Recently, I received an article about a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina that claims to be the only divorce-free city in the world. Because this is such a bold claim, I did some research and actually found several articles on the internet claiming the same thing about this town. The town of Siroki-Brijeg is said to have a population of approximately 26,000 people and, in the collective memory of its townspeople, not one couple has divorced. (See tfp.org/the-only-divorce-free-city-in-the-world.)
The secret of success in this town is that couples are given a crucifix as part of their wedding ceremony and they say their marriage vows as they clasp the cross together. This act of tying their marriage union to this very visual image of Christ’s love has been reported to bear tremendous fruit over the years.
One of the first lessons that stood out about couples in this town is that they are taught all their life that marriage is meant to be more than just a relationship between two people; marriage is a vocation. According to foryourmarriage.org, “The vocation to marriage is a call to a life of holiness and service within the couple’s own relationship and in their family. As a particular way of following the Lord, this vocation also challenges a couple to live their marriage in a way that expresses God’s truth and love in the world.”
Marriage is the couple’s way to get one another and their families to heaven. It is how we serve God in this world, and show others what love can look like. Marriage is where our children first learn God’s love for them and where they first begin to see the image of God. This is a big responsibility couples have, but it can bring them and others around them great joy!
Because we live in an imperfect world, there will inevitably be hardships that marriages and families have to endure. By learning how to “kiss the cross,” or embrace the cross as couples in this town are taught, we are able to unite our sufferings to God’s love for us. We need the graces that come from the sacraments to get us through difficult times. It will not be easy to endure the sufferings of life, but we have been graced with the Eucharist to feed and sustain us. We have the sacrament of reconciliation to be healed and offer our sins to the Lord. We also have the priesthood (holy orders) to support our marriages and families, baptism to sanctify us and confirmation to strengthen us. Finally, we have anointing of the sick to heal us in times of need and prepare us to meet our Lord. We are given all the help we need in this world, and many graces are poured out through all of these sacraments.
One final lesson that can be learned from that town in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the enthronement of the crucifix in their home. After their wedding, couples are instructed to enthrone that special crucifix in their home and to come to Jesus often. This mirrors Jesus’ advice: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30). In developing a relationship with Jesus, both as an individual and as a married couple, they grow in understanding that Jesus wants to hear their prayers and is there to guide them. When the couple learns to lay their cares before the Lord, they feel less alone. They are able to have hope and look for lights of guidance as to where they should go. The cross becomes not just a symbol of suffering, but rather a beautiful visual image of how much Jesus wants to be with them and all of us.
We have an amazing opportunity in our marriages and families right now. It is called Lent. This is the time of year when we learn to better embrace our personal crosses out of love for God. This year can be a great way to start something new in your marriage or family. Purchase a new crucifix, have it blessed and place it in a special place in your home where it can be a daily reminder to you. Take advantage of the sacraments as a family and as a couple. Go to confession where available as a family, or take special time to pray together as a family this Lent.
Another great opportunity is to hold a crucifix with your spouse and offer prayers together to the Lord. This simple act, such a beautiful expression of love for God, will provide many graces for you and those you love. Regardless of what you choose to do this Lent, the Lord continually calls all of us to take up our crosses and follow him and, by doing so, we will bear great fruit in our marriages and families.
Tremblay is marriage and life ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.