I had three weekends of weddings this September — that’s simply how the calendar falls — so the goodness and beauty of marriage is on my mind. Young couples, happy, working at their relationships, looking forward to children and family, and enjoying their special day.

As Genesis 1:31 says, “It is very good.” Yet we so often hear the negatives about being “yoked” or “hitched,” and we hear jokes about “the wife” or we complain about the husband, “you wouldn’t believe what he did.”

In all sober realism, marriage and family is hard — we are confronted with our weaknesses and failures, stretched with our time, patience and communication, and asked to change our ways to accommodate others. Marriage takes work, and IT’S NOT ALWAYS FUN. Yet, the institution of marriage — a Sacrament in some faith traditions — has an amazing dignity and purpose. Keeping that purpose in mind can refresh our resolve and our choice to love, and help us persevere in tough times.

So what is the purpose of marriage? In the Christian thinking, it’s at least three-fold. First, to help each other get to heaven. This life is short. Eternity is forever — and its either heaven or hell. It’s that simple.

If we truly love someone, we want his or her eternal happiness, not just happiness now. Maybe that’s not always on our minds — but what would your marriage look like if your goal was to help your spouse be more virtuous, holy and God-honoring? This doesn’t mean being a jerk to test his or her patience, or pushing buttons, or being difficult with the cop-out claim “I’m making him a saint!” — but it does mean helping the other in moments of failure to start afresh, praying or reading the scriptures together to hear God speak, and bringing God into the home — and not just as a swear word. Would you take the dare of asking the question, “what can I do to help you on your journey?”

The second purpose of marriage is to be a window into heaven. A couple united in love that has the characteristics of being free, total, faithful and fruitful (especially open to new life) actually shows the rest of the world the inner life of the Trinity, where three persons are united in a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful.

Marriage shows the heart of God — that’s amazing! Marriage is also the most commonly used image in the Bible for God’s love for his people, and God loves marriage. After all, Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding in Cana.

Loving your spouse at what he or she thinks is the lowest, ugliest, most awful moments truly reveals how God loves them in that moment. That’s a powerful gift! As a window, marriage also shows how much Jesus Christ loves his bride, the Church. So much, he spent his EVERYTHING for his bride to be holy.

That’s a demanding example — that we spend ourselves, unselfishly, totally for the other — but remember that God also gives extra grace to this relationship. A beautiful phrase goes: “Marriage isn’t about finding the perfect person, but learning to love the imperfect person you’ve chosen to marry.” Never give up on asking God to strengthen your own marriage!

A third purpose of marriage is to change the world for generations to come. Sometimes the darkness around us overwhelms us — but the solution is to be transformed ourselves by living the first two purposes of marriage, and then to “have lots of kids, and raise them right.” The bonus: living this way actually brings more happiness and joy! If you are married and reading this — may God strengthen your marriage this day!

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