TRIALS IN THE MARRIED STATE
by Rev. John Evangelist Zollner, 1884
"There were set there six water-pots of stone."--John 2: 6.
In the account given in the gospel of the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee we find mention made of six water-pots. Our divine Savior operated a great miracle by changing the water, with which these vessels had been filled, into wine. We frequently find these water pots also at other marriages; for they signify the trouble and afflictions with which not a few married people are visited. St. Paul directs the attention of married people to these afflictions when he says: "If thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned, and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned; nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh."--1. Cor. 7: 28.Part I. --The first affliction is the unfruitfulness of some marriages.
In the married state, everything that glitters is not gold. It is, however, in the power of married people to do what Jesus did with the water in the pots; they can, if they be of good will, change the water of tribulation into the wine of comfort and joy. Let us today consider the trials incident to the married state, and see how the water may be changed into wine.
There are some marriages which are not blessed by God with children. This is certainly an affliction for many people, especially for those who are blessed with worldly goods, and is a great privation. Some of the best people that ever lived have experienced this sad destitution. Witness Abraham, who, when God promised him a great reward, sadly replied: "Lord, what wilt thou give me? I shall go without children."--Gen. 15: 2. "If thou givest me all riches, what shall it profit me? I have no children to inherit my riches." Rachel, Jacob's wife, was grieved so much over her sterility that she wished rather to die than to live and see herself without children.--Gen. 30: 1. The pious couple Elkana and Anna were in great tribulation because they had no children.--1. Kings 1.
When married people see themselves without issue, they frequently think within themselves: We have considerable property and all would be well, but we have no child at our table, and there is no one to lisp the sweet name of father and mother. This is a heavy load on their hearts. How can such childless couples comfort themselves? They must become convinced:
(a.) That it is the will of God. Whatever God wills and does is for the best. Perhaps the children which God would give them might degenerate, embitter their life, cause a great deal of mischief in the world, and finally perish eternally. In such a supposition, is it not better to have no children?
(b.) That they can live much more quietly. How much labor and anxiety do not children cause their parents. How much does it not cost to rear them, to provide for them, and to preserve them from the corruption of the world. And what grief and sorrow for Christian parents to be obliged to see that all their labors and efforts for the temporal and eternal welfare of their children are not infrequently fruitless! It is only too true: few children, few crosses; many children, many crosses. How well off, then, are those who have no children! They are free from the great burden of their education, and can themselves live and die quietly.
(c.) That they can the easier save their souls. Parents have a great many duties to perform towards their children, and if they neglect but one of these solemn duties, a most rigorous account awaits them. Many parents shall be damned on account of the sins of their children. Heli was in other respects a righteous man, and if he had had no children would certainly have been saved; but his two wicked sons dragged him down to hell. Considering this, ought married people to consider themselves unhappy because they have no children?
(d.) That they can do a great deal of good with their temporal substance. It is the sacred duty of parents who have children to provide for them; therefore, they can do but little for charitable purposes, and even if they could, they fear that their children might not have enough, or that they might some day be in want; consequently, they hoard up for them. But this is not the case with childless couples; they can, if they be rich and have the good will, do a great deal of good towards alleviating the corporal and spiritual necessities of their fellow-men, they can acquire much merit before God, and call down upon themselves the blessing of heaven. What seems water, therefore, to such childless couples, may, by a little reflection and a spirit of piety and resignation, be turned into the richest wine.
There always have been children who, as they advance in years, degenerate more and more, give themselves up to impurity, drunkenness, and gambling, and behave rudely, ungratefully, and stubbornly, heaping up shame and disgrace upon their parents. There are such also in our days, for we see bad examples and scandals multiplied, and the world sinking deeper and deeper into forgetfulness of God. Can there be a greater cross or affliction for parents than bad children?
History records that the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius died of grief and a broken heart, because his son Commodus led a most scandalous life and gave promise of doing a great deal of mischief in the world. Many fathers and mothers can say to their ungodly children what Jacob said to his sons: "You will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave."--Gen. 42: 38. Truly, impious children are a pot that is filled with the tears of their parents, and this pot is set in the houses, not only of bad, but also of good parents. Adam and Eve had their Cain; Noah, his Cham; and David, his Absalom.
How can parents who have wicked children comfort themselves in their deplorable situation? They must spare neither labor nor pains to reclaim their erring children from their evil ways; they must entreat, reprove, and rebuke them with patience and earnestness, give them good example, and fervently pray for their conversion. If the parents fulfill their duties with the proper zeal, they may succeed in winning back their wayward children; and this will be a great comfort to them.
They must not, however, lose courage when their efforts to reclaim their children are not immediately crowned with success. How many years did not St. Monica instruct and admonish, pray and weep, before she had the happiness of seeing her son Augustine converted! And if all exertions prove fruitless, let the father and mother comfort themselves with the thought that they have done their duty and that the sins of their children shall not be laid to their charge. They may also think of God, the heavenly Father, many of whose children are wicked, whom he still treats with indulgence and infinite kindness.
This is, perhaps, the greatest evil in the married state. Married people who give way to this passion are always full of disquietude and suspicion; the most harmless and innocent circumstance appears to them suspicious; they listen to every word, observe every step, get excited at the most trifling thing, and torment themselves with melancholy thoughts day and night. The domestic affairs suffer loss; the education of the children is neglected, not infrequently there are quarrels and contentions, and matrimonial love is changed into coldness--often to hatred. It sometimes even leads to the murder of one of the parties. Oh, that there were no such trials in any Christian family! Married people must avoid everything that might give occasion to jealousy.
Wives must be prudent, when in company with men, and not be over free with them, especially with those who are regarded suspiciously by the husband. They must not show an undue leaning or friendship for any man, nor permit any man in public or private to bestow on them marked attention or extraordinary courtesies. Finally, they must scrupulously avoid and shun all places and company that bear a sullied reputation, live modestly and retired, and treat their husbands affectionately and kindly.
In like manner husbands must not be too familiar with doubtful characters, never go to questionable places, nor show themselves too friendly to female servants. In order to avoid all jealousy, married people should observe the word of the Lord: "Judge not."--Luke 6: 37. Charity obliges us to think well of others until we are convinced we have unmistakable reasons to think the contrary. This applies particularly to married people.
If a thought of suspicion arise in them, they ought to recall to their mind the reproach which Christ made to the Pharisees: "Why do you think evil in your hearts?"--Matt. 9: 4. Lastly, they ought not to listen to whisperers who, under the cloak of friendship, reveal what they suppose to be suspicious things of the other party, but should reject them at once. Moreover, I would advise persons who are prone to jealousy, to reveal their character to their confessor and punctually obey his directions.
1. There are not a few married people with whom the spirit of dissension prevails. Instead of loving each other, they are averse to each other, seldom speak in a friendly manner, but quarrel and reproach each other continually, retorting abuse one upon the other, while for days and weeks a kind word does not pass between them. When they are together, they wish mountains separated them; and when absent from each other, they look forward with horror and dread to the hour when they shall have to meet again. The matrimonial bond often becomes to them so burdensome and hateful that they wish themselves dead. How unhappy are such married people! Their life on earth is already, as it were, a hell. And what evils follow this disunion and discord! Their children become wicked, because they are not reared properly; the domestic concerns suffer, and God, who is a God of peace, withdraws his blessing from such contentious married people.
How can these bitter waters be changed into wine, or cast out of the house? Such a couple must, first of all, endeavor to remove the causes of their discord. The man is, perhaps, irascible, keeps late hours, is a drunkard, a gambler, an adulterer--hence discord and disunion in the house. The wife is not economical, is careless in the discharge of her duties, fond of dress, arbitrary, sharp-tongued--hence the discord.
The first business, on both sides, is to go to the root of the evil. They must stop up the spring of their dissensions. Only when this is done can they hope for peace or comfort with one another. They should both call to mind that neither one is a saint, that neither one took the other for such at the altar, but for plain flesh and blood. It is preposterous for either to expect the other to be perfect. They each know, that neither one is, nor shall be, without faults and frailties, and, therefore, should bear with each other in patience and charity. If you see something in the other party which displeases you, do not get into a rage, but instruct each other by gentle, friendly words. You shall catch more flies with a few drops of honey than with a barrel of vinegar. And if you think it necessary to rebuke your partner, do so at the proper time. Observe silence as long as the other party is excited. and speak only after he or she has calmed down and has become susceptible to advice. If, from whatever cause, the matrimonial peace have been disturbed, be reconciled without delay, and let not the sun go down on your anger.
This is a trial found now-a-days in many houses. Everything desirable or necessary for life, subsistence or happiness, is more or less wanting; namely, a domicile, especially in large cities, where many families are turned out on the street because they cannot pay the rent; food is wanting, and husband and wife, notwithstanding all their hard work and the greatest economy, must sometimes suffer hunger with their children; they want clothes, or those they have are often in such a condition that they are ashamed to go out; in winter they have no fuel, in consequence of which they almost freeze to death. Through the year they have many unavoidable expenses; they often need many dollars, when they have only as many cents in the house. Taxes and debts are to be paid, but there is no money to meet these expenses; mortgages fall due, are foreclosed, and their little property, the accumulation of years of economy, comes under the remorseless hammer of the sheriff.
How can this be avoided? It is difficult to give an advice. I will make only a few remarks.
Many are poor because they are lazy and improvident, they are themselves the cause of their poverty. A man who has willing hands can always find remunerative employment and gain a livelihood. You must make hay while the sun shines; you must be saving and economical when you have money; this is the virtue of prudence, for there is no virtue in not spending money when you have none to spend.
People, generally, do not think of saving in times of prosperity, imagining that the good times will last for ever; then when adversity comes, they are unprepared, and suffer poverty. Harvest time is followed by winter; so good times, high wages, are succeeded by hard times, scarcity of work, and consequently low wages. Therefore, save in time, and you shall have something in the day of need; lay up something for the rainy day, and do not spend all you earn, living from hand to mouth. You need not live like Dives and feast sumptuously every day. Live within your means, do not contract debts for anything you can do without. Do not buy everything you see, or things that you do not need, merely because they are cheap. And you, married women, do not invest all the hard earned money of your husbands in dry goods and millinery, be economical in the kitchen, for an extravagant housekeeper will carry out more with a spoon than an industrious man can bring in with a shovel. If you observe these rules the trials that come of poverty and need shall never be seen in your house.
But there may be poverty which married people have not brought on themselves. In that case let them comfort themselves with the thought that Christ had not in this world whereon to rest his head, and that he called the poor, not the rich, blessed. Let them unite their temporal poverty with spiritual poverty; their poverty with the poverty of Christ, and make a virtue of necessity.
When two young people marry, they hope to have many years of conjugal happiness; but man proposes and God disposes. The husband or the wife falls sick and becomes a victim of death. This certainly is a hard stroke for the surviving party, especially if they lived happily together, and if there be small children. I have often heard the bereaved husband sigh: Oh, God, what will become of these little children, who have now no mother.
Or the woman: my God, who will now provide for my children! And the widower or the widow feels so lonesome, so forsaken, for the half of his or her being is laid away in the grave. Or if a child die in the bloom of youth, there is great grief and sorrow, more especially if the parents be rich, and could liberally provide for them.
How can this bitter water be changed into wine? I believe this miracle can be performed without much difficulty if the parents be good Christians, strong in faith. We can not doubt that whatever God does is well done, and we know that to them that love God all things work together unto good.--Rom. 8: 28.
If one of the married couple or a child die, God has so ordained it; therefore, it is something good and, however impenetrable the veil of Divine Providence, will turnout well for the God-loving partner or parents. They must consider this and be resigned to the will of God, saying with Job: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."--Job 1: 21. Parents should comfort themselves particularly at the death of one of their children with the thought: God gave us this child that we might rear it for heaven; the end is obtained, he has taken the child to Himself, blessed and praised be His holy name!
These are some of the trials which, like the water-pots at the marriage of Cana, are not infrequently found in the married state. The bitter water which they contain can be changed into wine; married people need only observe the lessons and precepts which I have given them today.
If they, like the married couple of Cana, invite Christ to their marriage, prepare themselves worthily for matrimony, live in it piously, and fulfill their duties conscientiously, God will be with them and bless their family. And even if he should visit them with tribulations, he will not abandon them; he will only try them in order to purify, sanctify, and fit them for heaven. Christian married people, serve God in times of prosperity and adversity with equal fidelity, and be resigned to his holy will, and all things shall work together unto good. Amen