Three Secrets to Holiness in Marriage
A 33-Day Self-Guided Retreat for Catholic Couples
By Dan and Amber DeMatte
Ave Maria Press 2018
198 pages; $17
It’s no secret that the vast majority of present-day marriages aren’t living up to their potential. It’s also no secret that a common reason for marriages being deprived of passion and purpose is rampant complacency among spouses. Many of us just don’t care enough, or have the time, to challenge ourselves to be better, to do better.
That’s why Dan and Amber DeMatte’s new book, Three Secrets to Holiness in Marriage: A 33-Day Self-Guided Retreat for Catholic Couples, serves as a refreshing and informative wake-up call for married couples in search of a courageous mission for their relationship.
A do-it-yourself retreat, the book contains 33 chapters, each representing a different day. The first several pages of each day introduce and discuss an important biblical theme for marriage, such as obedience, followed by thought-provoking discussion questions and then a prayer for couples to say together.
My husband and I found ourselves immersed in multiple impactful conversations about ourselves, our interactions with each other and our marriage in general as a result of some of the questions posed by the authors.
For example, “When do we feel as if our spouse is not hearing our needs?” forced us to honestly open up about the areas where we struggle and are in need of each other’s support.
The DeMattes, an adorably humorous and genuine duo with four little ones, possess a wealth of knowledge about the sacrament of marriage, as well as family life. Since they both have extensive experience in youth and adult ministry, they have been deep in the trenches and have seen where spouses struggle and sin due to lack of direction in areas like finances and sexuality.
At one point, Dan relays a conversation he had after speaking to a group of men about giving more of themselves in order to remedy problems like homelessness and human trafficking.
“After the session was over, a man came up to me and asked, ‘Why should I make their problem my problem?’ … He went on to explain how he works hard for his money, and he feels as if he should only look after ‘me and my own,’ as he put it. After a few minutes of conversing, the Spirit filled me with words to say, ‘… What if Jesus had that mentality about the problem of our sin and death? You see, Jesus made our problem his problem. So if you want to be a Christian, you freely choose to make their problem your problem.’”
In spite of their aptitude as Catholics, spouses, parents, ministers, speakers and more, the DeMattes in no way lord their experience or expertise over their readers. They write with a humble authenticity that makes it clear that they struggle and stumble just like the rest of us.
“We haven’t written this retreat from the mountaintop of perfection, telling you to climb the mountain as we have,” they write. “We have written [it] as fellow climbers, striving to reach the summit of perfect love, knowing that the climb will be long and difficult but will come with great reward in the end.”
One of the most enlightening aspects of the book for me personally was its message that marriage is supposed to aid us in imitating Jesus.
Like many others, I once assumed that those who embrace religious vocations that require celibacy are automatically superior imitators of Jesus. The DeMattes effectively squash that false assumption, making it clear that marriage is a beautiful opportunity to become more like Christ, not less.
Specifically, they elaborate on how the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taken by those entering religious life can and should be observed by married individuals, as well. The authors clarify what each one of those three evangelical counsels is, since there exists a great deal of misunderstanding about them and what they entail.
Chastity, for example, is often incorrectly assumed to mean only abstinence from sex. However, “Chastity — giving and receiving love as Christ gives and receives love — should be seen as a virtue that is forged through the daily lives of married couples. Whenever the couple gives completely of themselves to the other and to their children, they are promoting and living conjugal chastity.”
Poverty is another counsel that is often mistakenly assumed to mean only a renouncement of all wealth and possessions.
Once again, the DeMattes educate readers by making “a distinction between destitution and Gospel poverty,” as they put it. “Wealth and Gospel poverty aren’t opposed to one another. Gospel poverty doesn’t evaluate how much profit one makes, but rather how the one who profits uses their wealth.”
Although enlightening, encouraging and even exciting in its unusual approach to a holy, spousal lifestyle, Three Secrets to Holiness in Marriage is nothing short of a challenge. There were times after completing a chapter that I found myself uncomfortably forced to evaluate my own habits and choices. But the evaluation led to necessary conversations and changes that have strengthened our relationship and helped us flourish. A thriving marriage, after all, is what the authors are hoping to help their readers achieve.
As the DeMattes note, “We don’t know about you, but we want to be fully alive. We want our marriage and our family to be everything God created it to be. We don’t want to survive — we want to thrive.”
Elizabeth Pardi writes from Columbus, Ohio.