Merry marriages

It is only a few short weeks after celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, but many of us have long had our decorations packed up and tucked away in the closet or the basement. Christmas 2015 is just a memory, and the world, primarily Madison Avenue, is doing its best to convince us that now we should not only be ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but we should be busy shopping for spring fashions and vacation deals for Easter break and, yes, even summer vacation. The rush through the seasons never seems to end.

Something that helps keep the meaning of Christmas close to my heart is to choose one or two favorite messages from the pope to pray with and reflect upon as we move through the new year. In addition to his daily homilies, general audiences and Angelus messages, the Advent and Christmas seasons have the Holy Father commenting on the various feast days and also addressing a number of different groups.

My favorite Christmas commentary from Pope Francis this season came in the form of his Christmas message to Vatican employees. The analogy he used was a very fitting one for our full-speed-ahead, time-to-move-onto-the-next-thing way of life. The pope made me think about how often we treat our loved ones like that special box of ornaments or holiday trimmings that we bring out once a year. We dust them off and make them a central focus of our homes at least for a few weeks. We take lots of pictures and proudly display them for visitors to see but only for a limited amount of time. Then they’re put aside and it’s off to the races again as we get back into our extremely busy routines. And while the pope talked about the importance of not taking family for granted in our jam-packed lives, he focused mostly on marriage.

“I encourage you to take care of your marriage and your children,” the pope said. “Marriage is like a plant. It is not like a closet, that you put there, in the room, and just dust it occasionally. A plant is alive. It should be cared for every day.”

Before my husband and I came back to the Church, we were typical yuppies. We convinced ourselves that we could build a marriage on so-called “quality” time during weekends and holidays. But we were wrong. Soon we were living what is often referred to as “married singles” — married sacramentally and civilly but living for the most part separate or single lives. It took a crisis in our relationship — a near divorce — to wake us up. By the grace of God, our marriage was saved. And that’s why the pope’s words are staying with me long after the lights and garland have been put back in that dusty closet.

“A marriage is a living reality; the couple’s life should never be taken for granted,” the pope said. “Let us remember that the most precious gift for the children are not things, but the love of parents — and I mean not only the love of parents toward their children but parents love for each other.”

Maybe you had a great holiday season with your spouse, family and friends. Whether it’s going to Mass together, lighting the candles on the Advent wreath, buying and giving just the right gift or cooking a favorite meal, all of these activities can be wonderful, festive and faith-filled. But how many times have we heard that when it comes to living healthier lives, it’s more about what we do between New Year’s and Christmas, not Christmas and New Year’s, that really makes a difference in the long term?

I, for one, am thanking Pope Francis for reminding my husband and me how to nurture our marriage and keep it merry and sacred all year long.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.