Lasting love requires a journey
VATICAN CITY — Love between a betrothed man and woman is not a kind of “supplement” for mental and physical well-being, but rather a journey on which each learns about the other little by little before they are married, Pope Francis has said.
Speaking to pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday morning, the Pope said engagement “is the time when the two are called to a real work of love, an involved and shared work, that goes in depth.
“They discover one another little by little,” he said. “Let us not underestimate the importance of this learning: it is a beautiful endeavor, and love itself requires it, since it is not simply a matter of carefree happiness or enchanted emotion.”
But the Pope warned that today’s culture and society have become “rather indifferent to the delicacy and seriousness” of preparing for marriage. He said today, our “emotional coordinates” have gone a bit askew and people “claim to want everything right away, then back out on everything — right away — at the first difficulty (or at the first opportunity).”
“There is no hope for the trust and fidelity entailed in the gift of self, if the habit prevails of consuming love as a kind of “supplement” for mental and physical well-being,” Pope Francis said. “This is not love! Engagement develops the desire to care for something together that is never to be bought or sold, betrayed or abandoned, however tempting the offer may be.”
To counter this, the Pope urged betrothed couples to view engagement as “a path of life that has to ripen like fruit; it is a way of maturing in love, until the moment it becomes marriage.”
Here below we publish a translation of the Pope’s address.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Continuing these catecheses on the family, today I would like to speak about betrothal. Betrothal — one hears it in the word — has to do with trust, confidence, reliability. Confidence in the vocation that God gives, since marriage is first and foremost the discovery of a call from God. Certainly it is a beautiful thing that today young people can choose to marry on the basis of mutual love. But the very freedom of the bond requires a conscious harmony in the decision, not just a simple understanding of the attraction or feeling, for a moment, for a short time … it requires a journey.
Betrothal, in other words, is the time when the two are called to a real work of love, an involved and shared work that goes in depth. They discover one another little by little, i.e. the man “learns” about woman by learning about this woman, his fiancée; and the woman “learns” about man by learning about this man, her fiancé. Let us not underestimate the importance of this learning: it is a beautiful endeavor, and love itself requires it, since it is not simply a matter of carefree happiness or enchanted emotion.
The biblical account speaks of the whole creation as God’s beautiful work of love. The Book of Genesis says that: “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Only when it is finished does God “rest.” We understand from this image that God’s love, which brought forth the world, was not an impromptu decision. No, it was a beautiful work. The love of God created the concrete conditions for an irrevocable covenant, one that is strong and destined to endure.
The covenant of love between man and woman — a covenant for life — cannot be improvised. It isn’t made up from one day to another. There is no marriage express: one needs to work on love, one needs to walk. The covenant of love between man and woman is something learned and refined. I venture to say it is a covenant carefully crafted. To make two lives one is also a miracle of freedom, and of the heart entrusted in faith.
Perhaps we should emphasize more this point, because our “emotional coordinates” have gone a bit askew. Those who claim to want everything right away, then back out of everything — right away — at the first difficulty (or at the first opportunity). There is no hope for the trust and fidelity entailed in the gift of self, if the habit prevails of consuming love as a kind of “supplement” for mental and physical well-being. This is not love! Engagement develops the desire to care for something together that is never to be bought or sold, betrayed or abandoned, however tempting the offer may be.
God, when he speaks of the covenant with his people, does so several times in terms of betrothal. In the Book of Jeremiah, in speaking to the people who had distanced themselves from him, he reminds them of when they were the “betrothed” of God, and he says: “I remember the devotion of your youth, of your love at the time of your betrothal” (2:2).
God took this path of betrothal. He then also made a promise: we heard it at the beginning of the audience, in the Book of Hosea: “I will espouse you to me forever, I will espouse you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will espouse you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (2:21-22).
The road the Lord takes with his people on this journey of betrothal is a long one. At the end, God espouses his people in Jesus Christ. In Jesus he marries the Church. The People of God is Jesus’ Bride. But what a long road! And you Italians, in your literature you have a masterpiece on betrothal, The Betrothed. Young people need to know about it and read it. It is a masterpiece that tells the story of fiancees that overcomes great suffering, they travel a road filled with many struggles, until at last they arrive at marriage. Don’t let go of this masterpiece on betrothal, which Italian literature has given especially to you. Go forward reading it, and you will see the beauty, the suffering, but also the faithfulness of the betrothed.
The Church, in her wisdom, keeps the distinction between being betrothed and being spouses — it’s not the same — especially in view of the delicacy and depth of this test. Let us be careful not to look down lightheartedly on this wise teaching, which also comes from the experience of happy married life. The powerful symbols of the body hold the keys of the soul: We cannot treat the bonds of the flesh lightly, without opening some lasting wound in the spirit (1 Cor 6:15-20).
Of course, today’s culture and the society have become rather indifferent to the delicacy and seriousness of this step. On the other hand, it cannot be said that they are generous to young people who are really serious about making a home and having children. Indeed, often they pose a thousand obstacles, mental and practical. Engagement is a path of life that has to ripen like fruit; it is a way of maturing in love, until the moment it becomes marriage.
Pre-marriage courses are a special expression of preparation. And we see so many couples, that perhaps come to the course somewhat reluctantly, “But these priests make us do a course! By why? We know everything! … and they go reluctantly. But afterward they are happy and grateful, because they have found there the opportunity — sometimes the only one — to reflect on their experience in non-trivial terms.
Yes, many couples are together a long time, perhaps also in intimacy, sometimes living together, but they don’t really know each other. It seems strange, but experience shows it’s true. Therefore engagement needs to be re-evaluated as a time of getting to know one another and sharing a plan. The path of preparation for marriage should be implemented with this in view, also by making use of the simple but intense witness of Christian spouses. And also by focusing on the essentials: The Bible, by consciously discovering it together; prayer, in its liturgical dimension, but also in the “domestic prayer,” to live out as a family, the Sacraments, the Sacramental life, Confession, … where the Lord comes to abide in the engaged couple and prepare them truly to receive one another “with the grace of Christ”; and fraternity with the poor and those in need, who lead us to live soberly and to share.
Engaged couples who commit themselves to this path both grow, and all of this leads to preparing for a beautiful celebration of Marriage in a different way, not in a worldly way, but in a Christian way! Let us consider the words of God we heard, when he speaks to his people as a fiancé to his bride-to-be: “I will espouse you to me forever, I will espouse you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will espouse you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:21-22). May every betrothed couple think of this and say to one another: “I will take you as my bride, I will take you as my husband.” Wait for that moment. It is a moment, it is a path that goes slowly ahead, but it is a path of maturation. The steps of the journey should not be burned. This is how we mature, step by step.
The time of betrothal can truly become a time of initiation, into what? Into surprise. Into the surprise of the spiritual gifts with which the Lord, through his Church, enriches the horizon of the family that stands ready to live in his blessing.
Now I invite you to pray to the Holy Family of Nazareth: Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Pray that the family may make this journey of preparation; and pray for couples who are betrothed. Let us pray to Our Lady all together, one Hail Mary for all engaged couples, that they may understand the beauty of this journey towards Marriage.
[Ave Maria …]
And to engaged couples who are here in the square: “Blessed path of betrothal!”.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.