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IN A NUTSHELL
In marriage, two become one body. And in a body, says St.
Paul, "if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is
honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor 12:26). So how I treat this "body
of matrimony" matters to more than just me.
In making a marriage commitment, we take vows before God --
the third part of "we" in marriage -- pledging to love one another in good
times and bad.
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Marital commitment and love: Dynamically bonded
By David Gibson
Catholic News Service
No doubt about it, the
commitment a wife and husband make to each other is essential at the start of a
lasting marriage. No doubt either, a couple's sense of commitment and love, and
even the understanding of marriage itself, expands and grows dynamically over
the course of time.
Some couples judge themselves
harshly for not floating serenely above every crisis and challenge that arise.
Perhaps the tugs and pulls exerted by events in their lives leave them feeling
that their marriage does not measure up to the rarified standard set by some
popular music and romantic films.
Pope Francis offers real hope
to all such couples in "The Joy of Love," his 2016 apostolic exhortation on
marriage and family life. Marriages are meant to develop and grow, he insists.
Furthermore, the challenges that spouses encounter actually foster their
growth, both as a couple and as two individuals.
Marital love and commitment
are not static qualities in the mind of Pope Francis. Nor does he believe that
marital love must always feel perfect in order to be good.
"Each marriage is a kind of
'salvation history,' which from fragile beginnings -- thanks to God's gift and
a creative and generous response on our part -- grows over time into something
precious and enduring," he writes.
Real love that is not "weak
or infirm" can "sustain a great commitment," the pope suggests. For married
couples, this means "accepting marriage as a challenge to be taken up and
fought for, reborn, renewed and reinvented until death."
He cautions couples not to
"succumb to the culture of the ephemeral that prevents a constant process of
The pope calls attention to
couples "whose love, like a fine wine, has come into its own." These couples,
he writes, "have successfully overcome crises and hardship without fleeing from
challenges or concealing problems."
"The life of every family,"
he observes, "is marked by all kinds of crises." But "surmounting a crisis need not weaken" a marriage. In fact,
"it can improve, settle and mature the wine of their union," Pope Francis
"The Joy of Love" represents
Pope Francis' formal response to the world Synod of Bishops' 2014 and 2015
sessions on marriage and the family. This document, he acknowledges, arrives in
times of frequent reports that many young people doubt a lasting marriage is
possible for them and fear long-term commitments.
"It is a source of concern
that many young people today distrust marriage," the pope states. But he
affirms that the kind of love that lasts and grows remains possible. With "The
Joy of Love," he hopes to encourage attitudes and habits that support the very
possibility of lasting marriages in the 21st century.
One of his goals, he explains,
is to help and encourage "families in their daily commitments and challenges."
A section in "The Joy of
Love" that many couples may want to read appears in Chapter 6 under the
subtitle, "Accompanying the First Years of Married Life." Here the pope presents
his view of marriage as "a project to be worked on together" by spouses "with
patience, understanding, tolerance and generosity."
Pope Francis wants couples to
recognize that "marriage is not something that happens once and for all." Yes,
their union after they wed already is real, yet in the sacrament of matrimony
"the spouses assume an active and creative role in a lifelong project."
Now, he says, they must look
ahead "to the future that, with the help of God's grace, they are daily called
Over time, each spouse will
play a formative role in the life of the other, Pope Francis believes. He
considers married life "a process of growth in which each spouse is God's means
of helping the other to mature."
Since "fostering growth means
helping a person to shape his or her own identity," love becomes "a kind of
craftsmanship," says the pope.
He also observes that in a
marriage, "even at difficult moments, one person can always surprise the other,
and new doors can open for their relationship as if they were meeting for the
Pope Francis knows that
committing oneself "exclusively and definitively to another person always
involves a risk and a bold gamble." Marriage, then, should not result from a
"hasty decision," but neither should it be "postponed indefinitely."
What Pope Francis does not
accept is that "mutual attraction alone" will sustain a couple for the long
term. "The decision to marry should never be encouraged unless the couple has
discerned deeper reasons that will ensure a genuine and stable commitment," he
In the commitment made when
they marry, each spouse willingly and unselfishly presents the other "to
society as someone worthy of unconditional love," the pope comments. Their love
is meant to be one "that never gives up" and that "bears every trial with a
It is Pope Francis'
conviction that love like this shows "a dogged heroism, a power to resist every
negative current, an irrepressible commitment to goodness."
(Gibson served on Catholic
News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.)
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Commitment in marriage: Start with humility
By Mike Nelson
In 1 Peter
5:5, Peter tells us, "Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one
another, for God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble."
I read this on
a recent April morning, about an hour or so before my wife, on her way out the
door heading for work, accidentally knocked a wooden container full of knives
off of a shelf and onto her foot, breaking one toe. It was an injury serious
enough to restrict her moving about, at least to the degree that she's used to,
for some time.
"Ah," you may
be thinking, "a lesson in humility." Yes, it was, for me.
It isn't about
me doing more of the household chores my wife normally does (although there will
be some of that). Rather, it is that at times of crisis, major or minor, we are
called to step back and more fully appreciate what and whom we have in our
It was 40
years ago this May that I said to my first and only girlfriend ever, "I want to
marry you." She replied, "I want to marry you, too." It wasn't in a fancy
restaurant with flowers surrounding us. I didn't even have a ring, I'm
embarrassed to say.
It was simply,
for me, the time to tell her what was in my heart: that I loved her very much,
and that I wanted to be with her the rest of my life.
I had made a
commitment. Truthfully, I didn't appreciate how big of a commitment it was. I
didn't fully understand that in marriage, "me" gives way to "we," and that the
majority of marital challenges develop when one party (that would be me)
forgets the "we" part.
But I knew,
instinctively, that I was making a commitment for life, and that I intended to
keep it. And as the years have passed Peter's teaching on humility in
relationships takes on greater significance in our marriage and in my role as
recent apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of Love," has much to say about marriage
and family life. But I am also struck by something he said during his 2013
World Youth Day visit to Rio de Janeiro, when he addressed World Youth Day
volunteers on life and commitment.
"God calls you
to make definitive choices," the pope told his audience, lamenting that some
call marriage "out of fashion."
"They say that
it is not worth making a lifelong commitment, making a definitive decision
'forever,' because we do not know what tomorrow will bring," Pope Francis said.
"I ask you,
instead, to be revolutionaries ... to rebel against this culture that sees
everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of
responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love."
I have never
thought myself "revolutionary," but never once have I believed that our
marriage is temporary, even in times of challenge when I forget the "we" and
not the me part. Those are the times I need to stop and reflect on what our
Catholic teaching -- to be humble servants, as Jesus was -- means in marriage.
two become one body. And in a body, says St. Paul, "if one part suffers, all
the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy"
(1 Cor 12:26). So how I treat this "body of matrimony" matters to more than
In making a
marriage commitment, we take vows before God -- the third part of "we" in
marriage -- pledging to love one another in good times and bad. After 40 years,
I am still learning the size and scope of that commitment, and how and why God
All I have to
do is look at my beautiful wife, sore toe and all, and I know God is present in
our marriage, in our commitment for life.
former editor of The Tidings, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.)
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Commitment in marriage
By Daniel S. Mulhall
Catholic News Service
Commitment is clearly a major theme in the
apostolic exhortation "The Joy of Love." Pope Francis discusses commitment in a
variety of ways, seeing it as a virtue, as a sign and as a gift. In this way, he
helps to illustrate the importance of this basic promise.
Pope Francis writes that the foundation of any
commitment is a willingness to "see beyond our own limitations, to be patient
and to cooperate with others, despite our differences."
By lovingly keeping our commitments, we are able to build a lifetime
of bonds and relationships that create "new networks of integration" and knit "a
firm social fabric," growing "ever
stronger" and forming a sense of belonging that is necessary for a life of
There are many passages in the Bible that emphasize the
importance of making and keeping commitments to various things: to our
families, neighbors and employers, to our health, to our church and to discipleship,
and to promises we have made. Most important is the commitment we make to our
God, whom we are called to love with all of our heart and soul.
In Numbers 30:3, we read about the parameters of a valid
promise: "When a man
makes a vow to the Lord or binds himself under oath to a pledge, he
shall not violate his word, but must fulfill exactly the promise he has
St. Paul (in Eph 5:21-33) compares the
relationship between a husband and a wife with the relationship between Jesus
and the church. Just as Jesus has made a permanent, loving commitment to the church,
so too should a husband and wife make a permanent, loving commitment to each
The story of Ruth and Naomi in the Book of
Ruth illustrates wonderfully the importance of keeping a commitment. Ruth was
married to Naomi's son, who has died.
When Naomi decides to return to Israel, she
releases Ruth from her marriage vows: Ruth no longer has any obligation as a
daughter-in-law to take care of Naomi. However, Ruth is faithful to her promises
and insists on fulfilling her commitment.
Her words in Ruth 1:16-17 have echoed down
through the centuries, and are still used in wedding services today to
illustrate the importance of keeping one's commitment:
"Wherever you go I will go, wherever you
lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Where
you die I will die, and there be buried. May the Lord do thus to me, and more,
if even death separates me from you!"
As Pope Francis reminds us in "The Joy of Love," making and
keeping our commitments "enables us to cooperate with God's plan." Ruth's commitment certainly
played an important role in divine history, as she went on to become the
great-grandmother of King David, the most important of Israel's kings and an
ancestor of Jesus.
How will our faithfulness to our commitments shape the world to
(Mulhall is a catechist living in Laurel, Maryland.)
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT
An article about commitment on the "For Your Marriage"
website, which is run by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says that
commitment can be considered "not a very 'sexy' word or concept."
But understanding commitment in a marriage is key because it
means that even if two people are different, their futures are still on the
same path and it means that each person has pledged that no matter what
happens, a promise exists to stay and work through life's challenges.
While marriage can begin as a romantic endeavor, challenges
will arise, and "commitment to each other" can carry "a couple through the
harder times, along with generous doses of time, counseling, effort, luck and
faith," the website adds.
Feeling will never be enough for a marriage, it says, and
commitment means "doing loving things for your spouse, speaking kindly and
respectfully, and deciding over and over to pay attention to the relationship."
Commitment means: "to do the daily work of keeping the
commitment alive. It may mean turning off the TV or taking a nightly walk in
order to listen to each other's concerns. These simple actions, and many more,
are the stuff of commitment."
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