Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Lenten Examination of Consciousness for Married People




I like this stained glass window of the Cana Wedding: Jesus and Mary are in a bit of a huddle about the wine problem and the newly weds are looking over, perhaps nervous, expectant, hopeful. Jesus and Mary are helping them to get off to a good start.

Marriage is in trouble, they say. Indeed, in some parts of the world it is predicted that in the not too distant future, marriage will cease to exist. Speaking with a class of about thirty high-schoolers I asked how many of you come from homes where the parents are divorced or separated. All but three or four hands went up. 

Listen in on some Christian conversations and you'd think the greatest threat to married life is gay people and their hopes and dreams or their  radical agenda. But a seasoned husband and father of eight told me, "Marriages fail when someone is selfish."  And the lack of psycho-spiritual support married people receive from their churches is at least sad, if not galling, considering the time, energy and resources the churches otherwise spend on all the Defense of Marriage talk. 

So I've written an Examination of Consciousness for married people. Not an Examination of Conscience (which is looking for sin) but Consciousness: an alert awake-ness, out of which I might know myself better and from that place grow.

"What do you know?" someone might say. I'm a priest nearly thirty seven years; I've seen and heard a lot.

  • Do I consciously pray each day for my spouse?
  • Am I taking care of myself so that I can rightly care for my family? Or am I running on empty?
  • Are we actively building and growing this relationship? Or have we resigned ourselves, even long ago, to living it out in a rut?
  • Have we abandoned the holy project (which is marriage) for other concerns, demands and projects?
  • Do I complain about my spouse to others, even strangers?
  • When did I last say to my spouse, from a deeply felt place "I love you so much," or "I think the world of you."
  • Am I moody or nasty-mouthed with my spouse? Do I belittle her/her? Are we more roommates than spouses?
  • Am I self-pitying? A victim?
  • Do I make threats, "If you don't...I'll..."  "You better...or else..."
  • Do I think it's my job to change my spouse? Am I controlling?
  • Are we an argumentative couple? Do we fight dirty? Do we punish each other with the silent treatment?
  • Do the words, I'm sorry, stick in my throat?
  • Do I burden my spouse in any way?
  • Am I faithful to my spouse?  Is my heart faithful?
  • Do I use sex to manipulate my spouse?
  • Do I actively and stubbornly dis-like my in-laws?
  • Am I a meddler?
  • Do I carry around drama and complaint?
  • Do I shirk responsibility?
  • Do I take my spouse for granted? Do I use my spouse?
  • Am I a blamer?
  • Have I sided with my children over my spouse?
  • Do I use a dirty or cursing mouth against my spouse in anger?
  • Does this marriage need help? Are we in trouble? Do we procrastinate over working on problems?
  • Do I live with a troubling secret to which my spouse has a right to know?
  • Do I lie to and hide things from my spouse?
  • Does alcohol (drugs?) impact the quality of my marriage?
  • Can I say I'm really present to my spouse? Emotionally?
  • Am I cheating my spouse in some way?
  • Do I resent even the simplest requests my spouse makes?
  • Do I go around my spouse being put out?
  • Do I bring negative energy to my relationship?
  • "Pick, pick, pick - you're always picking on him, why don't you leave him alone!" (or HER. From a very funny dinner scene in the Laurel and Hardy short, Twice Two).
  • Is this marriage sacramental? Meaning: I am supposed to be my partner's first encounter with and experience of the love of Christ? 
  • Would I dare to ask my spouse, "What do I need to change about myself to grow this marriage?" And then be still and only listen.


29 comments:

  1. If we can work on a few things for Lent, then hopefully the change inside of us will carry on longer. Thanks for the wake up call.

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    1. AA says: "Progress not perfection." Sounds good to me!

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  2. Upon reading this, my first inclination was to show it to my wife and talk about it. But it dawned on my that I should reflect on my own without anyone else's input and I printed it out and highlighted all that could apply to me. I think Father, that we must all have multiple things on this list. I cannot imagine that any marriage could be so perfect as to not be affected by some degree of selfishness, or burdens. I know that all I can do is make an effort in awareness so that the next time I am about to lose my patience, or feel aggravation rising, I might take a breath and save a harsh word.

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  3. There is so much help offered to us in our just paying attention.

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  4. A priest has to be able to counsel his flock in areas that he might not have personal experience in. Does a patient say to their doctor that they can't treat them if they have never had that ailment? Training and listening and a good heart is what it takes to help people find their way. Your examination of "consciousness" is a perfect example of understanding where things are broken, but repairable. Bless you Father for reaching out.

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  5. You're very welcome, and thank you for following the posts!

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  6. I feel very blessed in my marriage. I pray for those who suffer abuse, especially emotional abuse from their spouse. Their pain and suffering hidden from even their closest friends and family. Marriage is sacred, and people should work harder to save them, but it is also important to know when to take a look at yourself and ask the tough questions like Do I need help here? There is NO shame in that.

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  7. Same-sex marriage’s signature effect on marriage will be the institutionalization of monogamish as an acceptable marital trait as monogamy is not essential in gay unions, now legal unions The redefinition of marriage will bring with it a redefinition of marital norms oveerall. Gay men argue that, as a result of not setting complete monogamous limits, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships, saying that it will help the institution of lasting marriages. What do you think about this Father? What would you say to a couple who has renegotiated what faithfulness means? If it is OK for gay couples to have affairs with the permission of their spouse, then why would it not be OK for every marriage?

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    1. What do I think about these things? I think that when an institution fails it needs to look inside itself. A fearless moral inventory AA says. Otherwise we just wind up blaming everyone else. That's the purpose of the Examination of Consciousness.

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    2. Father, I am trying to have an examination of consciousness, and I am not placing blame on anyone. It is my thought that people fear gay marriage not because they don't want to see people find happiness, but because it is indeed a thought that we might all accept this anything goes approach as normal. Gays have fought for legal marriage, but don't want to conform to monogamy. People do see this as radical. Marriage is difficult and shouldn't we all be willing to work at it even if some aspects seem hard to keep to? I asked a question to see if you could shed light on this. I guess that you have. I hear you as saying that we should accept this different concept of monogamisih if both spouses are in agreement. I like the idea of reflection and making changes, but this might be too much for me.

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    3. Straight people who are married don't need gay people to inform them about the idea of non-monogamy and infidelity. Until I got used to hearing it, as a young priest I was quite shocked at the stories I heard about heterosexuals and their infidelities. Don't let my little paragraph on homosexual unions get stuck in your craw - if you're married - pay attention to the Examination of Consciousness - and to all the Christian Churches - it's past time to start really investing in helping people grow their marriages. Seems to me every parish ought to find a way to have a psychologist on staff who specializes in couples therapy. For starters!

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    4. Pardon me, but I’d like to add a voice to this discussion. I read this post and thought what a wonderful litany of questions to reflect on and how they apply to my own marriage. And then I read these comments and I wondered why no one has defended the ideals of marriage. I have been with my husband for almost 12 years and long before we were able to legally have a piece of paper to prove it, we were a committed partnership without the thought being non-monogamous. Why is this assumption that gay people have a laissez faire attitude towards relationships perpetuated? I understand, Father, that your point is that the Church should focus on saving those sacramental marriages from failure, but why is my marriage to be taken less seriously because it wasn’t blessed by a priest? This doesn’t mean we are less committed. We wouldn’t tolerate an anything goes attitude. I hope that if I came to you and asked for marriage help that you would give the same counsel as any other Church married couple. I am sorry if I have gone one here, but I am frustrated by the ignorance.

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    5. Each question in the Examination of Consciousness is a defense of marriage ideals. Now I'd be in a real pickle wouldn't I if I started defending un-married relationships or gay relationships. In a loveless world I take relationships very seriously. But in many Christian places the only legitimate relationships are married-in-the-church relationships, no matter how committed. To ask the priest to do otherwise is to ask him to light the stick of TNT he holds in his hand. Even if I were to have suggested that the Examination of Consciousness is for anyone in a relationship would have caused a row. You likely know that. Episcopalians have a broader view and it's tearing them apart. To get into all of that is not my purpose here. The blog becomes terribly contentiousness then and quickly loses its focus.

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  8. At times I am moody, I meddle, I place blame. I can admit to many things and am happy to have this open consciousness. However, the hardest one is letting my spouse tell me what he would like to see changed to grow our marital relationship. Changing ourselves is one thing, but changing for someone else is a step to another level. I am not sure if you placed this at the end of the list for a reason, but I will be saving it for last. There is enough work here to keep me busy for some time.

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    1. Honest. I put that point at the end because sometimes we just don't see ourselves as we really are. A spouse might be able to point out what we're missing. I suggested to a congregation once that for Lent married people might suggest asking the spouse for some direction. One woman got into an angry frenzy over the thought of it. I didn't live with her and I knew she was a control freak. Risk vulnerability.

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  9. Sharing this out with all my married friends. I know at least some that will take it to heart. Thanks for thinking about married couples today. Many marriages do end in divorce because of pure selfishness. Being in a lasting relationship takes selflessness and humility. You must have observed well and paid close attention over the years to think of all this.

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    1. Humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means good earth. Humility means then: that I am down to earth about myself. Realistic about myself.

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  10. I have never read this blog before, but a friend sent it to me. I had to write to tell you that this examination of married consciousness really gets down to the heart of it. It touched many nerves within me and I want to take it as far as I can to see if it will make my marriage feel different. Sometimes we don't even know something needs fixing until we look deep. I thank you and I thank my friend for sharing it.

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    1. I just heard today that some overstated and overexposed actress has done something especially sexy and provocative and her song and dance has gone viral. What a ridiculous culture. This Examination of Consciousness should go viral.

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  11. These words won't stick in my mouth; Thank you so much for this.

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  12. Let us stop looking to cast blame and try to be more encouraging. Every time you pick on, or complain about your spouse you should stop and give a hug instead. A kind gesture to replace the annoyance.

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  13. This was a little easier to swallow knowing I ironed 4 shirts for Bill yesterday while stuck inside with the snowstorm! He has done his own ironing for decades! Thanks for this Lenten reflection. There is always "work" to do in serious relationships and it does take a lot of hard work to get to that place of humility to take a good long look. Fr Stephen you know much about the human condition and I know it comes from your deep reflections of yourself first. Thank you for all of this work that you do with these posts and site! Gearing up for a blessed lent!

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    1. I know a very honest woman who said to me once: "I have a good husband who asks nothing of me except an ironed shirt, and I have trouble doing that graciously." The world will start to heal when we can start to look at ourselves deeply: spouses, partners, the schools, the politicians, the nations (including our own), the clergy, the Church. The spiritual adventure is interior - featured in the readings at Mass this weekend. Thank you for writing.

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  14. This is an amazing list of questions to ask of ourselves. I have printed it out and highlighted the ones I need to work on most. There is a lot of color on this page now so I have a good amount of work to do. I know that if I can follow through, it will be a fruitful reward.

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  15. "There is a lot of color on this page now..." Very honest. And funny too. A good beginning makes a good ending. May the Lord bring to completion the good thing begun in you."

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  16. And am I quick to forgive my spouse and show him mercy...

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  17. Chris Vigliotta
    1:41 PM (1 hour ago)

    to Pauca
    FR STEPHEN

    Thank you for these "few words" on Marriage. Ann and I will be married 50 years come next Friday 02/12/2016. I,m not perfect but going over the exam I feel I passed with a good score and I know there is always room for improvement. My scoring for Ann she is close to perfect. I thank God every day for her, we have always agreed that our meeting had to be Divine Intervention. She from Pa. I'm from Long Island NY, we met on a blind date in Washington D.C. the rest is history. When people ask what is the reason for our success she is quick to answer the question, "the three "C' Christ Centered, Commitment, Communication with an agreement to agree to disagree"

    I'm retired now, so I want to take another trip up to see you perhaps late spring early summer.

    Dcn. Chris Vigliotta

    P.S Also I will be ordained a Deacon 34 years come 02/19/2016


    Deacon Chris

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    1. Glad and grateful that our paths crossed now 36 years ago out East: duck farms, scrub oak, rolled up sidewalks after dark and one train in and out with I was a boy-priest. Thank you both for your kind support and love. I send a blessing for all your family.

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  18. You seldom have us reflect on things that you don't ask of your very self which is greatly appreciated. In this case however, even though you cannot have experienced struggles of marriage firsthand, the insight runs deep. I thank the people who inspired your thoughts that we may benefit from their life's burdens and mistakes. I offer a prayer for all the marriages you have helped to save across the years.

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