Praying with the Family

‘Love is not boastful’: A marriage of two servants

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life

The example I use to start this column will turn some of you off. You will not even get through the first paragraph before saying “I’m not reading about this” and not finish the column. But don’t worry, I am not going into too much detail and will quickly move on.                 

As many of you know, I have been reflecting on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia – Chapter 4 – and the next section covers “Love is not boastful.” Upon reading the title to this section, I immediately thought of a classic Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun. There is one song where Annie Oakley, the title character, and her sharpshooter rival Frank Butler, sing a song called Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better). The opening line of the song starts with Annie singing, “Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.” and then Frank and Annie going back and forth, “No, you can’t”, “Yes I can” two or three times. One boasts that they can “shoot a partridge, with a single cartridge” and the other replies “I can get a sparrow with a bow and arrow.” If you are not familiar with the song, you can find the movie version on YouTube. Now I know some of you do not like musicals but I come from a family that loves musical theatre and so I end up with this example of being “boastful” stuck in my head.

Pope Francis says that love is not to be “haughty, pushy, or arrogant” but I wonder if you know of any married couples who always seem to be in competition with each other, who in their own way are singing the “Anything you can do” song in their marriage. If they disagree with their spouse, they want their idea to “win” – they want their way to triumph. But Pope Francis points out to us, “Jesus told his disciples that in a world where power prevails, each tries to dominate the other, but ‘it shall not be among you’ (Mt 20:26).” He sums up his reflections on “Love is not boastful” with great insight when he writes, “In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love ... for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Pet 5:5).”

We should not be boastful with our spouse, we should not be pushy or arrogant but, in contrast, we should be like Jesus and be a servant. An alternative to seeing yourself needing to be “on top” in your marriage is to follow the teaching of Jesus when he says “the first is to be the last.” So, in your marriage, you should think of your spouse as someone to serve. What would it mean to be a servant husband or a servant wife? It means that we would seek to understand our spouse, to show concern for them, to help them see God by reflecting the love of Jesus to them. It means that we will set our needs aside to help meet the needs of our spouse. This is not meant to give your spouse permission to take advantage of you; each spouse is to equally respond with a servant’s heart. An attitude of service, when held by both husband and wife, will mean that a good balance will emerge so that both are being served as they serve the other.

I knew one couple where they “bent over backwards” to serve each other. He would always look for the opportunity to do something nice for her and she would do the same for him. They were always thinking about kind and caring things they could do for each other, often doing these things without the other even noticing. They both acted as a loving servant to the other, reflecting as best they could the loving service of Jesus to us all. Contrast this with a couple where the husband never wants to give in to his wife and the wife never does anything nice for her husband. This is the type of couple that will “keep count” of the number of times the other has bothered them or done something inconsiderate but never even notice when their spouse does something nice for them. Guess which couple is going to be happier in their marriage?

Let me suggest you each pray this prayer for your marriage every day: “God, grant me a servant’s heart towards my wife/husband. Jesus, show me how to place my wife/husband first in my life. Holy Spirit, help me love my wife/husband as God loves us all.”