Jane and Charles Perryman, leaders of the Marriage Preparation Programme in the Diocese of Hallam, continue their exploration of Pope Francis’ reflection on 1 Cor 13: 4-7.
Pope Francis tells us that the word that St Paul uses which is translated as “kind” really refers to a person who demonstrates their goodness by their deeds. He heads this section of Amoris Laetitia as “Love at the Service of Others”.
All the features of love that St Paul highlights in his letter to the Corinthians are attributes of the way that truly loving people behave. Pope Francis comments, “Throughout the text, it is clear that Paul wants to stress that love is more than a mere feeling. Rather, it should be understood along the lines of the Hebrew verb “to love”; it is “to do good”. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, “Love is shown more by deeds than by words” (AL 94). He continues, “It thus shows its fruitfulness and allows us to experience the happiness of giving, the nobility and grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly, without asking to be repaid, purely for the pleasure of giving and serving.”
Many of us might think that the Pope paints a rather too rosy picture of the joy of service! In marriage and family life – and indeed elsewhere – we are often faced with choices; the loving choice and the not so loving choice. Let’s look at an example that every parent will recognise. Your child wakes up and is distressed at 4 am for the fourth time that night. What is the loving choice? Clearly, it is to go and comfort the child. There are not many parents in that situation who would actually feel like getting up again. Sometimes we have to act in loving ways through gritted teeth!
There are many, many occasions in our family life when we are faced with less clear cut choices. Suppose one spouse arrives home from work first when on that evening it is the partner’s turn to prepare the evening meal. It would be a loving thing to do at least to make a start. But if you are not sure what your spouse had in mind, if you are tired, and if one of your favourite programmes is on the television, there is a big temptation not to get on with the meal. This is a small, everyday example but from time to time there will be bigger, more significant choices to be made.
We often ask the engaged couples we see, “What does tidy mean to you?” Very frequently they exchange sheepish smiles! If one partner is seriously irritated by having dirty clothes left on the floor, it will be taken as a sign of caring if the other chooses to make an effort to change their behaviour rather than choosing stubbornly to believe that their partner is trying to control them.
These are the ordinary everyday choices that face us. When we choose to act in loving ways, do we really “experience the happiness of giving, the nobility and grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly, without asking to be repaid, purely for the pleasure of giving and serving?” If we were saints or very nearly saints then we might! What helps us in these situations is appreciation.
It is very easy to take one another for granted. Pope Francis reminds us that St Paul stresses that love is more than a mere feeling. As we have said love is about making choices. This does not mean that feelings are not important. It is clearly much easier to act in loving ways when we feel good about ourselves and when we know that we are appreciated. John Powell SJ in his book, Why am I afraid to Love? asks “Did you ever have a toothache? Of whom were you thinking during the distress of your toothache?” The point is clear. When we are in pain we are thinking about ourselves.
In our family life when we choose to act in loving ways we do so in order to strengthen the bonds between us. When we show our appreciation for another person we are sending a message that we realise that they care about us. Then the warm feelings between us grow. This is not being selfish. What holds couples together in a lifelong, life-giving, loving relationship is the strength of the emotional bond between them. Whatever we do that strengthens that bond is nourishing the relationship. That is not only good for the couples and their family. It also gives them the resources to be more outgoing to others in the wider community.