By Dr. Mark Krejci/Director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a well-known “new media” evangelist from the 1930s through the 60s (when “new media” was the radio and then television) was often complimented for his inspiring talks. He would respond that it was easy to put together his presentations because he had such great ghost writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As I developed a plan for this first year of my column “Praying with the Family” I found ideas in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” as well as the writings of St. John Paul II, Holy Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These sources, plus a few others, have served as my “ghost writers.” For those who have approached me and graciously shared that you have enjoyed my column, let me again say thank you but, like Archbishop Sheen, I access some pretty powerful sources for ideas.
Over the next few columns I am going to focus on one source. I will take my readers through Chapter 4 of “Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)”, in which Pope Francis reviews the passage on love from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 13:4-7. Let me save you the time of looking it up by sharing it with you now:
“Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
I suppose many of you have heard this reading at wedding celebrations over the years and so believe that Paul is writing to engaged or married couples. To go one more step along this line of thinking, some of you may believe that these next few columns will not have anything to do with you because you are not married or engaged. But 1 Cor 13:4-7 is meant by Paul to apply to all Christians because all are expected to be a reflection of God’s love in the world. While my words will focus on married couples given the focus of Chapter 4, we are all called to love God and to love our neighbors.
So with this in mind, the love that Paul is writing about is not the understanding of love that many will imagine when it comes to couples who are dating, engaged or are newlyweds. The culture portrays “romantic love” as the heart of marriage and, while I hope you experience romantic love with your spouse, you probably know that there are other dimensions of love that sustain a marriage. There is the love of a deep friendship, there is the love sacrifice, there is the love when making ourselves a gift to our beloved and there is the love where every part of your being is oriented to loving the other for the good of the other, and not expecting anything in return. All of these dimensions of love come from our God who is love. As others have written, God does not love in the manner of one human loving another, but God is the very act and being of love itself. If you wish to read one of the best explanations of a Catholic understanding of love let me refer you to the work of another Pope, Benedict XVI, who in 2005 signed his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).”
A husband and wife are to love each other as God loves us. I shared this idea with a couple and they responded by saying that this was an unrealistic goal. “Oh come on, no one can live up to that standard!,” he responded (with a tone that made me put an exclamation mark at the end of his quote). They could not imagine how they could ever love each other that much and I was not surprised by their response, for their understanding of love was pretty limited and even self-centered. No doubt all married couples are on a journey where we should be, in the words of Pope Francis, using the “grace of the sacrament … to perfect the couple’s love.” Love in marriage is a work in progress where we are to grow into deeper and deeper love for our spouse as we should all be growing into deeper and deeper love for our Lord. As I review Pope Francis’ writing on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 over my next few columns, it is my hope that couples use the reflections of the Holy Father to better perfect their love for each other, to better reflect God, who is love, to each other and throughout their family.