Surprise! Delight! Joy! All these emotions flashed across my wife’s face as she unwrapped the bouquet of assorted roses that I had brought home for her after work. Looking up, she asked quizzically, “What are these for?” I shrugged and said, “Because you like them, because I love you.”
Our marriage is an Overflowing Cup that we are living daily. And, we owe it all to a great saint of the Church, Pope St. John Paul II.
You may wonder, “What can a priest tell us about marriage and family life?” The answer – a whole bunch!!
A Change in Curriculum Brings a Change of Life
As the chair of the Religion Department at my Catholic High School, I had a passing understanding of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. However, this year we moved this part of the curriculum to the Junior year. And so this year, the teacher has become the student – absorbing the wisdom of this saint – a priest who was known for his ministry to young adults.
In 1960, well before he became John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla had written what is now understood as the foundation for Theology of the Body another book called Love and Responsibility. Here I found that in marriage there is but one love with four very important aspects:
- Love as Attraction
- Love as Desire
- Love as Goodwill
- Spousal Love
Love as Attraction
When I first met my wife, I was drawn to her smile, her bright eyes, and her infectious laugh. Then as I got to know her, she captured me with her kindness, her humor, and her devotion to family and friends. God had made someone who would catch and keep my attention. So it is with all of us…we are wired to be attracted to certain kinds of people, and following our first meeting, we begin to discover their inner beauty, that which keeps attracted beyond that first blush of interest in the other.
After I met Janet and had spent some time with her, I knew one thing for sure. I wanted to be with her as much as I possibly could. I know, I know, we’ve all been told, you shall not covet…that is desire things that are not yours. Yet, the truth is that we want good things. Wanting in and of itself isn’t bad… It wasn’t that I ever wanted to possess Janet. Rather, the more time I spent with her, the more time I wanted with her, recognizing that we couldn’t be together all the time, but wishing it could be.
I knew she was good for me…and instinctively she seemed to know that I was good for her too. This is the desire that St. John Paul was talking about: that we should be able to recognize the good and beauty in someone and want to be with that person, united with them.
Both Love as Attraction and Love as Desire seem to be fairly natural responses to encountering the good. Both also focus on what we see as good and wanting that good. The challenge for me has been:
The answer to that question comes in the two remaining aspects of love which truly reflect how God has loved us, and so how we ought to love each other.
Love as Goodwill
While I must admit that there were times I didn’t get the Love as Desire thing right…especially when we first dated, that faded. The first place that I really struggled was with this one. Love as Goodwill challenges me to do three things:
- Desire the best for the person I love.
- Recognize what is good for the person I love.
- Act for the best of the person I love.
I can easily say that I wanted what was good for my wife. I cannot as easily say that I always acted for her good at all times. Rather, there have been several times where what would be good for her came into conflict with what I saw as being good for me, and my “good” won out.
Oh, there were times when I would certainly do things she wanted that were not on my list of priorities. But somehow, when push came to shove, there were times when I really blew it. In truth there wasn’t a time where that happened, that I didn’t regret it almost immediately.
Today, though, I’ve come to see that if I truly love her, then what matters to her really needs to matter to me. If I truly will Janet’s good, then that needs to be my focus. And I am learning, that when I promote the good in my wife’s life, I am automatically promoting the good in mine as well.
That doesn’t mean that there’s a, “yes” to every request, but it does mean that the, “No’s” are a lot less frequent, and never in a knee jerk. It also means that when there are things that can’t be done, I need to be open with her about why…that is one piece of what St. John Paul II called…
My encounter with God in studying the great saint’s writing however really takes shape in acknowledging what he had to say about spousal love.
How could a priest really understand what a man and a woman are to be in married love?
The answer comes from Paul’s letter the Ephesians where he wrote,
I was brought up short. Was I really doing this? Honestly?
No, I wasn’t. If I was loving Janet as Jesus loved his people, I would be poured out completely for her…holding nothing back. It meant, as I wrote over a month ago, that I would need to give all of me to her.
It was easy to share with her my joys and my successes and to let her know when I was angry or upset. But, could I be vulnerable with her? Could I…
- explore my worries with her?
- express my doubts with her?
- expose my failures to her?
- explain my thoughts/reasons for how I felt or why I made a certain decision?
- pray with her?
Christ loved his people so much that he laid his entire life down for them. How could I do any less. With that, I decided it was time to risk loving my wife as Christ had loved us.
A Worthwhile Risk
I won’t say that it has been perfect, but what a difference there has been since acknowledging that there are these four aspects of love and responding in a way that puts them into action.
Our prayer life together has grown. As a result, we are communicating better than ever, there is a real sense of peace and calm…and an atmosphere in love in our house that is richer than deeper than I have known in a long time. It wasn’t a risk at all, God knew what was going to happen.
The Interplay of the Four Aspects of Love
In responding to my encounter of God through St. John Paul’s writings about the four aspects of love, I have come to realize how interconnected they are. What my wife wanted most, what was to be the best good for her, was me being open, honest and devoted to her – willing to trust, to share and to pray no matter how uncomfortable it made me at first. She needed me, like Christ, to give myself completely to her.
In my vulnerability to her, I came to appreciate what she truly needed…my good will…she needed to know that I was hers, that I was there for her, that I would listen and not judge, that I would hug her so that she could feel that love was holding her together when things felt like they were falling apart. And the more I strive for her good, the more I want to.
Now, most days, I can’t wait to go home. Yes, there may be a “Honey do” list waiting for me, or a problem that has come up. We’re struggling with aging, ill parents, and even that is easier to handle, now that we can handle it together. The truth is, I desire to be home with my wife. I want to be with her, to hug, to have a cup of tea, to talk, to plan, to discuss, to share…
And, my wife has never been as beautiful as she is today. In truth there is nothing more stunning than a person who not only knows, but fully believes that she is loved fully. It shows on her face, in her walk, and in the way we spend time together.
Advent Is Coming!
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. We celebrate the majesty of the one who gave himself completely for us, his bride. Next Sunday, we will begin the observance of Advent coming from the Latin word adventus for “the coming.” We pray, “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” And so we begin to prepare our homes for Christmas.
Please leave a comment and sign up for e-delivery of my blog by filling in the form on the left margin of this page.