New Love, New Vocabulary

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I recently heard a live performance of Carmina Burana. I'd never paid close attention to its lyrics, which are—despite the opening and closing theme, O Fortuna—all about sex and carousing. Life is terrible, unless you're young and it's springtime, then people are drinking, gambling, and falling in love. Everyone is sick with new love, yearning for their lovers, waiting for them to arrive, surrendering to the yoke of passion.

I'm not sure I have retained the verbal or physical vocabulary for that kind of loving. Such infatuation requires youth and a disposition akin to virginity, where each new sign of affection brims with significance and novelty. Can you express all of your hoped-for future communions by holding your beloved's hand? Then handholding becomes one of the most sensual events imaginable.

When my husband and I were engaged, though we both attempted to live as faithful Catholics, I often suspected that I loved him more than God. It was certainly easier to pass hours in my husband's presence doing exactly nothing, than it was to sit in the Adoration Chapel. At one point I even asked God for detachment from my husband, because it felt like a sin to be so into him. But it also felt really fun, giddy, and exciting.

Time passes, and a couple years ago, almost everyone I knew was getting divorced and having a "second chance at love" (which included alternate weekends away and lots of hoochie-coochie). Many of my peers were "sick with new love" all over again, in their mid-30s. Meanwhile, God had answered my prayer for detachment from my husband. It wasn't that we had a marriage on the brink; in fact, I've often said, had I to do it all over again, I'd choose my husband a thousand times. But I envied the time everyone else seemed to have, to invest in new infatuation.

It bears repeating that parents of young children are often tired, sometimes grouchy, that their sex lives take a back burner to sleep, that they lack time for directionless conversation, and that most of their directed conversation concerns the well-being of the children. The family is a petri dish for all kinds of growth, but infatuated new love is not usually among the offerings, unless there's a new baby in the family, as there often is. I kept wondering what my prize would be for reiterating the marriage prep mantra, "Love is a decision," when it seemed like everyone else I knew was saying, "Love is following your bliss."

Our love was undergoing purification, but it felt like hell, and from the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks, sometimes, none too kindly.

I used to see a priest for regular spiritual guidance, and one month, I started to unload about all the ways I felt my husband had slighted me. And the priest looked at me with a straight face, nodded his head, and said, "Boys are stupid." It was the point I was trying to make, so I went on, about how a girlfriend of mine said I should just tell him . . .

The priest interrupted me, "Girls talk too much."

Only then did I realize that he wasn't commiserating with me. "You spend all day alone with your thoughts, conversing and colluding with them. Your thoughts are your friends," he said. "And you've been hanging out with the wrong crowd."

We had a nice long talk after that about how "love is a decision" does not mean bearing it out for the next fifty years with gritted teeth. It means deciding in the moment to choose love, over and over again, which is next to impossible if you are not rooted in prayer, Sacrament, and the Word.

The problem is not that pagans have all the fun and the faithful, only woe. But that it's possible for a believer to act like a pagan within the context of her own God Given Vocation. Do I believe that God is the Creator of the universe, and that he created me, and recreates me, my spouse, and my marriage on any day that I ask and he chooses? God makes all things new. He saves the best wine for later. To say that God cannot change us is to hear the word and let it fall on rocky soil. Spend time conversing with God, growing in love for Him, and every relationship will likewise see improvement.

If you want renewal sometimes you have to change the script—both the internal one that runs through your mind all day long, and the external habits of communication with people you love.

In our adult catechism class this week, we watched a video demonstrating the new translation of the Mass. It occurred to me how difficult it must be for one of the largest religions in the world to teach its faithful a new vocabulary, a translation that's just a bit more meaningful, a bit more reverent, a bit more to the point. The Mass teaches us how to pray, how the bride should speak to her Bridegroom. The more the bride adores her Bridegroom, becoming in a sense "sick with new love" for Him, the more her dealings with everyone else reflect that love.

And so, new love grows with my husband—a second chance at love each new day that I wake up and seek fulfillment in Christ. My love for my husband doesn't displace God, or cause me to sin, but is a part of the outpouring of grace and love that comes from relationship with the Creator.

It makes me giddy sometimes, the novelty of it.

10/12/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Elizabeth Duffy
    About Elizabeth Duffy
    Elizabeth Duffy is a freelance writer and author of the blog, "Betty Duffy." Her writing has appeared online at Faith and Family, the Korrektiv Press Blog, and numerous other venues. She and her husband live in rural Indiana with their five children.