By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage, Family & Life
As I continue to review Chapter 4 of Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love,” specifically his review of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we are at the phrase: “Love does not insist on its own way,” which the Holy Father presents as “Love is generous.”
In this section, he highlights a central teaching of the Church that comes down to us from Jesus that is both very apparent based on the life of Christ and at the same time something that, in our human weakness, is so difficult to pull off. In short, this teaching is that it is greater to love than to be loved, or in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas quoted by Pope Francis, “it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be loved.” To put it directly in the context of marriage, we are called to love our spouse and our children more than we expect love from them. The more we give away our love, the greater love will be in our marriage and family.
I have known some great examples of this type of selfless love in married couples. While I hope in most marriages both spouses are sharing the love of God with each other, in other marriages the sharing of love is more of a “one-way” street where the one spouse shares the love of God and may get very little affection from the other. One woman I knew was in a marriage where she became a font of God’s love to her children and her husband. She always loved even though she did not receive obvious signs of love in return. It seemed that her husband was so preoccupied with career and hobbies that he was not aware of what she did for him and their family. He was always very appreciative of his wife, but frankly was self-centered in giving his love away. This woman reflected the free and full love of Jesus for the world in her own way. She gave and gave and gave some more to her husband and children without expecting anything in return. If you are reading this and thinking, “She is just being taken advantage of,” or “This is just not fair,” then you are probably thinking like many (perhaps most) do in marriage. For many a sense of “justice” means that if I share my love with my spouse, I should expect some love in return. Yet this woman never complained, never resented, never felt alone. Instead, she felt a true joy in being able to love her family. She was a true saint in her marriage because she was more interested in loving others as Christ loves the Church than in any signs of love or affection she could have received.
And if you are thinking that only women love like this, I know of a man whose wife became ill with a chronic disease and the way he responded was holy. By his own account, before his wife became ill, he was rather self-centered in his marriage. But after her illness he cared for her and the children without expecting (nor receiving) much love in return. His love went way beyond cooking and cleaning to also include being the source of loving comments, gestures, and reflecting an attitude of love in his family. I cannot remember his exact words, but he in private would claim that his wife’s illness, “provided me with the opportunity to love her more than I ever had before.” And the beauty of his love was that he expected nothing in return. At first, sharing self-less love was hard for him to accept but as time went by he realized the joy he received by giving love away; a joy which was so much greater than anything he felt when he received signs of love from his wife.
Both of these examples are people that came to see that the more they gave their love away the greater love became in their marriage. God is love, and the more we share God’s love, the more God’s grace will come into our lives. God’s love for us is not a self-centered love – God does not look for what he can get from us in return for loving us – and so our love in our marriage and our family is not to be a self-centered love. When someone is being generous, they give something away without expecting anything back. We are called to be generous with love, generous even when we receive nothing in return. This is tough to do. We may at times come up short of this wonderful goal but still, strive to do what Pope Francis wrote – strive to be generous with your love.