One line has really stuck with me from Pope Francis’ wonderful opening speech to the Synod on the Family which closes on this Sunday. It’s the one about the folly of the gratuitous nature of marriage.
He said: [quote]“Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense.”[/quote]
Peter and I have just celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary and will soon celebrate the birthday of our fifth child, and Pope Francis is right, I guess to some people it might seem as though we have thrown the best years of our lives away.
There are a lot of life’s joys that we have missed out in the years already that we’ve been married. That’s just a consequence of saying a great “yes” to something big and great – it means having to say “no” to a host of other great things.
Being open to accepting children, especially, has consumed us. As parents we lay down our lives again every day, with special intensity every time we’ve had a baby. In marriage we literally do what St Paul describes – present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” – but the rigours of childbearing and rearing highlight this reality.
There’s no denying we’ve suffered, and will always suffer something or other – but then our rewards, even on this side of the veil, far outweigh the suffering and deprivation! They are deep peace, deep contentment, daily opportunities for fun and joy, and trust that things will work out well for us and our children.
But I know that others, just as committed as we are, struggle greatly in their marriages at times. Things like gave financial problems, health problems, or addictions, can make married life more a daily trial than a joy. This is where good pre-marriage preparation and formation, and extended families and communities which support a culture of marriage and family life will make the marital cross easier and lighter if it will be borne.
Parish-based family groups and other Church initiatives to support families are fantastic supports. We’re not meant to muddle along on our own in what’s in many ways an anti-marriage, anti-family wider culture; there’s incalculable value in travelling along with other like-minded families.
Last weekend we attended a whole-family retreat with other young families held at the Mt Schoenstatt Spirituality Centre in Mulgoa, at the same time Louis and Zélie Martin (the parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux) were about to be declared saints.
Pope Francis’ comment on the folly of married love was striking because it harks back to St Paul’s preaching to the Greeks, for whom the crucified Christ was a ‘folly’.
The thing is, it only looks like unwise from the perspective of people who don’t know the limitless nature of love. A life dedicated to one spouse and 30 years of child-rearing looks unbearably boring and a waste of a life to someone who doesn’t know how wild and unsatisfied with normalcy love is.
Or maybe that is the issue – we aren’t tame enough for our society.
I guess in our culture a man and a woman committed to each other for life and living in a way that will accommodate having lots of children, especially if they have limited financial means, are definitely living on the edge of what’s normal and expected behaviour.
It may not suit the world’s vested interests, but from a God-perspective, and as Sts Zélie and Louis illustrate, throwing away one’s life to a marriage and family is a sure and sane way to an amazing life.