By Casey Gay
When I was engaged, I would daydream about what married life would be like. I imagined myself in a neatly pressed apron, arranging flowers, baking bread, packing nutritionally dense lunches for my husband every day. My children would look at books and play quietly while they listened to “real” music on a real record player. I, of course, would never resort to shouting or corporal punishment, and I would be a help and delight to my husband, a source of peace and tranquility for him to escape the noise and chaos of the outside world.
Fast forward 5 years: Our fourth child is six days old, and my husband Jeremy is getting on a plane to fly across the country for a ten-week military law training. The twins and their older brother have just covered themselves (quite impressively) and the garage in their dad’s oil-based cami paint. Each room of the house looks as though it has been raided for treasure, and the bathroom mirrors are covered with soap. My voice is hoarse from shouting and the baby needs to nurse.
I knew family life would not always be easy – true charity requires real sacrifice, real suffering. I assumed there would be some uncomfortable seasons that would force me to surrender my will and my ideas of how things “should” be. I simply did not think that my sacrifice would consist of regularly feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and counseling the distressed in my own home! I did not think that my battlefield would be during Mass where I would regularly have to say the Act of Contrition for resenting my kids for being too loud or squirmy or laughing during the homily.
Yet here it was, my suffering, presented to me in the darling chubby cheeks of delight and wonder and innocence of the incredibly beautiful children entrusted to me. It’s hard. Sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I get worn down, and I wonder if it’s all worth it. And in the darkness when I don’t think I can do another shift of night-time vomit duty or endure another all-night emergency room visit, everything calms down just long enough for me to remember why it is worth it: so that I may do the will of the Father and I may be united with the Holy Trinity for all eternity.
It probably comes to the surprise of no one that a faithful and fruitful marriage requires superhuman strength. When Christ instituted the sacrament of marriage, it was in order to restore it to its original form before the Fall. A marriage cannot attain its original shape without the intervention of Christ himself. He calls us to be an image of the selfless, self-giving love that He has for His bride, the Church. Husband and wife promise, before God, to love one another with enduring patience, charity, and wholehearted generosity, in all circumstances until death. It is a supernatural ask that requires a supernatural strength.
As Catholics, we have access to this superpower that is offered to us every single day in the Holy Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament truly is the source and summit of the Christian life. Union with the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit is the end for which we all yearn; it is also the source of all the sanctifying grace that fuels our souls to finish the race. We frequent confession, we receive Holy Communion, we read the Word, and we seek to know the One who loves us and pursues our hearts–repeat, repeat, repeat! Holy Mother Church gives us the tools to know Jesus in the most intimate way possible, but we have to keep showing up.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that as a spouse and a parent, if you check off all the boxes of a devout life everything will be easy and enjoyable and you will never doubt your purpose. No, when I am in Mass with my children, and I am tired and my soul is crying out to the Lord for relief, I do not usually receive emotional consolation after receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Maybe it’s because I have not fostered a robust prayer life, and I cannot hear Jesus whispering to me in my heart. Maybe it’s because my baby just ripped out my earring and my toddler bit her six-year-old brother who lost his shoe while in line for a blessing. Who knows? I do know, however, that Jesus just gave Himself to me, really and truly, and this fact of faith is enough to carry me forward.
Consolation does not necessarily come in the form of relief from our struggles; consolation usually comes in the grace to know that He is with us in our struggles and has given purpose to our pain through His own suffering. Jesus is waiting for us as the way to eternal life with the Father. Seek Him. Receive Him. There is no other way.
Casey Gay lives with her husband, Jeremy, and six children in Gallup, NM.