivation of those virtues which run contrary to selfish egoism.  It is voluntarily taking up, from a Christian perspective, a critical stance against the culture.  It is the cultivation of an authentic friendship with Jesus Christ in between us.

Selfless virtues are the basis of authentic friendship. This is why the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, trans... Indianapolis:  Hackett, 1999, writes that “those who wish goods to their friends for the friend’s own sake are friends most of all.” Friendship is the willingness to will the good of the other for his or her sake. It looks at the other before considering the “I”.  Friendships are not self-interested.  They simply delight in the goodness of the other as being other.

At the center of “Christian” marriage should exist a most intimate and authentic friendship. This friendship sharpens the relationship between the lovers, purifying their desires of all selfishness. For, says the Greek philosopher, “virtue is forged in friendship.” Authentic friendship teaches one how to be selfless.  It cultivates an attitude of “I do”.  In order to re-establish good and healthy marriages it is important that we come to learn how to have good and healthy friendships.

We Christians have a lot of work to do to overturn the culture by the sheer witness of our Christian lifestyle.  Christianity was meant to season life’s experience as salt and light (Matthew 5, 13-16).  We need more images of self-sacrificing friendship if we would be turned opposite selfish lives and see more clearly the Christ of our faith.

Again, the modeling comes from Jesus and the empirical experience of Christians at their earliest.  The New Testament letter to the Ephesians (5, 25-33) exhorts, “men, love your wives as Christ loves his bride, the Church!”  And how does Christ love his bride?  Well, he sacrificed himself for her.  He bled for her and squeezed out his life for her. There was no egoism or narcissism or me-first in any of that action on his part.

— writers of this article are, Jegar Fickel and Bishop Joseph Perry Mundelein Seminary  2014
" Honoring our wives, which not surprisingly is also one of the best things we can do for our children, requires us to slow down, pay attention, listen, and be truly present." 
-- Joel Schmidt
From   'Journey to Heaven - A Road Map for Catholic Men' by Randy Hain
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