Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

What is True Love?

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

This week a lot of tokens of affection will be exchanged. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. I’m not going to begrudge anyone their cards, candy, and flowers. There’s even a time and place for diamonds. I’m quite fond of gifts that involve chocolate myself! But, it is important to realize that love, true love, goes far beyond anything that can be given in a box.

One of the most beautiful expressions of love I’ve ever seen took place at a soccer game. It featured an older couple I had come to know through my parish. I had the pleasure of serving with them on our pre-cana team. At the time, they had been married thirty-five years and they were responsible for giving the talk on sexuality. I’m sure many of the young couples in the audience walking in wondered what a couple older than their parents could have to say about sexuality, but their fears were quickly allayed.

I’m sure that they had their share of struggles, but this couple was so in love, even after all those years, and their talk was always one of the most appreciated of the day. He still looked at her like she was the most beautiful woman in the room and she referred to him as “the cream in my coffee!” They were full of romance, and held hands and stood as close as the young engaged couples.

One of the stories they shared took place on a holy day. They had met each other for noon Mass at a downtown chapel and then went to a restaurant for lunch. The following weekend they were at a party, and a woman came up to them and said, “Wow, you are really his wife?” Apparently, this woman had seen them when they were leaving the restaurant. They had kissed twice before getting into their separate cars, and she just assumed that they were having an affair! They also shared stories of having candlelit dinners and slow-dancing in their living room, even during the years when it embarrassed their children.

Fast-forward ten years. The husband was suffering from dementia and assorted physical ailments. On a chilly New England Fall day, his wife had brought him to the soccer field to watch their grandson play, helped him into his wheelchair, and pushed him to the field. During the game, I happened to look over at them. She was standing behind him, leaning on his wheelchair, her face tired and worn from worry and exhaustion. I offered a prayer. And then, she covered his ears with her own mittened hands to keep them warm. That simple gesture represented a lifetime of true love and was worth more than a hundred diamond rings. He died a few months later, but the witness of their love was a blessing to all who saw it through their nearly fifty years of marriage.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Book Review: “The Bible’s Best Love Stories”

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

The Bible’s Best Love Stories
by Allan F. Wright
Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press

When one mentions love stories, I’d be willing to bet that the first thing that comes to mind is not the Bible. One tends to think of romantic movies or novels. Perhaps one might think of couples one knows whose love stands out in the crowd. Yet, God is the author of love and the Bible, as the word of God, is a wonderful place to look for examples of love and role models for our own relationships. In “The Bible’s Best Love Stories,” Allan F. Wright examines some of the very human love stories contained in the pages of scripture. These stories do not show an idealistic portrayal of love. Rather they show the full range of deep emotions and all the challenges along the way. Wright does not only study the portrayal of romantic relationships, but also the love of good friends and familial relationships.

Wright begins his examination, as one might expect, with the relationship between Adam and Eve, “the world’s first lovers.” Before the first sin, they had the beauty of the ideal relationship; it was a union of the whole person – body and soul. They loved each other as God loved them. But then, they thought they knew better than God and sin came into the world. Their relationship, which had been so perfect, now was one of shame and blame. Things would never be the same for them, or us, again. We will come up short, yet we are all called to still strive for that original self-giving love that existed before sin.

Wright then turns his attention to other famous pairs of the Old Testament: Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Abigail and David, Tobiah and Sarah, and the unnamed lovers in the “Song of Solomon.” He also explores the familial love of Joseph and his brothers and Ruth and Naomi and the bonds of friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. The New Testament features fewer romantic relationships, but Wright looks at Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and Priscilla and Aquila. Some of Jesus’ friendships are highlighted, such as those with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, as well as his bond with Peter. His relationship with the “sinful woman’ is also examined. The relationship between Saint Paul and Barnabas, and that which existed among Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John are also looked at. While some of these stories are relatively familiar, Wright looks at them with fresh eyes, pointing out things we may have missed in the relationships and holding up certain aspects for special attention.

The Bible illustrates all the different types of love. It shows that loving anyone will require commitment and sacrifice. There is no such thing as an easy love, although some days will certainly be easier than others. Love will sometimes need to be waited for, but trust in God is paramount. Wright has done a beautiful job portraying these stories with understanding and wisdom. For each story, he offers a prayer, a relevant quote, reflection questions, and an idea for putting love into action in one’s own life. These additions help make this book ideal for a bible study or for private reflection.

Love is Hard

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8

In the second reading for this weekend, St. Paul offers a beautiful description of all that love should be. This teaching is appropriate for all kinds of love – love between family members, love between friends, and love between spouses. It offers a blueprint of how to live in harmony with those important to us. The love described in this scripture passage is the ideal, yet it stands in stark contrast to the image of love that popular culture presents, especially for married couples.

It smacked of irony that the same day I heard this reading, I heard of two young couples who are considering divorce. They both have been married less than three years, and one couple has a small child. Marriage isn’t what they expected. They just aren’t in love with each other anymore.

I’m not close to these couples and I know that the only people who knows what goes on in a marriage are the two people involved. There are certainly reasons why some couples shouldn’t be married, terrible things that no one should have to endure. There are also some people who were not able to make that marriage commitment in the first place for whatever reason. My intention is not to condemn anyone.

Nevertheless, I hear more and more people using the reason “we’re not in love anymore” as a reason for divorce. It makes me wonder what these people think that love is supposed to be. Is their idea of love St. Paul’s description or the world’s idea that love is fireworks and romance?

Anyone who has been married for a while knows that marriage is not all wine and roses. Two imperfect people joined in holy matrimony create an imperfect union. Romance often gets lost in the work of day to day living. Marriages have ups and downs and those downs can last for years. Rough spots can be trying to the soul and to the relationship. There are going to be times when the thought of being married to the same person for the next however many years is simply too much to bear. There will be times when walking away seems like the only reasonable solution.

The best advice I ever got when I was getting married came from a coworker. She had been married for eleven years at the time. She told me, “I can stay married, if only for today.” I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve repeated that advice to myself. That is what a good marriage is made of – one day at a time. It is getting up and choosing to live St. Paul’s version of love, even when the feeling is not there. It is choosing to be patient and kind and putting the other person first. It is praying for the strength to keep going. I wish that more people spoke that truth to young couples who are getting married.

Love is all those wonderful things that St. Paul talks about. Love, true love, is also hard. It takes a strong commitment and a willingness to get through the difficult times one day at a time. Then we can live the true vision of love that God wants for us.

Loving the Neighbor Within Our Own Home

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

A wise priest once said to me, “It is often easier to love the orphans in Africa than it is to love our own siblings.” I thought of that quote today as we were doing a lesson on “loving one’s neighbor” in third grade CCD. The first page of the lesson talked about how we should love all people as our brothers and sisters. Note to Religious Education publishers: this is a bad analogy to use in a textbook aimed at eight and nine-year-old children. The teacher’s manual prompted us to ask the students how they should treat their brothers and sisters. Interestingly, the only student who answered “we should be kind to them” was the one who doesn’t actually have any brothers or sisters. The others proceeded to give a run-down of all the mean things their siblings and they do to each other. As a mother of two boys, nineteen months apart, I can relate. I’m actually pretty lucky. My children get along well most of the time. But when they don’t, I feel like refereeing international disputes at the United Nations might be an easier task than trying to keep them from killing each other. They swear that they will never speak to each again, only to be best friends again an hour later.

Even as adults, getting along with our siblings can be a challenge. We may no longer feel the need to scream at them or punch them (although I have seen adult brothers do this as a bonding ritual), but chances are, at times, they will rub us the wrong way. We do the same thing to them. We are just alike and different enough to drive each other crazy. We would never treat other people (co-workers, friends, strangers on the street) the way we feel free to treat our siblings.

The same holds true with others that we live with. Whether it be our spouses or our children or our parents, the people we share our home with often share the brunt of our stress. We hold in all, or at least most, of our frustration when dealing with others. We maintain the respectable façade. Yet, when we are home we feel free to be our “true” ourselves, however unpleasant that may be at times. After all, they are supposed to love us anyway.

The recent movie “Fireproof” was all about reclaiming a troubled marriage through using kindness and making sacrifices. The same holds true for all of our close relationships. What a different world this would be if we were all kinder to the people we share our lives with! When we hear the scripture reading about the Good Samaritan we usually take it to mean we should love our enemies. That is most definitely true. All people are our neighbor. We should never turn our back on someone in need. Neither, however, should we turn our backs on those we love. Sometimes, the hardest challenge is to love the neighbor within our own home.

Book Review: What the Church Teaches About Sex

Monday, March 2nd, 2009


What the Church Teaches about Sex: God’s Plan for Human Happiness
By Robert L. Fastiggi
Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2009

If asked to name the one issue that Catholics have the most difficulty with, most would answer the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Whether it be pre-marital sex, cohabitation, or contraception, the majority of Catholics choose to ignore it. Why is that? Is it that the teaching is out of touch with the modern world, that the standard is set too high, or that Catholics are simply ignorant of the teachings and the reasons behind them? Yes, the Church’s standard for our sexual expression is high and difficult to live up to, but the supposed sexual freedom that many embrace today has led to a whole lot of heartbreak and many failed relationships, not to mention the use of abortion as a birth control method. Maybe the Church’s teaching is worth a second look.

Robert L. Fastiggi, Ph.D. is Professor of Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. In “What the Church Teaches about Sex: God’s Plan for Human Happiness” he writes that he hopes “people will take a second look at the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church on sexual matters. I am convinced that this morality is grounded in the truth of what God wants for us as men and women called to love and bring forth new life. It is a morality that is realistic, challenging, compassionate, and true. May God give us the courage and wisdom to embrace and defend the good news of Catholic sexual morality!”

Fastiggi offers a historical perspective on the Church’s sexual teaching, spending considerable time on the teachings of St. Augustine, a man who lived to regret and repent his sexual immorality. He then focuses on the Theology of the Body put forth by Pope John Paul II which guides the Church’s understanding of sexuality today. Fastiggi then goes on to explore the beauty and purposes of the sexual aspect of marriage as well as the challenges of living chastely in all the states of life. He discusses various sexual sins and what it means to let conscience be one’s guide.

“What the Church Teaches about Sex” is an informative exploration of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. No one who reads it will ever be able to claim ignorance of the Church’s positive standards for this life-giving beautiful act.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on What the Church Teaches About Sex- God’s Plan for Happiness.

Saints for Married Women

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

While reading some lives of the saints to my children recently, my older son remarked, “Most of the saints are nuns and priests.” It’s true. Read through a list of saints, and the vast majority of them have had religious vocations. Another group was married at some point, but their spouses died and then the widow or widower entered or founded a religious organization. It is for their work after their marriage ended that they are recognized by the Church for their holiness. There are also those who lived out their holiness as single persons, dedicating themselves to lives of prayer and service.

Why is it that relatively few married women have been raised up as saints by the Church? Perhaps it is simply that work done within a family is hidden work, much less likely to be recognized by the world at large. There have no doubt been many holy married women throughout the centuries, but they have lived quiet lives, and in death, go equally unnoticed except by the One who knows all and sees all. We celebrate these unknown women on “All Saints’ Day.”

The Saints are role models for how we are to live. They are human beings, complete with human faults, who have managed to live extraordinary lives of holiness. The path that leads to holiness is paved with love, prayer, and service. That is the same for all, but the way those elements are lived out vary considerably depending on whether one has a vocation to religious life, the single life, or to marriage. So, then, who are some role models that married women can look to as having lived saintly lives while tending to their husbands and children?

Mary, the mother of Jesus, provides the perfect role model of what it means to accept the Lord’s will for one’s life and to live out a holy life as a wife and mother. She is Queen of all the Saints and our Mother in heaven. She is always ready to help us on our spiritual journey.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal (1271 – 1336) married Denis, King of Portugal, when she was twelve years old. She maintained a regular routine of prayer and mass while raising her son and daughter. She also engaged in many charitable activities, providing food, clothing and shelter for the poor, visiting the sick, founding a hospital, and one for orphans. She also helped poor women to be married by providing them with dowries. Her husband was unfaithful, but Elizabeth continued to care for, and pray for, him. She even cared for his illegitimate children. He was ultimately converted on his deathbed. She also worked to preserve peace. When her son declared war on his father, she rode right out into the middle of battlefield to keep them from fighting.

Saint Gorgonia (d. 374) was the sister of two other saints, Saint Caesarius and Saint Gregory Nazianzen. She married Vitalian and raised three children. She wanted to raise her children and grandchildren to live lives of service to God. She showed them how to do this through her own example of prayer, fasting, modesty, and charity to others. She exemplified the virtue of hospitality, welcoming all who came to her home and sharing all that she had. She was known for her wisdom and many sought her out to seek her counsel.

Saint Monica (331 – 387) is one of the best known mothers of all time. She was married to a pagan named Patricius and became the mother of three children. She had the added burden of living with her mother-in-law who did not like her and spoke against her. St. Monica always treated her with kindness and eventually won her over. Her youngest son, Augustine, caused her much trouble. He was brilliant, but fell into a life of sin and dissolution. She prayed for him constantly and was eventually rewarded by his ultimate conversion. Augustine would become a saint in his own right and a great Doctor of the Church.

Blessed Maria Corsini (1884 – 1965) was married to Blessed Luigi Beltarme Quattrocchi. They had four children, three of whom would ultimately enter religious life. Maria’s fourth pregnancy was difficult. Doctors offered her only a 5% chance of survival, but she refused to abort and the child was delivered without complications. They had a devout family life centered around daily mass and the rosary. They were also active in many social ministries, served the poor, and housed refugees in their home during World War II.

These are just a few of the married women who have been formally declared “holy” by the Catholic Church. These women can be role models for those of us who strive for holiness within the confines of our own domestic churches.

Learning to Love

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

It would seem that love just comes naturally, and so it does. Babies come into this world hard-wired to attach to their mothers. We also have a natural drive once we reach puberty to search out a mate. Yet, for many, the ability to feel and/or show true healthy love has been diminished due to growing up in an abusive home or one in which love simply wasn’t expressed as much as it should have been. Many people need to learn how to show love to those nearest to them.

Dr. Gary Chapman has written several books focusing on five love languages. His main premise is that there are five primary ways that people communicate their love to those close to them. Each person has one of these languages that helps them feel the most loved, but most people do appreciate all of them to some degree. Making the effort to express all five to those close to us will help to make sure that those we care most about go through life feeling loved. It will also help our homes be happier places to live. The five love languages are: verbal affirmation, spending quality time, giving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

Verbal affirmation means to offer praise and appreciation for the things that our loved ones do. It can also mean to offer encouragement when someone is going through a difficult time. Parenting books and magazines have been preaching the value of positive discipline for years. While one certainly needs to use negative consequences for bad behavior, it is of vital importance to praise and reinforce good behavior. Children need to know that they are good (at least most of the time), that they have God-given gifts, and most of all, that they are loved for the special person that God has made them to be. Our spouses need that type of praise as well. It is often easy to take our spouses for granted, to overlook the things that they do every day. Going to work each day or doing the laundry for the hundred and second time may not be glamorous, but a simple “thank you” goes a long way to helping someone feel appreciated for all the effort that he or she puts in. Also, never underestimate the simple power of saying “I love you.” Both our spouses and our children need to hear it.

Spending quality time with those we love is another way of demonstrating how much they mean to us. Quality time means focusing one’s full attention on the other. Yes, many times during the course of a day we need to divide our attention. We may need to talk to our children or our spouse while we are making supper or folding laundry. Every day, however, we should make an effort to really focus on the other person for a while, without multi-tasking. Perhaps that means doing a fun activity together. Playing a board game or participating in sports can be a great way to spend time with those we love. Taking a few minutes during the day, perhaps at night right before bed, to actually talk to and connect with one’s spouse can go a long way in helping a marriage be more harmonious.

Some people respond best to being given a gift. Everyone likes to know that they are thought of and a gift can be a physical expression of your love. These gifts need not be expensive or overly frequent, but a gift can be seen as an investment in the relationship especially for those who do not feel loved without them.

What acts of service help your spouse or your children feel most loved? Perhaps they appreciate having their lunch made each day for them. Perhaps knowing that you always fill up the gas tank helps them feel cared for. Having the coffee maker going in the morning can be a sign of love. There are so many opportunities throughout the day to serve those we live with. While many may go unnoticed, there are certain actions that are definitely appreciated. Take the time to find out what those acts are and make those a priority.
Physical touch is also a very important way of showing love. Hugs and kisses for our children are vitally important. While they may reach an age when they no longer appreciate this type of contact, a hand on the shoulder or gentle squeeze of the hand can still convey our love. Our spouses may have different types of touch that they feel most comfortable with. Some like frequent hugs and kisses. Others may be more reserved in their affection. Once again, it is necessary to discover what makes one’s spouse feel loved, as well as to communicate one’s own needs. This is important with more intimate expressions of love as well.

These five ways of loving provide a strong blueprint for learning how to demonstrate our love to those around us. While for many people these acts just come naturally, most of us can use the gentle reminder to make sure that those around us do feel loved. It is easy to fall into old routines and to stop paying as much attention as we should to those we live with. Having concrete ways to show our love can be a tremendous help in improving our closest relationships. To find out more about Dr. Gary Chapman and the Five Love Languages, please visit: <a href=”http://www.fivelovelanguages.com”>www.fivelovelanguages.com</a>.