Book Review: Inspiration for spouses
Inspiration for spouses
Cardinal Sarah’s insightful and powerful book Couples, Awaken Your Love! is formed from the partial transcript of a talk given to married couples at a retreat in Lourdes, France, in May 2019.
The overarching theme of the writing is the centrality of the family and the vital necessity for families to be rooted in Christ. The flourishing of the world depends upon this reality: “Yes, if the final battle between God and the kingdom of Satan concerns marriage and the family, it is urgent for us to realize that we are already in the center of this spiritual battle, on which the future of our human societies depends” (p. 96). Throughout the book the Cardinal offers encouragement, wisdom and inspiration to married Christians raising families which must, in these days, like in days of old, be counter-cultural in order to retain their essence undefiled.
Powerful and thought-provoking
The book is divided into two parts and each part into short chapters. It is relatively brief, being only 140 small pages of very readably sized text, and is occasionally a little disjointed (having been based on a talk). That said, this does not take away from the intensity and fire which are at its core. The book is an impassioned plea from the heart. In fact, if you are someone who wants to be hit with powerful and thought-provoking reflections without sitting down to read a great tome of dense theology (perhaps you have a small child!), this book certainly delivers in spades.
As a married person myself, I am left feeling the profound importance of my vocation as a married person in today’s decadent society; and also the distinct privilege and beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage as a gift from God. Sarah describes the love of spouses as “the most sublime expression and the tangible sign of God’s love for humanity in Jesus Christ” (p. 41).
Part one focuses on the dignity of marriage and the necessity of putting Christ at the centre of the conjugal relationship. Sarah refers to the “triptych of marital love: delight-sacrifice-resurrection.” A relationship is founded initially on delight in each other; it is then strengthened and built up through sacrifice and hardship, united to Christ on the cross: “the refiner’s fire”. This process when complete “will seal the spouses’ unity definitively” and lead, through the way of the Cross, if they are faithful, to a kind of resurrection (“re-creation”). “The spouses leave the banquet hall of the wedding of Cana in order to taste already the ineffable joys of the eternal wedding feast of the lamb” (p.25-6).
Sarah speaks of the importance of Divine Mercy as a key building-block to a lasting relationship. He explains that God, who is love and loved us first, is the origin of marital love and that this fact “guarantees its fidelity and, therefore, its stability and solidity.” He continues: “[Christ] commits himself in a promise to save wounded love by founding it on a faithful covenant with himself” (p.29). I love his use of the term “wounded love” to emphasize the flawed and original-sin-tainted state in which couples initially find themselves in this fallen world and how he then points to the dignity and salvation God gives us through his “faithful covenant.” What a glorious gift the sacrament of marriage is!
After the light of Part 1, Part two has a darker theme: the great trials Christian couples will face in our very compromised and sinful culture where the beauty and glory of God’s creation is twisted and distorted into the image of man. The Cardinal repeatedly refers to the “spiritual combat” in which married couples must be prepared to participate. He discusses dangers present in mainstream media with its over-sexualisation of programmes, at times even those aimed at young children. He says that in the materialistic West, once children enter school many are “‘re-educated,’ in other words, their consciences are manipulated and polluted,” citing the infamous case of a Christian couple, imprisoned for preventing their children participating in a “sexual education” experiment. His observations and analysis of culture certainly serve as a wake-up call to parents of young children. We truly are in spiritual combat.
‘Wrestle with God’
Sarah goes on to talk about the importance of prayer. We must resist an attitude of complacent tolerance and actively fight against the evils which are working to break apart the Christian family. He quotes the letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians about putting on the armour of God, yet, to avoid fear, reminds us that we will not “be tempted beyond our strength.” Our weapon in this fight is prayer. He says that in prayer we must “wrestle with God” and enter into the desert to rest with and in God. “To see God, to contemplate him, to fall on our knees at his feet to adore him brings great rest and great peace to every person” (p.68). He artfully contrasts true Christian peace with the peace a person may seek in a yoga session. There a person is simply striving for a natural peace based on positive feelings and lack of conflict. He reminds us that as Christians “the true, imperishable food, the food of our souls, is not of this world.” We must keep our eyes fixed on heaven.
Referring to the darkness that permeates society in way of abortion, divorce, homosexual “marriage,” and most recently, the anti-gender movement (which he describes as the “final revolution”) Sarah says, “This is the hour of combat between these shadows into which humanity sinks, held in the clutches of the demons of libertarian nihilism, and the Light that the Church alone carries like a torch...” (p.75). We are called to a type of martyrdom in this spiritual combat, abandoning our whole selves to the will of Christ. A good place to start, he says, is to pray the rosary and to foster an internal silence, in which there is a great power. Next, Sarah expresses the importance of a firm commitment to and support of life and human dignity. He concludes his talk with a sort of battle cry, reiterating the importance of the Christian family for the future of human society. Overall I found Part Two quite dark, perhaps overly pessimistic (who can say?), but at the same time profound and rousing. Whilst he can sometimes seem to focus a lot on the negative aspects of the world, the same could also be said for many of the writings of the saints and Marian apparitions.
One of my favourite things about the book is the two appendices: one has daily prayers for couples (“Conjugal Prayers”) and the other has a workshop to promote better communication between spouses. The conjugal prayers consist of a time to seek forgiveness from God and from your spouse, a scripture reading, meditation, and ending each day with the “prayer for spouses.” The workshop clearly lays out a five-step procedure including a beautiful “prayerto Mary who restores all couples.”
In summary, the talk itself is a fairly quick read but is intense and dynamic, offering much to reflect on and reread; and the prayers in the appendices present a tangible way to facilitate positive growth in holiness within your marriage relationship. In one of the quotes in praise of the book on the back cover, it says Cardinal Sarah offers us a “pep-talk and game plan ... to fight against a culture of death,” and I think that is a great way to describe this book. I definitely recommend this book to couples young and old, struggling or thriving. If you are married, what are you waiting for? Let Cardinal Sarah remind you of the privilege and beauty of your sacred vocation and help you and your spouse “awaken your love!”