In Part 3 of the Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis reflects on how husbands and wives contribute to each other’s holiness:
“The union of husband and wife in holy devotion . . . is the best and most fruitful of all and they should mutually encourage one another in it. Wives should desire that their husbands be kept with the sugar of devotion. Without devotion a man is a severe rough creature and without devotion a woman is very frail and apt to decline in virtue or lose it. St. Paul says that “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband,” because in the close alliance of marriage the one can more easily lead the other to a virtuous life. What a blessing it is when believing husband and believing wife sanctify each other in true fear of the Lord. As to other things, then, mutual support must be so great that they will never be angry with each other at the same time [!], and hence quarrels or disputes will never be seen between them. Honeybees cannot remain in a place where there are echoes, loud noises, and resounding voices, nor can the Holy Spirit remain in a home where there are quarrels, recriminations, and the echoing sounds of scolding and strife. St. Gregory Nazienzen tells us that in his time married people kept their anniversary as a festival day. On that day husband and wife should go to confession and receive Holy Communion and with more than ordinary fervor commend to God the success and happiness of their marriage. They should renew their good intention to sanctify it more by mutual love and fidelity and, so to speak, they should recover breath in our Lord to support the burdens of their vocation.”
It seems clear to me that Francis saw marriage and the family as the place where devotion could flourish. And that just as devotion could strengthen a family, so a healthy family life would strengthen devotion. His description of married life may seem idealistic, but it is something to aim for as husbands and wives daily renew their decision to live in love with each other and their families.
Fr. Donald Heet, OSFS