5 Things I’ve Learned from the Saints About Strengthening Marriage

When I found out about Caitrin’s blog, I knew she would be the perfect guest blogger for us! It’s so important that we get to know married saints as inspiration for our own marriage. I love how Caitrin gives us some great examples of holy couples and concrete ways we can strive toward sainthood as husband and wife.

I’ve always been interested in the lives of the saints.  Reading biographies of amazing holy people like St. Padre Pio, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Augustine has been very inspiring to my faith.  I love knowing I have friends in heaven, and that I can reach out to these saints to pray for me in specific situations that they can relate to personally.  

But when I got married five years ago, I realized that none of my go-to saints were married. Who could I look to for inspiration in my marriage?  Who could I ask to pray for my husband and me, knowing that they had experienced the joys and trials of married life themselves?  I felt called to meet some married saints, so I began researching and reading.

I read about married saints from biblical times, like Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah; from the early centuries of the Church, like St. Monica; from the Reformation Era, like St. Thomas More.  I even found some holy people on the road to sainthood who lived very recently — even during my own lifetime — like the Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, who were killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  

My research eventually became the basis for a book I am hoping to publish one day, as well as my own blog on Catholic marriage.  Though my new married saint friends lived all over the world and throughout history, I noticed some common elements in their lives.  These common elements helped the saints shape and maintain holy marriages, and they can do the same for all of us today.  So, let’s get to the list and learn from the saints

1. Learn — and live out — your marital vows

A marriage is a covenant with specific vows.  These vows are like our job description as married people.  And how can you do well at a job if you don’t know what you are expected to do?  On our wedding day, we each vowed to love our spouse freely, fully, faithfully, and fruitfully.  I call these the “Four F’s.”  Furthermore, we vowed to love our spouse for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.  Some of these vows are more widely understood than others; most of us know what it means to love faithfully, for example.  However, we may need to look at a few of these vows more closely to better understand them.

Loving “freely” means that we are able to truly give ourselves to our spouses because we are not slaves to materialism or sin.  Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, offer a wonderful example of living simply in order to free your heart from the bonds of materialism.  They lived below their means and gave everything they could to the poor.  

The vow of “fruitful” love encompasses much more than just welcoming children into your family.  It can also mean offering the gifts (fruits) God has given you back to Him.  Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah exemplified this vow when they offered their long-awaited son, St. John the Baptist, to God to prepare Jesus’ way.  

Finally, when we promised to love our spouse “until death do us part,” we may not have considered how the Christian perspective on death played into that vow.  Because we see the Church as the body of Christ, unbroken by death, we are called to pray for our spouse’s salvation while we are both alive on earth, while he or she suffers in Purgatory if we outlive them, and from heaven if we precede them into eternal life.  

St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, certainly lived out this vow.  She prayed for her husband and wayward son until they both converted, then died peacefully, requesting only that she be remembered in prayer and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  For more clarification on our specific marital vows, check out my blog at www.holiermatrimony.com!

2. Practice self-denial and mortification

Every saint I’ve ever read about — married, single or religious — practiced unique forms of self-denial and mortification.  St. Thomas More, advisor to the infamous King Henry VIII, secretly wore an itchy, uncomfortable hair shirt under his clothing for most of his adult life.  Bl. Barbe Acarie, mother of six and foundress of the Carmelite Order in France, often ate only one meal a day.  

These mortifications made them better spouses and better followers of Christ.  By saying “no” to themselves in small things, they knew that they were training themselves to say “yes” to their spouses and to God in bigger things, like Thomas More’s eventual martyrdom or the political exile of Barbe Acarie’s husband. 

As Catholic Christians, we believe that our suffering is valuable and meritorious when we unite it with Christ’s suffering on the cross.  Small, voluntary mortifications as well as deep, involuntary pain will all be redeemed when we lay it at Jesus’ feet.

3. Serve the “least of these” together

When Jesus called us to serve the “least of these,” He certainly meant to include the poor, but this title can refer to many other categories of people, too.  The “least of these” might be the sick, the elderly, or the spiritually thirsty.  Your helpless newborn baby or your ailing mother-in-law might be the “least of these” God is calling you and your spouse to serve right now.  Serving together with your spouse is a beautiful way to bond, creating a family mission you can rally behind.  

The Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba felt called to serve the material needs of the street children in Kigali, Rwanda, by starting a shelter.  Meanwhile, they also ministered to the spiritual needs of their local community by founding a new chapter of the Emmanuel Community there, meeting with small groups to pray and discuss their faith.  

Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, photo by Karel Dekempe, license

Blessed Karl I and his wife the Servant of God Zita were the last emperor and empress of Austria-Hungary.  Despite their noble status, they always looked for ways to serve the “least of these” in their empire, for example by ordering that the royal carriages be used to bring coal to those suffering in the cold instead of transporting nobles such as themselves.  

These holy husbands and wives bonded through their acts of service, and they helped one another to be more like Christ in the process.

4. Pray with your spouse (and with your kids)

If marriage is your vocation, you are called to walk your path to holiness and heaven hand in hand with your spouse.  This means that the two of you are encouraged to take up and live out spiritual practices like prayer together.  

Blesseds Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi were a couple from Italy that chose life for their daughter when they were pressured to abort for medical reasons, and who helped protect wanted people from the Nazis during World War II.  The Quattrocchis focused on developing spiritual habits for their whole family to enjoy, such as praying the Rosary together after dinner each evening.  

Blesseds Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi

St. Thėrèse’s parents, the Martins, inspired devotion to the Blessed Virgin in their daughters by encouraging the girls to adorn a statue of Mary with flowers during the month of May.  Which spiritual practices could you do together as a family?  The possibilities are endless!

5. Live a sacramental life

Beyond praying together and for one another, as Catholic married people we must commit to frequent reception of the Sacraments so that God’s grace can flow in our marriages and in our lives.  We believe that the Sacraments both symbolize and convey grace, which is the power of God working in us.  Each Sacrament conveys specific graces.  Our Baptisms marked us as God’s children; Confirmation offered us the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The graces conveyed in the Sacrament of Matrimony help us to live out our marital vows, giving us patience, charity and mercy for our spouse.

Sadly, we don’t always take advantage of those graces.  Then they are wasted, like the valuable talent (treasure) the servant buried in the field in Matthew 25:18. Other times, we let sin build up in our lives and get in the way of sacramental grace, like the moon eclipsing the light of the sun.  This is where the Sacrament of Confession comes in.  We can always come clean and start over anew!  

Ask God in prayer to help you avail yourself of the marital graces, and seek out the Eucharist and Confession as means to keep those graces flowing freely in your life.  Marriage is hard — too hard, in fact, for us to do well by our own strength.  But, armed with sacramental grace, we can approach the challenges of married life with God’s own amazing power!

All the married saints I have met have patterns of sacramentality.  Most participated in the Sacrifice of the Mass many days a week, or even twice a day.  Bl. Emperor Karl I even made sure to attend Mass on the battlefields where he commanded troops in World War II, and St. Thomas More rose as early as 4 a.m. so that he could have time for prayer and Mass before his long work day began.  The saints also tended to go to Confession monthly or more often, though I know they had less to confess than I do!  

These married saints also frequently reflected on the vows of their marital covenant.  Daphrose Rugamba pushed through years of rejection from her angry, atheistic, and philandering husband, pleading with God to refresh her with the marital graces she would need to live out her vocation better than she did the day before.  We can (and should) all do the same!  

These are just five of the many beautiful ways my role-models in marriage worked to strengthen and sanctify their marital covenants.  I encourage you to meet some married saint friends, too!  

And, when in doubt, look to the Holy Family.  Sts. Mary and Joseph are the ideal married couple, the couple to whom God entrusted His only Son.  They offer a wonderful example for us all to follow, showing us how best to live out all our marital vows, how to suffer for Christ, how to serve, and how to pray.  Ask for their intercession often as you prepare for, receive and fortify yourself with the sacramental graces that will aid you on your own path to holier matrimony!

Caitrin is a busy Coast Guard wife, mama of three under four, Catholic blogger and aspiring author.  She is originally from Virginia, currently living in Florida, and preparing for a military move to North Carolina in a few months.  She enjoys writing, playing the piano, long walks on the beach, and going out for tacos and margaritas with good friends! Check out her blog at Holier Matrimony.