Absent Spouse

October 13 2019 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I dearly love my hubbie of 30 years. We have had a wonderful, happy life together, crowned with 4 healthy kids who are now grown up and living away from us. He is now 60 and I am 58.

The strange thing is that, for the first time in my life, I am beginning to feel jealous of him. This is because, for the last 2 years, he has been busy in a number of clubs and associations active in various charitable causes, so he is often away in the evenings. On top of all this he is also active as an adult overseer of children in a mountaineering club. This means that he is away most weekends as well.

I know that it is a good and holy thing to work for charitable causes, but I am beginning to feel lonely at home: I would like to have his presence at least during weekends. Isn’t it a duty, not only to look after your neighbor, but also to look after your spouse?


The Catholic Church thinks very differently about marriage and family life than the world does. Others tend to think of marriage and family as something that exists solely for the couple’s benefit. For these folks, caring for one’s marriage and family can feel a little selfish – especially when there are so many other important causes in the world.

But the Church teaches that marriage and family life is, itself, a ministry. In fact, creating a strong, loving, intimate, dynamic, and prayerful, ‘domestic church life’ is the single most important ministry work a Catholic married man or woman can do.

Marriage is a ‘vocation’ in the eyes of the Church. A vocation is the primary path through which we grow in holiness and share God’s blessing with the world. There are only two official vocations in the Church: Holy Orders and Marriage. In the context of living out your particular vocation, you might also engage in certain ministries/apostolates. But any apostolate work a husband or wife does must be secondary to, and supportive of, their vocation to marriage. It certainly cannot compete with it.

Imagine that your pastor doesn’t show up for Mass for weeks on end. Now imagine the pastor explaining that it’s because he has a really important ministry commitment (making food baskets for the homeless, or teaching at the Catholic school, or whatever) that prevents him from consistently showing up to celebrate Mass, and you just have to deal with it. Would this be okay?

The correct answer (if there was any doubt) is “no.” Why? Because as noble as these other ministries are, the pastor’s vocation as a priest is primarily rooted in the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist. It’s one thing if an emergency comes up once in a while that he needs to attend to. But if handling ongoing responsibilities associated with another ministry the pastor is involved in gets in the way of his actually being as a priest, his life is seriously out of order.

Similarly, Catholic couples and families are encouraged to engage in ministry work (preferably together), but if the ministry/charitable work a husband or wife does competes with their ability to properly attend to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the members of their domestic church, their lives are grossly out of order no matter how well intended they may be.

Catholics believe that marriage and family life is a ministry for several reasons. First, husbands, wives, and children are meant to be ‘icons of the Trinity’. That is, they are meant to be physical signs to each other of how passionately and faithfully God loves each of them. You can’t be a physical sign of God’s passionate, faithful love for your spouse and kids if you’re never home. Second, families are meant to be a sign of God’s love to the world. Your neighbors should be drawn to your faith because they see how much your family loves each other, and that God inspires you to love each other that way. That is what authentic evangelization entails – seeing the practical difference Christian love makes. Beyond this, families may also do whatever evangelizing or charitable efforts they can (again, preferably together), as long as those efforts also support the health and vitality of their domestic church first.

Too many Christians think that ‘building God’s Kingdom’ means going out and saving the world. It doesn’t. ‘Building the Kingdom’ means healing and tending our relationships – first and foremost. Tell your husband it’s time to come home and celebrate the ministry of domestic church life.

Updated on October 13 2019