Often couples, particularly ones preparing for marriage, seek advice on what kinds of things the “ideal Catholic” couple and family ought to do. In fact, I know that it’s become a bit of a tradition for newlyweds to ask their wedding guests to share a few words of advice with them in a guest book. Given that we’re nearing the end of another year and the beginning of a new one—a time of year when we usually like to reflect on the past and make some concrete resolutions for the future—I thought it would be nice to compile a list of qualities that all Catholic marriages and families ought to strive towards.
My hope is that this list affirms you in those good things which you are already doing, and helps inspire you to renew your zeal to strive for marital and familial holiness while also fostering a deeper and more personal relationship with Jesus, your Lord and Saviour.
This list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to intimidate. Our paths to holiness, the way we grow in the spiritual life, the pace at which we do so—these are unique to each one of us. The point is simply that we grow—in grace and virtue—and I believe this list can help many couples to do just that in the vocation to which they have been called. You’ll notice that a lot of things on this list are not strictly speaking “religious” or “spiritual” practices, and that’s because families are not meant to live the way monks live in a monastery, steeped in formal prayer for the greater part of their day. The call to holiness in marriage and family life has a different dimension, has its own set of responsibilities, and therefore requires different things of us.
Let’s take a look!
The call to holiness in marriage and family life has a different dimension, has its own set of responsibilities, and therefore requires different things of us.
Qualities to strive for and practices to adopt as a couple and as a family:
Do a holy hour together (or at least individually on your own) at least once a week.
Do at least a monthly examinations of conscience for married couples.
Go to Confession at least once every two months, ideally taking your family too (that is, children), if not more often.
Pray a rosary together daily as a family.
Manage finances well and live a well-organized life.
Communicate very well with each other, don't attempt to read each other's minds but share how you really feel.
Resolve conflict easily by kind, loving, and honest communication, and compromise where needed.
Prepare your children humanly, emotionally, and spiritually to flourish.
Have a disciplined and solid personal prayer life.
Have a good support system of friends and family to fall back on.
Have good physical health, which helps mental and spiritual health.
Know how to have holy leisure together and as a family.
Be actively involved in your children’s intellectual and spiritual growth. (I support homeschooling where you have discerned it is a right fit for you.)
Be constantly modelling a life of holiness and virtue for eachother and your children.
Have an organized way of continuing your formation in your matrimonial vocation, to more perfectly live it out. (E.g. joining various groups that exist to support Catholic couples like TOOL.)
Regularly spend time with other good Catholic couples who are striving for holiness.
Understand and live the proper spirit of Theology of the Body of St. John Paul II.
Don’t keep score or hold grudges.
Steward your home well as a domestic Church.
Maintain the home as a beautiful and comfortable place where people feel comfortable “and at home.” This helps children in many areas of their development and growth.
In connection with the above point, keep a clean and orderly home.
Try to be involved in your local parish community, of course only as your time and charisms/gifts allow.
Distribute chores/tasks in an equitable and wise way between spouses and children.
Have devotions and prayer time in the family at regular intervals, and ideally, in sync with the liturgical season (E.g. Advent, Lent, Easter, etc.).
Keep the home well organized in a way that tends toward a holy simplicity of life and a healthy spirit of detachment.
As circumstances allow, regularly keep in touch and spend time with other family members (parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces and nephews, etc.)
Always communicate with each other and act in a way that others always know you love each other, even if there may be a disagreement on a particular matter.
Know how to compromise your personal preferences, when prudent, for a greater good, in a spirit of loving and holy self-sacrifice.
Love Jesus more than you love each other.
Celebrate liturgical seasons and special occasions well (E.g. birthdays, anniversaries, solemnities/feasts, etc.). Think of the Immaculate Conception, for example, or the Solemnity of St. Joseph.
Follow Canon law, and all Church teaching on marriage.
Practice a complete openness to life according to the Church’s teachings.
Intentionally build in time to “improve” how you live your vocation, and book this in proactively.
Have date nights or special outings just as a couple.
Never go to bed angry, and try to resolve any tension by humility, forgiveness, docility, prayer, compromise, and loving and gracious conversation.
Never lose your temper, and never say hurtful words to the other. If you do, you will apologize absolutely immediately.
Never say anything you know will bother your spouse unless you really think you need to for a greater good—otherwise you are disrespecting them.
Forgive generously as needed.
Try to get enough sleep time, and leisure time. This is different for everyone, but get what you need to thrive.
Abide by civil law except in cases where to do so would be immoral and wrong, in light of Catholic teaching.
Learn from other couples what works well, and consider integrating the good ideas of other couples into your own marriage. You can experiment, see what happens, and then discontinue certain things as you think best.
Consecrate your family and your home to Mary (and maybe St. Joseph too).
Enthrone the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home.
Try to regularly support and spend time with your priest(s) (e.g. inviting them over for meal, or something else perhaps).
Regularly have a “sit down,” and talk more deeply about how things are going in your marriage. (e.g. monthly sit down, however you want. Maybe light a candle, say a prayer, and chat).
Always try to make each other’s lives easier.
Continue to intentionally cultivate a deeper friendship with your spouse.
If you do something wrong, humble yourself and apologize, even to children who need to see this good example.
Pray together regularly. Both the father and the mother should have an active role. “The family that prays together, stays together.”
Engage frequently in “conjugal prayer:” That is prayer where the husband and wife join together in prayer, just the two of them even apart from their family prayer.
Memorize your vows and know what you committed to on your wedding day. It is a good summary of the vocation, and perhaps a good daily examination of conscience.
Learn from your mistakes. Learn from what works well and doesn’t work well, so that you are always improving in the various aspects of your marriage.
If something your spouse is doing is actually bothering you, tell them graciously, so they know how you really feel. Assuming others read your mind can become problematic for both parties.
Live your marriage in a way that those who don’t live Godly marriages will be attractive to emulate. For example, let others see the happiness and joy of a life of total self-sacrifice according to one’s vocation, and the joy that being open to life really brings.
Don’t stress about having lots of children. The more children you have, the more they actually begin to raise each other and teach each other virtues (and lots of other things).
Each child is different: love them as a unique gift, and love them equally.
Try making your children into saints. One does this best by becoming a saint themselves.
Keep your house clean and tidy, because this actually largely impacts people’s mental states, and the harmony and interior peace within your family.
Have holy reminders and holy images scattered throughout your house. (e.g. Crucifixes, images of Our Lady, the saints, and other sacramentals.)
Consider having a home gym or getting proper exercise.
Consider being enrolled in the brown scapular, or wearing the miraculous medal (or at least keeping it with you on your person).
Consecrate yourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary (think saints Louis Marie de Montfort or Maximillian Kolbe).
Keep holy water in your house in several places, perhaps sprinkling it routinely throughout the house, maybe monthly, or as needed/desired/requested.
Keep the 10 Commandments posted on your wall somewhere as a constant reminder of areas to grow in.
Remember that by doing things well, one sanctifies those tasks, brings glory to God, grows in virtue, and usually gets more work done.
Remember the most productive thing you can possibly do at any given moment is God’s will.
Try to make all the duties of your state in life an offering to God, which you present to God in union with Christ’s sacrifice at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Arrive at Mass early and be prayerfully ready for Mass. Go at least to Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation, but additionally, consider going throughout the week (even with your children)!
Stay after Holy Mass and make a good proper thanksgiving.
Try to let your children spend time with the children of other good, Catholic couples. It’s good for their development.
Remember that all you do should be out of love for God and neighbour (which itself is out of love for God).
Remember that if you are having marriage troubles, it’s not a bad thing to consider having a good, Catholic or Christian marriage counselor who can help facilitate good communication and navigate the struggles. Something like that can at times be very helpful.
Have your house blessed, maybe once a year.
Parents lead prayers and blessings on special occasions. (e.g. the traditional Epiphany house blessing, the family rosary, some daily Bible reading time, reading/sharing the lives of the saints, etc.)
An earthly father should strive to reflect the Heavenly Father to his children, and the mother should image our Heavenly Mother Mary to them.
Father Gregory Merkley
Father Gregory Merkley is a priest of the Diocese of Hamilton, in Ontario, Canada. Having grown up in a family where the faith was not very practiced, he lived for some years as a practical atheist. After his return to the Catholic Church, he gave his life to Christ and was ordained a Catholic priest on May 4th, 2019. Father Merkley is interested in anything Catholic, with a special love for evangelization, apologetics, Catholic Tradition, and canon law. When he is not praying, he is most typically involved in some form of evangelization or ministry. You can learn more about him at his personal website.