It was our thirtieth wedding anniversary last month. On the weekend before we took some much-needed time alone with a 24-hour escape into the city. Included in our itinerary was Reconciliation and Mass at St Patricks, Church Hill.
Established in 1844, this historic church in the heart of the city was one of the earliest in the colony. It offers eleven Sunday Masses and five daily Masses. It also has a strong Reconciliation ministry with the Sacrament offered for 35 hours each week. The six Marist priests on the parish staff hear literally thousands of confessions each year. It truly is an oasis of mercy in the heart of the city of Sydney.
Which was fortunate for us as we strode briskly across town for the vigil Mass. Having had a few terse words (doesn’t that always seem to happen when we get more than the usual meagre rations of each other’s presence?) we were intent on arriving in time for Reconciliation before Mass began. So intent, we practically stepped over the top of a man lying in the street only coming to our senses when we heard the people behind us ask, “Are you okay mate?”.
Sigh. Add that to the list of sins to confess. Looking back, it was a bit of a metaphor for our relationship. We’ve been in such a rush over the past few years, that we’ve barely noticed the obvious… that we need to reprioritise time together.
When we arrived at the church a message on the front page of the bulletin by parish priest Fr Michael Whelan caught our attention: “Fall in Love, stay in Love”. Funny how God plants these little signs in our life. We couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate insight.
The article included this marvellous quote from Fr Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of the Jesuits 1965-83:
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in Love, and it will decide everything.”
Although Fr Arrupe was writing about faith, it is equally true of marriage. What strikes us immediately is the assertion that falling in Love, and staying in Love, is something within our control.
While true, this is an entirely counter-cultural idea today. The popular view would have us believe that falling in love (and out of it) is something that happens to us; that we are passive victims rather than active agents.
We hear of so many couples who say ‘we just fell out of love’- as if there was some mysterious force at play over which they had no input or influence. They assume that if they no longer feel the intense emotions associated with falling in love, then the love is gone and there is nothing they can do about it.
Yet love is not just about emotions. It is also about our choices, about what we decide to care about, and how we choose to express it. After thirty years of learning how to love (and still learning), we can attest that if we relied on that ‘lovin’ feeling’ to sustain our marriage, we probably wouldn’t have made it this far.
Because falling in love is generally a wonderful experience, we don’t notice the investment we actually made to make it happen. When we look back at our dating experiences, we spent hours and hours over weeks and months thinking about ways to spend time with each other, demonstrate our love, affirm the other, spoil and please each other. We listened intently for hours as we hungrily sought to know and understand this person better. No wonder it felt so amazing!
Now?… who has time for any of that when there’s a hungry family waiting for dinner, bills to pay, a parish meeting to attend, and a pressured job that insists on dominating our attention? Anyway, we tell ourselves, we already know the other person and thus exploring each other’s personality and perspective seems unnecessary and indulgent.
But is it? Perhaps we need to reframe the way we perceive our ‘couple time’ – it’s not a treat or a luxury – it’s the vital work of sustaining the passion that keeps us growing in our marriage, and underpins the spiritual work that God calls us to undertake through our vocation. It’s the crucial component that helps us stay in Love.
If we invested in our marriages with the same effort with which we courted each other in our early days, the ‘lovin’ feelings’ would be sustained and Love wouldn’t seem so fickle.
Notice that capital ‘L’ in ‘Love’? That was in the original quote from Fr Pedro Arrupe and is not a typo. All human love has its origins in Divine Love. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for married couples to be visibly ‘in love’ – because we testify to the reality of Divine Love.
It’s no coincidence that the decline in faith in our society is mirrored by the decline in marriage. When a marriage breaks down, the impact is felt far and wide; children, parents, friends and colleagues all feel that little bit more disillusioned and sceptical about all love, Divine Love included.
The truth is, staying in Love is not just a nice thing to do; it’s a religious obligation to which we made a solemn vow! So, take some time this week to court your spouse. Give each other the priority time and attention that is needed to kindle the flame of passion and enjoy those ‘lovin’ feelings’!