God's plan and the Enemy's counter plan:
The Bible begins with God's beautiful plan for man and with the havoc done to it by the Enemy. For God created not just individuals in his own image and likeness, but marriages and families, as a reflection of his own Trinitarian community life. However that was not to last long for the Serpent, the Tempter, had an evil plan for man, by leading him to prove himself superior to God and so disobey him, that brought with it disobedience and rebellion in marriage and family too (Gen 1,2,3). If God then is man's eternal friend, Satan, that is what his name means in Hebrew and in the Greek translation, is man's eternal enemy. And just as Satan's strategy is to destroy the kingdom of God, (i.e., God's loving plan for man's salvation and happiness), through his two-pronged attack in disturbing the marriage and thus crippling the family (Gen 3), so God's plan is to restore in Christ all things, especially marriage and the family.
The Restoration of marriage in Christ:
Christ therefore reminded his disciples, living in a world of infidelity in and brevity of marriage relationships, with its consequent disaster on the family, of the pristine divine plan that marriage is a close and committed relationship between man and woman, that is meant to be both exclusive (one to one) and for keeps (forever and ever). The Apostle Paul would even dare to state that Christian marriage must have as its model God's faithful and tender love for his people, which never changes and is still always fresh, and on Jesus' own sacrificial love for his church, shown by word and deed. Marriage is therefore not just an escape route or even an emotional falling in love, but a love relationship based on mutual reverential respect as its foundation, on mutual total trust as its building and on mutual constant caring or concern as its roof.
Today's breakdown of marriage:
Unfortunately today more than ever before, the breakdown of marriage and family life is more the rule than the exception, due perhaps to a lack of prayerful togetherness of the family at the end of the day and a lack of time for the couple to share with one other their joys and their sorrows, to the easy availability of drugs and uninhibited use of alcoholic beverages, to the husband's violence and the father's irresponsibility, to the glorification of gay marriages and the acceptance of the single parent phenomenon, to the laxity of the abortion laws and the spread of night life in bars and discos, to pornographic material entering the home through the internet and the need maybe of both parents working especially abroad, thus leaving their small children in the hands of questionable servants and their teenage sons and daughters in the company of the wrong 'friends'.
Before marriage - the scars of the past:
But an all important reason why marriages often don't work even from day or night one, is that couples enter marriage with the wounds of their infancy, childhood and youth still not healed and so, in spite of their best intentions and efforts, their marriage will be heading towards and may be doomed to failure. If the woman had been subjected to child sexual abuse from a stranger or a close relative, and particularly from a person in authority and of her confidence, she will not only find it difficult to have a normal healthy marriage relationship, but she may be unable to come out of a lifelong fear and even hatred of men and may still regard sex as something dirty or even sinful. If a man had in his childhood 'caught' his mother, whom he otherwise adored, doing something 'wrong' with someone not his father, he will now routinely suspect even his wife, knowing at the same time that he has no reason to do so, but cannot understand why he is acting in this way.
During marriage - the hurts of the present:
How often while counseling a wife, whose marriage was already broken or about to reach breaking point, both in the five parishes I have ministered and in the hundred of retreats that I have given, has she admitted that since hers was a proposal marriage, (but this holds good even for so called love marriages), she was not aware that her husband was an alcoholic or a schizophrenic, while his family hid this from her, since they wanted to get him off their hands, while she in her impatient desire for marriage was prepared to take up any man that was promised to her or accepted her. However many women have also revealed rather reluctantly that they were aware that their husbands were, e.g., alcoholics, but they were hoping to change them with their love, which unfortunately rarely ever happens. One will occasionally during counseling even come across wives, who have married men, whom they knew were confirmed drug addicts or were tested HIV positive, for the sole reason that they loved them, - and a priest or marriage counselor can do little about it!
The burden of guilt - influencing the future of marriage:
On the other hand, how many women, who were otherwise not just upright but pious and very religious, have confessed to the Lord in deep repentance how, much against their strict religious upbringing, their nobler instincts and their uncompromising standards of honesty and goodness, they somehow fell or landed into a 'wrong' relationship, when the three things that almost all of them said they wanted and expected most from their husbands, i.e., attention, understanding and caring, they experienced instead in someone else, drawing them irresistibly towards this person, but often bringing in its train only an unsupportable burden of guilt and gloom. One of them shared that though in the eyes of the world her popular husband was a thorough gentleman, her life at home had become a veritable hell, since he was constantly accusing her of being unfaithful. She had reached the end of her tether, so that in sheer disgust, when the opportunity presented itself, she gave in and just let go, saying to herself, 'If that is the worst he thinks of me, let me come up to his expectations or suspicions'.
The healing of marriage:
That is why it is absolutely necessary that those intending marriage should know both one another and their family backgrounds thoroughly before they 'tie the knot', and plan every detail of their married life with mutual consent in this important decision making process. The engaged encounter or marriage preparation course backed by personal counseling will make their task much easier; while I have always advised those already married to attend a Marriage Encounter weekend. However for those with serious marital problems, often of an emotional nature, an Inner Healing weekend retreat, devised specifically and exclusively for them by the Charismatic Renewal, is often the only and the last solution, precisely because in such a program the couple is helped both to identify the root causes of their problems through the teachings given and to seek a solution to them through prayer and spiritual counseling.
Inner Healing Retreats for married couples:
It was to one of these retreats that we used to give regularly in Mumbai, India and in very many other countries, which we called 'Couples in Christ' retreats, that a couple, who had already initiated the legal process for divorce, was brought by their friends. While each couple was assigned a room during those three days, this particular couple was obviously given separate rooms quite apart from one another, - without knowing at first that the other partner was also making the retreat. When they realised that they were 'tricked' by their friends, they were so angry that they wanted to leave immediately, but were persuaded to stay on at least for the first introductory teaching and prayer session, which they did, sitting in the front row but at the two far ends. At the next talk I noticed that they had moved one chair closer towards the center, - and towards one another. And finally at the very last session, I could hardly believe my eyes, they were sitting right in front and in the center holding hands. After the retreat they did not return home, but from the retreat itself they proceeded to Bangalore, a hill side resort in South India, for their 'second' honeymoon. A year later I happened to meet the same couple now reunited and filled with joy, also because there was now an addition to the family!