If you want to be a better father, love your wife. If you want to be a better husband, love God.
Last week, Lisa and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Like many couples who achieve this silver milestone, we took some time to reflect back on a quarter-century together: on the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings that we have experienced both as a married couple and as a family. Recollecting our earliest days together, I kept thinking of the advice that the priest who administered our Pre-Cana instruction gave me: “If you want to be a good father, love your wife.”
True as those words are, in two and a half decades of marriage, I have discovered that there is a prior truth: If you want to be a good husband, love God.
The child who grows up watching his father express affection, devotion, protection, and attention toward his wife grows up with an array of gifts that are impossible to fully quantify. As Pope Benedict XVI put it: “Would that our children might experience more the harmony and affection between their parents, rather than disagreements and discord, since the love between father and mother is a source of great security for children and its teaches them the beauty of a faithful and lasting love.”
Just as their father’s love for their mother creates a sense of security for children, so does a husband’s love for God create a sense of well-being and fulfillment for his wife. For a Catholic husband to love God is to welcome the sacramental grace of marriage, and in a most personal way, to embrace that grace is to embrace his wife: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Moreover, while marriage is a great good, it is nourished and strengthened by the other sacraments, which also bring the couple together.
It is my experience that when I go to Confession, I come back home feeling closer to Lisa. When we attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, I feel more devoted to her. After I spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament, I sense a closer union with her.
Why is that? What do good acts—seemingly unrelated to Lisa—have to do with her? The answer lies in the Catechism: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”
Holy Matrimony is “ordered toward the good of the spouses,” but not mere natural goods like heath, money, and shelter; it is ultimately ordered toward the ultimate good of eternal life. A good husband desires eternal happiness for his wife; he desires that they enter Heaven together.
In his 20th Homily on Ephesians, St. John Chrysostom writes that husbands should address their wives with these words:
So I gave up these things, and went on till I fell in with the excellence of your soul, which I value above all gold. For a young damsel who is discreet and ingenuous, and whose heart is set on piety, is worth the whole world. For these reasons then, I courted you, and I love you…For the present life is nothing….For our time here is brief and fleeting. But if we shall be counted worthy by having pleased God to so exchange this life for that one, then shall we ever be both with Christ and with each other, with more abundant pleasure.
A good Christian husband seeks the good of his wife, and he fervently desires her happiness. All of this begins with loving God, and can be increased by loving God more fervently. Love is a gift of self, and he wants this gift to be good and holy. A man who truly loves God—who seeks to love God more—is well on his way to being a better husband.
And so, 25 years of marriage have confirmed for me that if you want to be a better father, love your wife; if you want to be a better husband, love God.