Husband & Wife Articles



Is This Love Possible?

Married with children, careers, conflicts and ideas of what should be

By Hallie Lord

Marriage ideally is the bond between a man and a woman who joyfully give themselves to each other while openly accepting new life, for the purpose of giving glory to God and attaining union with him in heaven. But, as any married couple will tell you, that’s a tall order — an ideal that seems often impossible in practice.

Left to their own devices, men and women are selfish, hateful, envious, petty, back-biting and sexually disordered. If they can be happy together at all it will only be for painfully brief episodes that in no way reflect their relationship as a whole. It cannot be underestimated what a huge conundrum this can be for married couples: that same person who once made their knees quake with a fathomless passion now becomes the enemy — an enemy who at the least will infuriate them, and at the worst bore them to sleep.

Despite this gloomy analysis, there’s no need for despair. The truth is that with God’s grace anything is possible, happy marriages included. We need only avail ourselves of his grace and mercy.

But how exactly does the grace of the sacrament of marriage correct any of the above? How does it make the impossible possible?

It helps to remember that grace is God’s free gift “infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1999). It is the life of God dwelling within us!

God is love – the very highest, purest love possible, the love that does always and only what is good for the beloved. Ancient philosophers called such love agape.

Made in God’s image and likeness, we humans are created to express agape. The problem is that having been born with fallen natures our ability to love is disordered – even after Baptism cleanses us of original sin. Lesser loves, such as the one called eros (erotic love), tend to overwhelm our higher loves. Eros, says Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, is “a ‘divine madness’ which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him … to experience supreme happiness.”

Well, who wouldn’t want that? No wonder eros gets pride of place in romantic relationships. Far too often, though, the breathtaking good of eros blinds married men and women to its limitations.

With the overemphasis of eros comes gluttony — both physical and spiritual. Limiting itself not just to the sexual sphere, it creeps out, indulging in pleasures of all types. Under the influence of eros, we tend to hoard happiness; prioritizing the fulfillment of our own desires before all else. In a marriage, which is meant to be rooted in self-giving, this is a recipe for disaster.

Considering all this, one can sympathize with the disciples who heard Jesus outline the high calling of marriage that excludes divorce. “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry,” the disciples concluded (Matt. 19:10). But Jesus knew two things about marriage that many of his listeners, both then and today, don’t fully grasp. The first is that the sacrament of marriage is the place where most people, if open to the will of God, discover the truth about agape: it is the key to happiness. “It is in giving that we receive,” said St. Francis — we’ve all heard that before so many times that we’re probably numb to it, but it’s as true today as it was when first uttered.

The second truth, which many have likely never heard, but is explained eloquently in Deus Caritas Est, is this: eros is not something spouses are meant to repress and drive away. All of that passion and “divine madness” is a gift designed to lift married people to heaven. It isn’t evil; it’s only out of place in many hearts. We’re meant to seek happiness and pleasure, but it’s a desire intended to be inseparable from agape, which purifies it and turns it to ecstasy.

In embracing these two secrets we create truly great marriages. Putting eros in its proper place in our lives and letting agape transform us allows our relationship with our spouses to be fully human: wanting everything good, giving everything we have for the other, all in “Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God” (Deus Caritas Est, 7).

Hallie Lord, a convert to Catholicism, resides in the Deep South with her husband and five children. She writes at BettyBeguiles.com.