“I was dazzled by a girl I met… I was struck by her beauty, her spirit. I was bowled over for quite a while, she made my head spin.”
Yes, even Pope Francis has experienced falling in love. Much more than just hormones, neurochemicals, emotions, or a pyscho-physical state, love is an ongoing relationship between two people. It is stable, yet grows and is lasting; it offers affection, support, help, and hope (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). If a relationship is not rooted in this love, how can it last? Just as God’s love is total and without end, so must be the love upon which a family is based. In a world where too many settle for an empty version of love and the family unit is under attacksuffering difficulty, it becomes critical that we remember the sacredness of the sacrament of marriage and its purpose as instituted by God.
God’s first command to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). He had not joined our first parents solely for their own benefit or pleasure. Their every act in God’s new creation was to glory and praise Him. Similarly, a man and a woman do not enter into a marriage for their own happiness, but to “love and honor” each other “in good times and in bad… all the days of [their] life.” The couple reflects God’s bearing fruit in their lives, a continuous sign of God’s Power in the world. Everything they do, be it chores, budgeting, cooking, or relaxing, whether separately or together, is a living out of their sacrament— even the smallest acts in the life of a married couple have power hidden within them to make them holy. As married life is the ground of holiness, love is the seed planted by God. Life, together with its agonies and joys, pain and sacrifices, frustrations and tensions, moments of exultation and despair, all act as the rain and sun, thunder and lightning on a young sprout.
Of course, disagreements are a normal part of the married lifestyle as well as the human condition. No one is perfect but the faults and weaknesses of each one are compensated for by the other’s virtues. Each possesses what the other lacks. Rather than causing a rift between the two, this results in a loving dependence on each other for spiritual growth and transformation. By forming a habit of looking at each other in a sacramental way— seeing the beauty of God in each other’s souls and seeking to enhance that beauty by building up each other— a married couple reflects God’s blessings and love.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges this by making no distinction between the roles of the man and woman in the family (see CCC 2221-2231). Rather, both are called to provide the good example and instruction of both academic reason and moral and spiritual formation to their offspring, who in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of the parents (see CCC 2227). Being married to one another, the man and his wife are entrusted with the welfare of the family— woe to those who neglect this responsibility (see 1 Timothy 5:8)! The purpose of raising of a family is not to give glory to oneself but to selflessly assist each other in reaching the Kingdom of God. This is no easy task, as it is a great challenge to devote one’s life to those around him/her! To do this requires great love, the strongest bonding force, and we are reminded of this in a reading commonly used in weddings:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33)
Finally, Matrimony responds to a specific vocation and must be remembered as sacred. It is a consecration: the man and woman are consecrated in their love. The spouses, then, are entrusted with a mission, so that by starting with the simple ordinary things of life they may make visible and known the love with which Christ loves His Church— that is continuing to give His life for her in fidelity and service. In spite of the difficulties experienced by married couples, the important thing to remember is the nurturing of their bond with God, Who is the foundation of and the cause of joy in the marital bond. Pope Francis, though he ultimately gave himself to the ultimate Spouse, offers these words of advice for preserving “what God has joined, [and] men must not divide”:
There are three words that always need to be said, three words that need to be said at home: may I, thank you, and sorry. The three magic words. May I: so as not to be intrusive in the life of the spouses. May I, but how does it seem to you? May I, please allow me. Thank you: to thank one’s spouse; thank you for what you did for me, thank you for this. That beauty of giving thanks! And since we all make mistakes, that other word which is a bit hard to say but which needs to be said: sorry. Please, thank you, and sorry. With these three words, with the prayer of the husband for the wife and vice versa, by always making peace before the day comes to an end, marriage will go forward. The three magic words, prayer and always making peace.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.