Renewing love in a marriage

Larry Kaufman CSsR

Larry Kaufman CSsR

Larry is a South African-based priest and writer.

The purpose of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, on love in the family, is to describe and evaluate the ‘joy of love’ experienced in family life — for this joy is a powerful proclamation that the gospel is indeed good news for the fractured and questioning family of humanity (1).

He quotes Evangelii Gaudium, ‘it is important that people experience the Gospel of the family as a joy that “fills hearts and lives,” because in Christ we have been set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.’ (200). However, marriage and family life face new pressures and challenges in our contemporary world.

Pope Francis reflects on some of the ‘more significant’ challenges, which require new pastoral responses. But first he refers to an important point made by the Synod Fathers in 2013, ‘the Gospel of the family responds to the deepest expectations of the human person: a response to each one’s dignity and fulfilment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This consists not merely in presenting a set of rules, but in proposing values that are clearly needed today, even in the most secularised of countries.’ (201).

What are these values and the corresponding strategies that need to be promoted?

Pope Francis considers it vital that greater efforts must be made in the areas of preparing couples for the Sacrament of Marriage, and in accompanying newly married couples in the early years of their married life. This can be done through parish and diocesan structures, led by experienced married couples and by suitable voluntary lay initiatives (205‐230).

Pope Francis also sees a great need to accompany those who have suffered the tragedies of breakdown and divorce in their marriages, and to help such people minimise as much as possible emotional damage to any children involved (241‐246).

He also acknowledges the need for pastoral assistance for families with persons who experience same‐sex attraction. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance ‘so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.’ (250).

Pope Francis makes many helpful points in regard to these areas, but I would like to draw attention to the encouraging reflections he gives concerning the many crises that can arise in married and family life (231‐38.).

He proposes that couples be helped to realise that surmounting a crisis can become ‘an apprenticeship in growing closer together or learning a little more about what it means to be married. There is no need for couples to resign themselves to an inevitable downward spiral or a tolerable mediocrity’ (232).

Pope Francis wants experienced, trained couples to assist couples undergoing problems in their relationship so that ‘the couples will not be unnerved by these crises or tempted to hasty decisions.’ And he concludes, ‘Each crisis has a lesson.’

Pope Francis urges couples experiencing difficulties in marriage and family life to see crises as opportunities for learning and growth in giving and receiving love. (c232). If these opportunities are to be successful, further consideration of his realistic yet encouraging reflections on such crises needs to be undertaken.

Pope Francis has already stated in Chapter Five that a new husband and wife must in a definite sense leave father and mother (Gen. 2:24) — not to abandon them, but so that they may have freedom to consolidate their intimate relationship and establish a new home and family. This does not always happen and can be the root of many difficulties.

‘In some marriages, one spouse keeps secrets from the other, confiding them instead to his or her parents. As a result, the opinions of their parents become more important than the feelings and opinions of their spouse. This situation cannot go on for long, and even if it takes time, both spouses need to make the effort to grow in trust and communication.’ (190).

Pope Francis comes back to this point when discussing problems in married life. He insists a couple must face crises together. This can be hard, because ‘persons sometimes withdraw in order to avoid saying what they feel …. At these times, it becomes all the more important to create opportunities for speaking heart to heart. Unless a couple learns to do this, they will find it harder and harder as time passes. Communication is an art learned in moments of peace in order to be practiced in moments of difficulty.’ (234).

Pope Francis gives a good summary of the various kinds of crises that can arise in married and family life (235‐36), including the arrival of children; being there for the children in the difficult period of adolescence; the ‘empty nest syndrome’; work‐place and financial problems. Many of these crises require ‘a process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In resolving sincerely to forgive each other, each has to ask quietly and humbly if he or she has not somehow created the conditions that led to the other’s mistakes. To know how to forgive and to feel forgiven is a basic experience in family life. The arduous art of reconciliation, which requires the support of grace, needs the generous co-operation of relatives and friends, and sometimes even outside help and professional assistance’ (236).

Pope Francis also recognises that in the course of a marriage, jealousies and tensions may arise; spouses may discover new interests that draw them away from each other. However, he insists ‘these, and so many other things, rather than threatening love, are so many occasions for reviving and renewing it.’ (237).

He stresses this point again with an inspiring affirmation, ‘Every crisis can be a new “yes,” enabling love to be renewed, deepened and inwardly strengthened.’

The Spring issue will include a synopsis of the final three chapters of Amorist Laetitia by Larry Kaufman CSsR.

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