Francine and Byron Pirola: Something worth dying for

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The special history and message behind Valentine’s Day

On February 14 every year, couples around world celebrate one of the heroes of Catholic history.

As the story goes, Valentine was a Roman priest who married young couples in secret despite the decree of Emperor Claudius II forbidding all weddings. The emperor did this to more readily recruit young, unattached men into his armies. Valentine was discovered, arrested and eventually executed.

A couple pose outside St Mary’s Cathedral after the annual Marriage Mass, July 6, 2017. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

St Valentine didn’t officiate secret weddings simply out of compassion for local, love-struck couples. He did it because Catholic marriage is about a whole lot more than just two people committing to live together and maybe raise a few kids.

Catholic marriage has a purpose beyond the fulfilment of the two spouses. It is a call to honour God by living in service to each other, helping each other, and our children, to grow closer to God and to our destiny to be with Christ, our eternal bridegroom, for eternity.

It is also a Sacrament – a living witness of God’s presence in the world. As such, it has a number of characteristics that define it. Encapsulated in the marriage rite, these characteristics include permanency, sexual intimacy, sexual exclusivity, unconditional sharing, openness to children and a willingness to raise any children in the Catholic faith.

That makes it something quite different to the secular understanding of marriage which sees marriage more about the personal happiness of each spouse.

In the secular model, marriage doesn’t need to be permanent. Nor does it need to involve children let alone raising them Catholic. The popularity of pre-nuptial agreements indicates a choice for limited and conditional sharing rather than unconditional sharing.

And sexual infidelity is frequently indulged, often by mutual agreement in so called ‘monogamish’ or ‘open’ marriages.

It’s hard to imagine anyone giving their life to defend such an impoverished concept of marriage as defined by our present secular culture.

But St Valentine didn’t die for this idea of marriage. He died defending a much grander idea; the idea that the freely-given, total, faithful and fruitful love of a man and woman in marriage could point us to God. The idea that this kind of relationship revealed the inner life of the creator of the universe.

So, dear Christian couples, this St Valentine’s day, set your sights high! Do not be limited to the reductionist view of marriage that the culture puts forward but lean in to a bigger, grander vision. Tap into the aspirations of your youth and to which God invites us to pursue with diligence and persistence.

Questions for couples on St Valentine’s Day

  1. When did I feel most loved by you over the past week? Explain.
  2. Am I willing to let God be part of our marriage? To base our marriage on God’s values and vision rather than the worlds’ values? Why or why not?
  3. What am I willing to sacrifice in order to prioritise our marriage becoming more attuned to God’s vision and values?

Praying for our spouse

One of the simplest, yet practical ways to strengthen our marriage and align it more closely with God’s desires is to pray daily for our spouse. Research has identified these benefits to couples: greater forgiveness, increase in selfless concern, trust, commitment, gratitude and fidelity and decrease in destructive behaviours such as excess drinking and aggression.  Read more here.

Here’s a short prayer you can say each day for your spouse:

Lord God, I praise you for the gift of my spouse and I thank you for the blessings I have had through him/her. Forgive me for the times I have failed to love my spouse the way I should and help me to do better in bringing your love and acceptance to him/her.

Byron and Francine Pirola are the co-founders of the SmartLoving series of online courses and other resources for couples. See www.smartloving.org

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