Dear Michele: What is True and Holy Love?
My understanding about genuine loving relationships is that they are from the spirit of God, which is charity. I believe that the greatest obstacle for people in living out loving relationships is our human tendency to pursue the traces of original sin present in the human heart. In this way, I can easily see why people who are not Christian or Catholic pursue different forms of selfish love since they have not received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But when I think about people from our faith abandoning the righteous ways of love taught by the Church, then a question comes to my mind: is there a way to evaluate if two persons are really tuned into the Holy Spirit to undertake the life time commitment of Christian Catholic marriage?
I mean to live the way St. Paul describes in Ephesians 5:22-33 speaking to both wives and husbands.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Dear Holy Love,
Thank you for your heartfelt and brave question. I am so pleased to see a man of God who is trying to live out the teaching of true and holy love. The scripture in Ephesians many times is misquoted and misunderstood, but the teaching is meant to help us understand the unique relationship between a husband and wife. The ideal is that marital love mirror the relationship between Christ and His Church. This is an important theological concept that helps us to learn how to love in a mature, and sacrificial way, as Christ loved us. I like the transition of the verse that uses the words “subject to” rather than “submit.” We are very clearly subject to each other when we choose to marry. We are subject to each other’s virtues and character flaws, our good habits and our bad.
St. Paul holds up the ideal that is real and attainable, but only with the understanding that we (as humans) are not Christ. Meaning, we will until the end of time fall short of the perfect love he has modeled for us. This is great news, because it allows us to truly be aware of our need for His grace and mercy! Even those faithful who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit will, at times, fall short, although as faithful Catholics are are called to a higher love then what we see in our modern culture.
I heard an interesting homily once on how the term “submit” during the time of Jesus was also used when men were choosing to serve in the army. A man at that time had a choice on which general to serve under. A man would commit his life to the general, requiring that he trust the general’s decisions, in exchange for being protected and provided for during military campaigns and afterwards. The operative word here is “choice.”
Ephesians tells us that we should only commit to a marriage when we are willing to be “subject to” and “sacrifice for” the other person. We are not called to live out this teaching with every person we date, or every friend; we get to choose who will have such a tremendous impact on our lives. It is extremely important to choose wisely.
So, how can two people decide if they are ready for a holy, united, and Catholic marriage? When they can submit to each other. When they can sacrifice for each other. It must be reciprocal, total, and complete commitment. It requires acceptance of the other person free of any demands or requests to change. If you can look at the other person and truly accept his or her faults, past history, mistakes, family, friends, dreams, fears, ideals, and shortcomings, then you are ready. And the other person must feel the same. It’s a long list, and I’m sure it’s incomplete.
I hope this helps to you know when you are ready. Thank you for your very heartfelt question, and for reminding us what we are being called into when we are called into marriage.
Michele Fleming, M.A.