July 8, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Friendship strengthens love in marriage

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

The fourth chapter of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) is a profound and very practical description of the meaning of love in marriage. This chapter should be required reading for all couples who are preparing for the sacrament of matrimony!

Pope Francis uses Scripture to define love in marriage. Love is all the things that St. Paul celebrates—patience, kindness, joy, fidelity, hope and endurance. Equally important, love is not jealousy, boastfulness, arrogance, rudeness, irritability, resentment or insistence on its own way (1 Cor 13:4-7).

After his powerful meditation on St. Paul’s lyrical description of love, the Holy Father speaks of marriage as the “greatest form of friendship” (#123).

One of the distinguishing features of the friendship between husband and wife is that it is meant to be an all-consuming passion.

By “all-consuming,” the pope means that it is a passion that is intended to unite a man and a woman physically, intellectually and spiritually for their whole lives. “This unique friendship between a man and a woman acquires an all-encompassing character only within the conjugal union,” Pope Francis writes. “Precisely as all-encompassing, this union is also exclusive, faithful and open to new life” (#125).

Lovers are passionate. Friends are faithful and generous to one another. Married couples whose love is genuine and enduring are both. And what’s more, they are open to new life!

Seen in this way, the friendship of married couples is nothing short of amazing. Contrary to all the cultural trends that devalue marriage or dismiss its importance for individuals, families and societies, the authentically Christian view of marriage is something truly special. Yes, it takes a lot of work to remain lovers, to be faithful friends, to make the sacrifices that family life demands. But the resulting friendship is worth the effort.

“The love of friendship unifies all aspects of marital life and helps family members to grow constantly,” Pope Francis says. “This love must be freely and generously expressed in words and acts. In the family, three words need to be used. I want to repeat this! Three words: Please, Thanks, Sorry” (#133).

Pope Francis’ teaching on love in marriage is profound. It goes to the heart of what it means to be human beings in love, and has a powerful spiritual dimension. But if we know anything at all about our current pope, we know that he refuses to allow Church teaching to be abstract or spiritualized. Love in marriage is very practical, the pope tells us. It must be freely and generously expressed in three very concrete and practical words: Please. Thanks. Sorry.

Passionate lovers can become self-centered. Friends can take advantage of one another. Parents can be distracted by the obligations of child-rearing. To keep a marriage strong, the couple must be able to communicate freely and without fear of reprisals. They must remember to be respectful (“please”), to express gratitude (“thanks”) and, above all, to apologize (“sorry”) and ask forgiveness for their failures to live up to the great mystery that is love in marriage.

“It is not helpful to dream of an idyllic and perfect love needing no stimulus to grow,” Pope Francis reminds us. “A celestial notion of earthly love forgets that the best is yet to come, that fine wine matures with age” (#135). Quoting the bishops of Chile, Pope Francis observes that media images of “the perfect family” are “consumerist propaganda” that have nothing to do with the reality which must daily be faced by today’s families (#135).

Dialogue is essential. “Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right” (#137). Communication in marriage is hard work, but it is critical to the kind of growth in love and understanding that makes patience, kindness, joy, fidelity, hope and endurance possible over many years of married life.

“Develop the habit of giving real importance to the other person. This means appreciating them and recognizing their right to exist, to think as they do and be happy. Never downplay what they say or think, even if you need to express your own point of view” (#138). Isn’t this what friendship is all about—recognizing the importance and dignity of the other person even when we disagree?

The best marriages, the ones that last, are the ones where the couples are good friends. May all husbands and wives learn to befriend one another for life! †

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