Faith Alive

Catholic News Service

  • Image Credit: CNS/Paul Haring


    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.


    - - -


    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 growth."

    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 comments.

    "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 to build."

    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 first time."

    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 writes.

    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 positive attitude."

    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.)


    - - -


    Commitment in marriage: Start with humility

    By Mike Nelson

    Catholic News Service

    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 lives.

    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 husband.

    Pope Francis' 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.

    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. After 40 years, I am still learning the size and scope of that commitment, and how and why God is involved.

    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.

    (Nelson is former editor of The Tidings, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.)


    - - -


    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 loving companionship.

    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 uttered."

    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 other.

    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 come?

    (Mulhall is a catechist living in Laurel, Maryland.)


    - - -


    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."


    - - -

    Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

About Faith Alive
Faith Alive is a service from Catholic News Service (CNS). CNS, the oldest and largest religious news service in the world, is a leading source of news for Catholic print and electronic media across the globe. With bureaus in Washington and Rome, as well as a global correspondent network, CNS since 1920 has set the standard in Catholic journalism.

Top of page