“If you allow true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice to guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to us in this vale of tears.”
Here are a couple treasures for this day.
First, from Elizabeth Scalia:
For this Valentine’s Day, I am hoping the one who loves me will be offering me pink carnations. He, likely, will be hoping for a favorite meal. Both are relatively easy things to deliver. The trappings of love generally are. Hearts and flowers, candy and pot roast, smooches and a companionable night watching a favorite old movie—it’s all easy, comfortable stuff, especially when the relationship is riding a fairly even keel.
Ah, there is the rub, the condition that makes the most pleasant parts of love seem so easy—that even keel, those smooth waters. If only every relationship could enjoy bright skies and calm waters in perpetuity.
But we all know that relationships don’t work that way, that even the best relationships, rooted in true mutual admiration or shared adoration, will occasionally strike a reef and struggle.
St. James has something to say about perseverance in the first reading of today’s Mass. He is writing about sticking with the life of faith when things become rocky, as they always do, but I think his words apply equally well to the inevitable challenges that come to any committed relationship, be it a marriage, a religious or clerical vocation or our own relationship to Christ Jesus. After all, they’re all love stories, are they not?
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters,
when you encounter various trials,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And let perseverance be perfect,
so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom,
he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly,
and he will be given it.
The words may sound cavalier to some, but they are not. James advises us to make our pleas to heaven without entertaining doubts, because doubt tends to withhold, and supplication—which always involves a Gethsemane of true surrender—must hold nothing back, must involve an act of real self-giving. Rather like love, itself. Even then, the answer that comes in such prayer may end up being very different from what we want; it may instead be what we need.
And secondly, as a chaser I offer these immortal words, from the Exhortation Before Marriage. In the 1962 Missal, it was part of the marriage ceremony, and often read at weddings as part of the homily; a couple priests I know still use it. More should. Its wisdom is timeless.
Dear Children of God,
You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred because it is established by God Himself. By it, He gave to mankind a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. In this way He sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under His fatherly love. Because God Himself is its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self.
However, Christ Our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to love in marriage to describe His own love for His Church and for the people whom He redeemed by His own blood. He thereby gave Christians a new vision of what married life should be, a life of self-sacrificing love like His own. It is for this reason that His apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is to be its prototype.
This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will influence and direct your entire future from this day forward. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys, and sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And yet, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death. Truly then, these words are most serious.
It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing the full import of the words you are about to exchange, you are nevertheless, so willing and prepared to pronounce them. Because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. You begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and fuller life you are to have in common. From this day on you will belong entirely to each other, you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. Whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is difficult and trying. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. When love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. Our prayer for you is that this love, with which you join your hands and your hearts today, never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on.
If you allow true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice to guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to us in this vale of tears. The rest is in God’s hands. Be assured that God will not fail you in your needs. God pledges you the life-long support of His graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to minister to one another.