Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

The pope and Valentine’s Day

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Recent popes have taken to meeting with engaged and newly married couples to emphasize the importance of the family as the basic unity of society and church. To say, since the Second Vatican Council, that the church is a “communion of communions” is to say that the church is a family of families, as is society in general. To say this places one in some tension with the prevalent idea of marriage as, primarily, a means of personal growth and fulfillment for two partners.

What does Pope Francis say? He spoke on Valentine’s Day to 20,000 young people engaged to be married, responding to questions and gathering his teachings into three points, as he often does. First, he spoke of the fear of the “forever.” This fear of a definitive, life-long commitment weakens vocations to priesthood and religious life as well. The Holy Father said that, if “love” is only a feeling, there is no solid base for marriage. But if love is a relationship, then it can grow and develop in often unexpected ways. Marriage is a commitment to grow together, slowly, by small steps, grounded in the stable and eternal love of God. The pope told the engaged couples to pray each day, “Lord, give us today our daily love.” Like a good teacher, he asked them to repeat the prayer after him.

He then made his second point on the “style” of married life. He captured the style of successful married life in three phrases that should characterize married people’s conversation with each other: “may I,” “thank you” and “excuse me.” These are verbal markers of the respect and gratitude and forgiveness that each spouse has for the other.

The pope’s third point concerned the “style” of celebrating matrimony, a point that preoccupied the engaged couples in preparing for their wedding day. Pope Francis said that a true celebration is one where, with all the external signs of celebration — the banquet, the photographs, the clothes and flowers — the source of joy is the presence of the Lord, as he was present at the wedding feast of Cana. There he saved the celebration by changing water into wine and began to reveal who he is at a transforming moment in the life of a bride and groom.

Jesus is the bridegroom of his church. The pope returns to this truth on other occasions when he explains that the church is our mother because she is the vehicle Christ uses to give himself and share his life with us. Love for Jesus cannot, therefore, be separated from love for his body, the church. If the church is just an organization or a man-made institution, then Jesus himself is just a historical figure. Only in the spousal love between Christ and his church can the baptized discover, as children do in watching their mother and father, who they truly are.

Pope Francis finished his conversation on Feb. 14 by telling the engaged couples that: “Matrimony is a … craftwork, because the husband has the task to make his wife more woman and the wife has the task to make her husband more man. Make yourselves grow! Always act so that the other grows. Work for this. And so, I don’t know, I think of you who one day will go on a street of your country and the people will say: ‘But look at her, what a beautiful woman, how strong she is! With such a husband, one can understand it!’ And also: ‘Look how he is! With the wife he has, one can understand it!’ It’s this, to arrive at this: to make each other grow together. And the children will have this legacy of having had a father and a mother that grew together, each one making the other more a man and more a woman.”

This is a theology of marriage with the pastoral advice and tone of someone who loves Christ and the church and whose ministry now circles the globe. What he has said rings true not only for those at the audience of Feb. 14 but also for everyone. Let us all pray for Pope Francis and the meetings he will be conducting in Rome in the next couple of weeks. God bless you.


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  • marriage
  • valentines day