Marriage as Pilgrimage

The following is a quote from a publication of Boston College’s C21 Resources, the Church in the 21st century, Fall 2007.  The article is titled A Marriage Proposal by Tim Muldoon.

 “If we begin by asking people to consider that God is inviting them into the Trinitarian communion by means of communion with the beloved, then by extension, everything in married life—from paying bills to shopping to nights out to struggles at work to raising children to coping with sickness and even death—become part of the shared pilgrimage toward greater communion.  I find the metaphor of pilgrimage particular compelling, as it suggests the importance not only of the destination, but also the path.  In the Christian life, both the destination and the path are graced—and in the context of marriage this is especially true.  Marital difficulties are fundamentally life difficulties, and it is therefore possible to invite couples to a deeper under-standing of those difficulties as part of the very nature of the pilgrimage.  The act of faith on any pilgrimage is to give energy to the work of overcoming the difficulties, when it may seem easier to give up.  The promise, however, is that there is a great good to be achieved not only through the perseverance on the pilgrimage when the road is difficult, but also by deepening one’s communion with God by means of the deepening of communication with the beloved.  In more pedestrian language, the fundamental act of faith in marriage is to face life’s problems with someone you love rather than alone.”

 (Rita)

The idea of a shared pilgrimage toward greater communion caught my attention as I read this article.  A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place.    It has been part of my life dream to journey to Fatima and Lourdes.  When we went to Assisi I truly felt like a pilgrim not a tourist.  We were journeying to a sacred place.  The idea of our marriage being a journey to a sacred place is pretty awesome.  The destination is union with God but we get there as a married couple by living all the things both joys and challenges through the years.  It becomes a pilgrimage when we make the journey together learning to communicate more deeply in all the ways the author stated.  The other part for me is that all along the journey, the pilgrimage, we are graced and drawn ever more deeply into the love triangle that is God.   From a more practical and hopefully more understandable perspective, what does this mean in how we have lived our 45 years of marriage?  We got married to live happily ever after, and we did, and yet there were times along the way when there were struggles.  Never once did I consider not being married to Bob.  I also learned and recognized along the way that each time we faced a challenge we were always closer to each other.  Nothing likely challenged us more than having children.  We knew they were our love for each other in flesh and blood but as much as we loved them their presence in our lives made everything in our marriage change—the money we had, our time together, time for intimacy, learning how to communicate in our new roles as parent in addition to being husband and wife.  Each time we thought we had it figured it out we welcomed another child and things started over.  Reflecting back to the concept of that being a pilgrimage is quite fascinating.  I knew the journey was graced.  Today looking at where our children are and while there were struggles, sacrifices and challenges along the way it has been a sacred journey.

Looking at the concept of aging as a pilgrimage to a sacred place is also fascinating.  We have more time together than we have had at any time in our marriage.  Yet the challenges are what to do with that time.  We each spent much of our marriage with different careers, colleagues as friends, time schedules, chores around the house and being parents.  Now we are together 24/7 and are readjusting everything in our day to be mindful of the other.  This doesn’t even mention the realities of physical aging.  We are learning to give each other space while still including the other in all that we are doing.  It is a challenge to communicate concerns, disappointments, desires, and joys in a way that does not include daily needs of children and careers.  As this year began I saw us in a different light.  We were setting out on another phase of our life together, another leg of the pilgrimage.  Are we graced?  I have no doubts.  New people and opportunities continue to come our way whether it is as simple as playing with grandchildren or taking them to a movie to travel to supporting friends and family in need or service work in Haiti this fall.  We are graced and I have no doubt that we as husband and wife are on a journey to a sacred place.

(Bob)

This quote reminds me that our journey through marriage is our path to salvation, our way to become closer to God.  I am especially aware of that in those moments when we are in tune with each other and I feel so loved that I have the awesome sense that I am getting a glimpse of how God loves me.  Rita’s love for me and my love for her draw us into a closer communion with God.  It takes the Sacrament of Marriage beyond our wedding day and is our commitment to follow this path to a closer communion with God.

We dated for four years.  We didn’t know it then, but we can look back now and see those years as preparation for our journey, or pilgrimage.  We spent a lot of time during those years anticipating what lay before us.  We talked about our desire to be together, how many children we would have, what kind of house we would live in, the jobs we would have and even what we would like to do in retirement.  Those years had many of the characteristics of our planning for our first trip to Europe.  We were excited about the journey ahead and wanted to be prepared. We also realized that we could not anticipate everything and had to be ready for the unknown.

As we have lived our lives together, we have experienced many of the things we anticipated.  We had children who brought us closer to each other and the awesome appreciation of God’s creation while they challenged us to be the parents they needed and to keep our communication and relationship from getting lost in the process.  We bought homes that helped us to live comfortably, but also provided a place for us to become more one as a couple and to host God’s people.  We loved having our children’s friends in our house and opening it to others as we responded to invitations to be involved in the work of the Church, especially in supporting married couples, from whom we learned much about how to follow our path to oneness and to God.  Our experience has been that responding to the requests of others has led us down paths that we never anticipated – as teachers, in various roles in our parishes, to working to enrich the marriages of others to becoming authors and speakers – but each turned out to be OUR path and always helped us to grow together and toward God.

Now that we are retired from regular jobs we have freedom to explore other paths on our pilgrimage.  We are continuing to write, pursuing projects that interest us, planning travel which we always find brings us closer and still trying to respond to invitations to help others – the most recent is an opportunity to teach in Haiti.  Rita tells people that she wants to always have a future.  At the moment that isn’t a problem.

As we age, we become more aware that our pilgrimage must come to an end.  The remaining part of the journey is somewhat murkier than the journey we anticipated during our dating years, but we look ahead with confidence that it will continue to bring us closer to each other and our ultimate goal of resting in God.

I think we always saw ourselves as being on a journey that held good things for us on paths that were often unknown.  It was a healthy perspective for us – encouraging us to always see the difficulties along the way as obstacles to be overcome so that the journey could continue and never as a reason to abandon the quest.

Read the full article.  A Marriage Proposal

Please share your reflection on your marriage as pilgrimage in a comment.

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Bob & Rita’s book:  Forever and a Day:  An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com.  Also available for Kindle and Nook.  Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at readabookpress.com.

Retirement can be a time of stress for marriages.  Has your parish or group considered an enrichment program for seniors?  Check out our program:  Aging Joyfully Together.

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About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at thewonderofmarriage.com and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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