One of the things that I did before I became a priest was to work in a jewellery store for a while as a salesman. During that time I learnt an interesting thing about the way that precious stones like diamonds are polished. The stones come in roughly cut and they are put into a container along with grit and shaken at high speed. The grit and the stones rub off each other and they polish each other. When the stones come out of the container at the end, they are sparkling and beautiful. But while they are in that container they are just being thrashed about and having the corners knocked off of them. I always think that this is a good analogy for what happens in married life, and indeed in any way of life well lived.
Those of you who are married know better than I do that there is a lot of rubbing off each other, which can be difficult. But all the time you are actually forming each other into better people, or you could say that God is forming you through each other. The corners are knocked off us, and the trials that we go through are all the time helping us to become the best people that we can be. That is God’s plan for us; that we reach our full potential. At the time—just like in the container—we only see the endless trials and struggles that seem to come up. But as time passes other people begin to notice that (hopefully) we are becoming more patient, tolerant and understanding. Of course it doesn’t always work that way, but that is the idea. It is true of any way of life, but I think it is particularly obvious in married life.
One of the things that can also happen after a time in married life and in religious life, is that all the sparkle seems to dry up. Here I can talk more particularly about religious life, since that what I am most familiar with. You begin to wonder why it seems so dull. Did I make the wrong choice? Should I change? Would it have been better if I had gotten married? I think it’s no harm to remind ourselves that this is a normal part of the growth stage in any vocation. My partner is not as interesting or exciting as I thought they were initially. Should I have married someone else? This is also where the commitment is so important and that is why we take marriage vows and religious vows, to give us strength to keep going when things are not easy and to ask God to help us. Hopefully, if we do manage to persevere we keep growing to a deeper level of commitment and love. We are maturing and blossoming as people, but as you know it is not an easy path. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile.
Now I know that it is not always as simple as that, and that a certain percentage of marriages don’t work out and the couple end up separating. It is sad, but that is life. The same happens with religious life; a certain number end up leaving for whatever reason. In the Gospel today Jesus ends up addressing this same age-old question and as always it is interesting what the Son of God has to say to us. ‘Yes Moses did allow you to divorce, but that was not the original plan.’ I think that this should tell us two things. Firstly, that it is worth making a lot of effort to help marriages and religious life work, because that is God’s plan for us. But also to recognise that things don’t always work out and so we should also do our best to help those for whom things have not worked out. God always wants to help us and offers us a lot of help in every way of life. That is why marriage is also a sacrament, something that invokes God’s help and blessing, because God knows well that we struggle. The same is true with religious life. The fact that marriage doesn’t always work out is no reason to abandon marriage, and the same goes for religious life. Just because it doesn’t work for everyone is no reason to abandon it. It is all the time a question of us trying to get the balance right, which is never easy and that is why we need to continually turn to God for his help.
I think what is really important for us to remember is that God does want our life to work out; that his plans for us are good and that the Lord always continues to help us when things have not worked out. We are never alone and we are never abandoned. Our path to heaven does not depend on us getting it right, but rather in continually trying.
‘God saw all that He had made and indeed it was good.’