His feast day is the perfect time to make an act of love that will “keep the lamp burning” in your marriage.
You might not expect a celibate man to have the best relationship advice, but St. John Paul II had an extraordinary understanding of what makes marriage work. His writings contain some of the best and most life-changing wisdom about marriage you can find.
We’ve never needed his advice more. Today marriage is so often derided as old-fashioned and unnecessary, or as something easily abandoned when something “bigger and better” comes along.
Even for couples who commit to honoring their vows, it can be hard to keep the flame of love burning. As spouses become busy with careers and kids, it’s easy to feel like ships passing in the night.
St. John Paul II focused much of his pastoral effort on strengthening marriages and romantic relationships. Thanks to his perspective as a priest and as the son of loving and happily married parents, he knew how important marriage is.
He knew that marriage is the foundation of human society. He knew that every part of civil society benefits from strong and healthy marriages. Accordingly, he dedicated much of his pontificate and his writing and speaking to encouraging couples to nourish their marriages.
Of course, one of his biggest contributions in this area is the Theology of the Body, about which so much has been written and said. But much of his wisdom is distilled in a little-known play he wrote, The Jeweler’s Shop, in which he dramatized the essential truths he’d learned about marriage.
For example, during a proposal scene in the play, the young man asks his love to become his “life’s companion.” This simple little phrase has so much depth. It reveals both the fidelity of marriage, that lasts until death, and the spirit of camaraderie that’s so important to marital happiness.
There is an especially moving and unforgettable scene toward the end of the play that holds a lesson for all spouses.
A couple in the play, Stefan and Anna, have grown cold towards each other after many years of marriage. They are unhappy and no longer want to be married to each other. Anna takes her wedding ring to the jeweler’s shop to sell it.
She’s interrupted by a “chance interlocutor,” Adam, who reminds her of the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were so foolish as to let their lamps go out. He tells Anna that he has woken her so that, like the wise virgins, she can go forward and meet the Bridegroom with her lamp when he comes.
But when the Bridegroom comes, it is none other than her estranged husband, Stefan. She says,
When I then ran, so full of hidden hope,
Towards the Bridegroom so suddenly promised,
I saw Stefan’s face.
Must he have that face for me?
Meanwhile Adam comments,
In the Bridegroom’s face each of us finds a similarity to the faces of those with whom love has entangled us on this side of life, of existence. They are all in him.
In the play, Anna and Stefan reconcile and their marriage improves. This makes their story consistent with data confirming that most unhappy marriages become significantly happier if the couple sticks it out for a few years (with the obvious exception of abusive situations):
80% of people who rated their marriages “unhappy” in a national survey, when asked five years later, ranked it “happier.” Of the couples that rated their marriages “miserable” (2%), about 77% rated them as “very happy” five years later.
The play reveals this beautiful secret to a happy marriage: In loving Christ, we love our spouses. By loving our spouses, we serve Christ and find heaven on earth.
This is the mystery of marriage that St. John Paul II reveals. The way that we treat the people around us here on earth is how we treat Christ. For married couples, that means that your spouse’s face is for you the face of Christ the Bridegroom.
St. John Paul II’s feast day today is an apt occasion to make an act of love that will “keep the lamp burning” in our own marriages. Here are a few ideas to get you started!
- Text a thoughtful compliment to your spouse when you’re not together today
- Kiss each other for six seconds
- Schedule a date night and put it on the calendar
- Ask about something they care about that you’re not interested in (for me, that’s asking my husband about football!)
- Write a love note and leave it under their pillow