Friendship and Love
Friendship and love go together. What can a priest say about marriage? Well, I suppose that if you are here, you assume that he has some light to shed on the subject. I don’t know if you have a movie that has impacted you, even affecting your life decisions. I pretty much always wanted to be a priest. And I grew up, reading lots of saints’ stories. I was close to several priests, and some were excellent. Overall, though, I think a lot of who I wanted to be as a priest came from the fictional character of Fr. O’Malley, played by Bing Crosby. And of the three movies in which Bing appears as a priest, my favorite is Going My Way.
Happiness and Heaven
At the beginning of the movie, he meets a young woman fleeing a humdrum life in search of adventure in the big city. She finds some sort of adventure, because a few scenes later, she is living with a newfound boyfriend. Fr. O’Malley drops by and carefully tiptoes around the more difficult subjects. Then, he sits down at the piano and plays Going My Way. “I hope you’re going my way too.” It seems odd to have a priest singing about how he and this young couple in an irregular situation could somehow be going the same place. But Fr. O’Malley wants them to find happiness. He just happens to know they will never find it where they are looking. So, he invites them down another path: the one leading to happiness, and Heaven.
Church and Happiness
To me, it seems obvious that the Church would have to give some guidance about what happens in intimate relationships. This is not because the Church wants to “butt in” and make our lives miserable, but rather because the Church is in the best position to help us discover the meaning of our lives and to give the proper meaning to our moments of intimacy. What I have noticed is that so much vitriol trying to keep God away from marriage and intimate life seems to come from a place of hurt and anger, rather than from a place of peace and reason. We want marriage to be more about love and less about lust. For this to happen, we need to have God involved.
What’s love got to do with it?
Why does God want people to get married? This is the great question we want to answer. There is much debate in society about marriage. Is it a natural institution? Is it something made up by culture? What is it? As Christians, our understanding of marriage begins by understanding that it is something natural. Long before the sacrament of marriage, which was instituted by Christ, marriage existed and was blessed by God. We see a testament to this all throughout the Bible.
The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their offspring as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. (Gaudium et Spes, 48)
Marriage teaches what love is
God wants to teach us through marriage what love is. He wants us to experience human love as a way of entering into divine love. So, a very good question to measure the health of your marriage is whether your spouse is leading you to love God more. Are you leading your spouse to love God more?
Love is more than emotion
God’s plan for marriage is shown in the way we experience love as a reality and love as an emotion. Love goes far beyond emotion. Emotions can help to live out our decisions, but the decision is at the basis of love. Before we really delve into love, we should look at friendship. This is what the theologian Karol Wojtyla did in his book Love and Responsibility.
A New Direction
To understand married love, Pope John Paul II went back to Aristotle’s reflections on friendship.
Friendship of utility
“First, in a friendship of utility, the affection is based on the benefit or use the friends derive from the relationship. Each person gets something out of the friendship that is to his advantage, and the mutual benefit of the relationship is what unites the two people as friends.” (Sri, Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, p. 12) Many of our relationships reflect this type of friendship. Maybe I speak to the barista when I get coffee. After a while, we get to know each other a little bit. But it is still a relationship of utility. I know the lady at the post office. She seems to be a good woman, but my interactions with her are very limited. It is a friendship of utility.
“Second, in a pleasant friendship, the basis of affection is the pleasure one gets out of the relationship. One sees the friend as a cause of some pleasure for himself.” (Sri, Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, p. 13) There are some people we like to be around. We have fun. We enjoy. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but we make a mistake when we think this is the ultimate foundation of married love. One of the risks of “falling in love” is that it can place the emphasis on our positive feelings during the stage of dating and getting to know one another. But this type of affection cannot normally last forever.
“For Aristotle, the third form of friendship is friendship in the fullest sense. It can be called a virtuous friendship because the two friends are united not in self-interest but in the pursuit of a common goal: the good life, the moral life that is found in virtue.” (Sri, Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, p. 14)
A virtuous relationship makes both people better. One thing I advise young people is to look for friends better than themselves. If you are better than all of your friends, look for better friends. One of my brothers has been married for over 15 years. When we were getting to know his wife, we were all very impressed. Some of us joked that if they broke up, we wanted to keep her as a sister and trade out our brother. Over time, I have seen how he has developed into an excellent husband and father. I remember hearing a comment from them a few years ago. They both believe sincerely that they “married up.” This is something so beautiful because it puts both of them into a context of gratitude and humility. That is a good foundation for a long-term relationship.
God’s Plan for Marriage: Friendship and Love
Pope John Paul II saw friendship as a necessary foundation for married love. It is good for you to reflect on what type of friendship lies at the base of your married love. “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” We all need a heart so that we can love as God has directed us.
Questions for Reflection
Is your relationship primarily transactional? Do you do each other favors, and offer each other services? Is your relationship focused on having fun? Is it all about the enjoyment you derive from being together? Or is your relationship about preparing each other for Heaven?