God’s grace shines day to day
Monica Hain, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, sees God’s grace in her marriage.
She said his grace is evident in the day-to-day living of the sacrament with her husband, Jerry. But that grace is even more visible in hindsight, especially when she looks back on difficult situations in their nearly 32 years of marriage – when they were grieving the deaths of their parents, or the four and a half years Jerry worked a night shift after their second daughter was born.
The night hours and the work were difficult for him, she said. "But when I look back at his taking this job to provide for me and our children, I see the selfless love on his part, a grace from God."
Marriage, as a sacrament, confers graces on couples, help that "is specific and personal for each of us according to our needs," said Valerie Conzett, director of the archdiocese’s Family Life Office. Yet those graces can be summarized into one main grace – selfless love – a sign of the sacrament, exemplified in Christ’s love for his church, she said.
Married couples need God’s grace, and when two people unite themselves under the sacrament of marriage, they have everything they need to overcome difficulties, perfect and strengthen their love, grow in holiness and welcome and raise children, the church teaches.
"Christ is the source of this grace," the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, and when a husband and wife stay united to him, they can expect his help.
"The good news is Jesus doesn’t expect us to rely on our own efforts," said Father Daniel Andrews, pastor of Sacred Heart. "He gives us himself so we can live his life."
When couples call upon God throughout the course of their marriage, he enables them to give of themselves continuously, Father Andrews said, laying down their lives for the good of the other. The grace found in the sacrament of marriage "continues to unfold" throughout the years, he said, so couples can give of each other as God gives himself – without stopping.
In day-to-day married life, the sacramental grace might be seen in attentiveness to a spouse’s needs and moods, Father Andrews said. That might be when someone cooks a spouse’s favorite meal or brings home flowers, for example, Conzett said. Or the grace might be seen in a couple’s care of children or service to others in their parish or community.
In the more extraordinary moments, when couples face job loss, financial problems, infertility, parenting struggles or other family issues, God’s grace can be harder to recognize. A husband and wife might be "just hanging on and praying hard" and have little time to reflect and see God at work, Conzett said. Only in looking back, they can see and be awestruck at how they made it through the challenge with the Lord’s help, she said.
To be instruments of grace, to give God’s love, people first have to receive it, Father Andrews said. And that’s why prayer and receiving the other sacraments of the church are important in marriage. A spouse who receives the sacrament of reconciliation, for example, is able to give God’s healing and mercy to others, Father Andrews said.
"If they are receiving God’s love, they can let God go, not keeping anything in reserve," he said. And as a husband and wife grow closer to God, his love becomes "written on their hearts" and pours forth from them without them even having to think about it, he said.
Participating in parish life – volunteering and enjoying the fellowship of others "who have said yes to the life of Jesus" – also helps enliven marital grace, Father Andrews said. Everyone in a parish has something to offer, and God’s grace works through individuals helping each other, he said.
Humility, relying on God for everything, is another important factor in receiving his grace, Conzett and Father Andrews said. "Jesus, I can’t, but you can" is a good prayer, Father Andrews said.
The Hains, who help prepare engaged couples for the sacrament of marriage, said they draw on marital grace when they pray for their marriage, every morning and every evening, as they hold hands.
It’s something they’ve done since they were first married, praying spontaneously, maybe for a special grace needed for the day, maybe just to thank God for their marriage, beginning with an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary," Monica Hain said.
The prayer has strengthened them through trials and hardships and helps them be aware of God’s presence in each other and in their moments together, she said.
Marriage is "a daily sacrament," Hain said. "We need God’s grace every day."