Otherness and Sacrifice

Opposites are designed to attract; many can attest to the powerful pull of the other’s appeal that initially drew him/her into the marital relationship.

But chemistry alone cannot sustain the covenant. In truth, the precise differences that intrigued us in the other also expose, provoke and annoy us. Mike Mason writes: “It is a shock for a couple to discover how quickly romantic love is exhausted, how little they really know and understand one another, how deeply estranged it is possible to become from the person you thought you were closest to…”

Gender duality, that quality of ‘otherness’ essential to marriage, requires more than physical and emotional desire to create a whole marriage.

Marriage requires a willingness to value the other because (s)he is worthy of it. The late great pope, John Paul II wrote exquisitely on the need for marital love to possess a backbone of sacrificial love. He understood well the power of both sensuality and sentimentality in human relating. And he knew that unless these powerful human drives were subordinated to a higher love accorded the spouse then the marriage would be doomed.

He writes in Love and Responsibility: “Marriage is put to the test when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker…nothing then remains but the value of the person. Then the inner truth about the love of those concerned comes to light. If their love is a true gift of the self, it will not only survive in these dry times but will grow deeper and sink deeper roots.”

My generation was the first to discard our marriages when they did not work for us any more. We had plenty of time and money to explore rarified expressions of sensuality and romance. Our films and music and therapies catered to our consumerism but rarely encouraged any notion of sacrifice.

We refused the one true thing: valuing people more than the sensual and sentimental ‘rush’ they provide us. In contrast to our consumer-driven approach to marriage, in which the main reason to remain together seems to be what one is still ‘getting’, cultivating the discipline of giving is paramount.

I am challenged and humbled by my parents’ marriage. Just shy of 60 years together, the two 80-‘somethings’ quietly manifest a quality of love that shames me in its beauty. Sentimentality and sensuality have evolved into sacrifice. My mother serves my father, the weaker, tirelessly. He gives her what he can, out of a love and gratitude too deep for words. Their offering to each other is gold for all who know them.

I write this entry in their home, the home of my youth. I have the privilege to witness the otherwise unseen gestures of service, one to another.

And I know that beneath all my brokenness and selfishness rests a foundation laid for me through the sacrificial love of my parents for each other.

My parents’ marriage is a living witness of what Mason describes as “the single most wholehearted step most people will ever take towards a fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.”

Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote Yes on Proposition 8.

“Father, we ask for the grace to give more than we get in our marriages, to cultivate a heart of sacrifice for the other. Subordinate our consumer-driven quest for heightened sensuality or emotions. Temper our love for the other with the sacrifice that manifests the truth of our love for him or her. Manifest to others Your sacrificial love through our marriages.”

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