Our Married Saints

Older couple holding hands

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the really holy people are only religious celibates. After all, this month especially, we recognise most of the canonised saints as priests or religious sisters and brothers. Not many married people are among those saints. Occupied by the ordinary activities of raising a family, we can easily assume sainthood is for a different league of Catholic.

Yet, there are a surprising number of married pair saints – that is, where both husband and wife are canonised as opposed to just one of the spouses. Click here to see some examples  More famous ones are Zachariah and Elizabeth (parents of John the Baptist), Joachim and Anne plus of course Joseph and Mary Mother of God. But one of the most interesting married pairs is Saints Priscilla and Aquila (see more from marriage resource centre).

These first century Jews worked closely with St Paul in Corinth and then in Ephesus. Their extended time with the apostle has led to speculation that his famous instruction to husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:21-33), may have been informed by this holy couple: “Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. …and as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.”

Today some have misinterpreted this advice as sexist or misogynistic! Paul instructs them both to give way to the other – he just names two different ways of doing so… wives through respect and deference, husbands through cherishment and sacrifice. Neither are easy, and it’s worth noting that St Paul breaks it down into detail for the husbands who get six verses of instruction compared to only three for wives!

In any case, Paul writes with a strong instruction for couples to lift their game. Pre-empting the excuses and raising the stakes, he points out that the relationship between husband and wife illuminates the nature of Christ’s love for the Church.  “’For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body. This mystery has many implications and I am applying it to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:31-32)

In other words, a marriage is not just about individual couples. It’s about the mission of the Church.  When our marital relationships are dysfunctional or just ‘bland’, they undermine the ability of our faith community to witness to Christ and the Gospel.  St Paul’s call to generous self-donation as an act of worship is just as relevant today as it was then. As husband and wife, we are called to be a spectacular example of mutual love, acceptance, and intimacy… and through that, a tangible witness to what, as Church, we can be together.

So, perhaps there’s hope for us yet in the sainthood stakes. It won’t be like the public holiness of our big-name saints, but could we rise to a private martyrdom?  One that freely and joyfully seeks to honour God through the simple act of loving our spouse by following Paul’s advice.


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