By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Marriage, Family & Life
Paul ends his exposition on love in first Corinthians with four phrases, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” In marriage, we know that love is to be patient, kind, not jealous or arrogant, is not to be self-centered, and is to rejoice in the good of the other. These are some of the points covered in the first verses of 1 Corinthians, 13:4-7. And then Paul repeats the “all things” phrases pertaining to love and Pope Francis in “The Joy of Love” covers each in some detail. I will begin this column with one of the final points he makes about “love bears all things.” The Holy Father writes, “Love coexists with imperfection.”
When people marry, they are often able to describe a number of things about their beloved that they adore. I was talking with an engaged couple one time. He told me how his future wife was so caring and considerate, was cute and very attractive, was intelligent and could “figure things out” in a way that impressed him. She in turn was just as laudatory: “He is such a good listener and he sends me cute text messages and he is a bright guy.” They also complimented each other on their faith life – they recognized that the other was a firm believer in Jesus Christ.
In a nice way, I asked this couple a question that went something like this, “And what are the things about the other person that bother you?” Now, don’t think I was being “Doctor Downer” and trying to get this couple into a fight, but like many young couples they were so focused on seeing the positive in the other that they never talked about the negative. Many young couples, and for that matter even married couples who have been together for many years, have difficulty with the “touchy conversation” about things that bother, irritate, or offend. If these conversations happen at all, they tend to occur after one party is “fed up” or “can’t take it any longer” and then people lose their tempers, hurt feelings come out, and the situation is ignored and yet never goes away.
What Paul writes is so true, “love bears all things,” or as Pope Francis summarized, “love coexists with imperfection.” Married people reading this column, don’t you agree? I wish I had a way of knowing what each of you readers are thinking right now – especially those who are married. Are your thoughts something like this? “Oh yes, St. Paul is right, I have to bear many things about my spouse.” Or perhaps you are thinking, “The Holy Father is so right, my love for my spouse exists in spite of her/his imperfections.” or even, “Somehow, I am still able to love them even with her/his many imperfections.” If you are thinking something like this, let me suggest that you are missing the point. When I write to have you reflect on imperfections, I write to have you reflect on your own! What are your imperfections that your spouse has to bear? What are your imperfections that, in spite of these, your spouse still loves you?
One thing I have noticed in couples who have difficulty in working through “touchy conversations” is that one or both parties are unaware of the imperfections they bring to the marriage. They are often only focused on the imperfections of their spouse. They are able to list all sorts of personal weaknesses in their beloved but unable to comment or hear about their own weaknesses, challenges or – to put it bluntly – sin. The Holy Father gives wise advice when he tells couples to limit their judgment and watch what they say about the other’s imperfections. At the same time, in humility, we should recognize our own.
When two people marry, they bring all of their strengths and weaknesses into the relationship. They should strive to grow ever closer to reflecting the love of God in their marriage, which means that they should always strive to grow in holiness. Yet, as Pope Francis writes, “love does not have to be perfect for us to value it.” Your love will be perfected when you are in heaven, with God who is love. While here on earth, as you work to deal with your imperfections to help you become a better husband or a better wife, keep in mind that, “love bears all things.”