As we promised last week, this week we share with you the the second question Pope Francis addressed in his talk to engaged couples on Valentine’s day.
Question 2: Living together: the “style” of married life
Holiness, to live together every day is beautiful, it gives joy, it supports. But it is a challenge to face. We believe that we must learn to love each other. There is a “style” of married life, a spirituality of daily life that we want to achieve. Can you help us in this, Holy Father?
Living together is an art, a patient way, handsome and charming. It does not end when you have each been possessed by the other … Indeed, it is precisely then that it starts! This daily journey has rules that can be summed up in these three words you’ve spoken, words which I have repeated many times to families: “Please”, or “May I”, you have said; “Thank you “; and “Excuse me”. “Please – May I? “. It’s the courteous request to be able to enter into the life of someone else life with respect and care. We must learn to ask: May I do this? Would
you like that we do this? We take this initiative, and that we bring up our children like this. Would you like to go out tonight? … In short, to ask for agreement is to enter the lives of others with courtesy. But keep this in mind: to be able to enter into the lives of others with courtesy. It is not easy, it is not easy. Sometimes instead, the manners can be a bit heavy, like hiking boots! True love is not imposed by toughness and aggression. In the Little Flowers of St. Francis is this expression: “Know that courtesy is one of the properties of God … and courtesy is the sister of charity, which extinguishes hate and
protects love” (Ch. 37). Yes, courtesy protects love. And today in our families, in our world, which is often violent and arrogant, we need much more courtesy. And this can begin at home.
“Thank you .” It seems easy to say the word, but we know that is not always so … But it’s important! We teach it to the children, but then we forget it ourselves! Gratitude is an important quality ! An old woman once said to me in Buenos Aires: “Gratitude is a flower that grows in the noble land.” Nobility of the soul is necessary to grow this flower. Remember the Gospel of Luke? Jesus heals ten who are sick with leprosy, and then only one returns to say thanks to Jesus. The Lord says, and the other nine, where are they? This is also true for us: do we know how to say thanks? In your relationship, and then tomorrow in married life, it is important to keep alive the awareness that the other person is a gift of God, and for the gifts of God to say thank you! And in this inner attitude say thanks to each other for everything. It is not a kind word to use just with strangers, to show you are educated. It is necessary to know how to say thank you, in order to get along well together in married life.
The third thing: ” I’m sorry . ” In life we make so many errors, many mistakes. We all do it. But maybe there is someone here who has never made a mistake? Raise your hand if there is someone there, a person who has never made a mistake? We all do it! All! There is no day when we do not make some mistake. The Bible says that the very best person sins seven times a day. And so we do mistakes … This then is why we need to use this simple word “sorry”. Generally, each of us is ready to accuse others and justify one’s self. This began with our father Adam, when God asks him: “Adam, have you eaten of that fruit?”. “Me? No! She is the one who gave it to me! ” Accusing the other person so as not to say “sorry”, “pardon.” It’s an old story! It’s an instinct that is at the origin of many disasters. We learn to recognize our mistakes and apologize. “Sorry if I raised my voice today,” “I’m sorry if I went without saying goodbye,” “I’m sorry if I’m late,” “If I have been so unresponsive this week”, “If I talked too much without ever listening”, “Excuse me, I forgot”, “I was angry and I’m sorry I’ve taken it
out on you”… So many times to say “sorry” each day, we can say. This is how a
Christian family grows. We all know that there is no such thing as a perfect family, nor even the perfect husband or the perfect wife. We do not speak of the perfect mother-in-law …. Sinners, that’s what we are. Jesus, who knows us well, teaches us a secret: never end a day without asking for forgiveness, without peace coming back to our house, to our family. It is normal that there be a quarrel between husband and wife, but there’s always something to do about it. We had a fight … Maybe you’re angry, maybe a plate flew, but please remember this: never finish the day without making peace! Never, never, never! This is a secret, a secret to protect love and to make peace. It is not necessary to make a
beautiful speech … Sometimes the right gesture,… and peace is made. Never finish the day … because if you end the day without making peace, what you have inside, the next day is cold and hard and it is harder to make peace. Remember well: never finish the day without peace! If we learn to ask pardon and forgive each other, the marriage will last, and will move ahead. When elderly couples come to the audiences or to Mass here in Santa Marta, who celebrate their 50th anniversary, I ask the question: “Who has put up with whom?” This is marvelous! They all look at one another, then look at me, and tell me: “Both of us.” And this is beautiful! This is a beautiful testimony!
(Bob and Rita’s thoughts)
Pope Francis’ advice in his response to this question is all about respecting each other. These three words are some of the most important ways that we can offer respect to the other. “Please..” and “May I…”, or similar words I choose in a given situation, offers Rita a chance to say “No” and lets her know that I am listening to her. Even when she has said “Yes” in the same situation many times in the past, it tells her that I am not taking her for granted. For example, when one of us gets the mail, we will never open mail addressed to other without first asking for permission. As we have developed a sensitivity to those things that can perhaps sound like a criticism to the other, we have found other ways to defuse situations that might otherwise lead to tension. We have learned to replace statements with questions that show respect. They sometimes involve simple things like replacing “I want to go to the 9:00 Mass this weekend.”, with. “It would work out well for me to go to the 9:00 Mass this weekend, how does that work for you? When our son was in high school, he initiated a question that he would ask on weekend mornings – he would ask, “What is our POA, meaning Plan Of Action” for the day. We still use that often, usually before we get out of bed, to get in touch with each other’s expectations for the day. It allows us to have a discussion and work out a combined schedule that reflects the other’s expectations for the day. This approach continues to help our days together run more smoothly.
I have always been grateful for Rita, our children, the material things we have and have tried to thank God every day. Several years ago we wrote a presentation on couple prayer. In the process we used a book about prayer that reminded us that part of our daily prayer should be our gratitude to God, for each other, for all God’s blessings and to praise God as our Creator. That struck a chord with us and we pledged to make every day an opportunity to express our gratitude. Since then I try to take every opportunity to be thankful, not just in prayer, but in everything I do. We thank the checkout person in a store, the wait staff in a restaurant and anyone who offers us a small kindness. We thank the priest for a good homily at Mass and our children for all the things they do for us. I also thank God each day for the many good people who have touched my life. When I ride my bike, I marvel at the wonders of nature along the path and give thanks. Living our lives with gratitude has changed us. We find many reasons to be joyful every day.
Contrary to the catchphrase of the 1970 film, Love Story, love doesn’t mean “never having to say you’re sorry”. As Pope Francis says, we all make mistakes every day. Deliberately and inadvertently, we say and do things that disrespect our spouse. I usually know almost immediately when I have said or done something that is a put-down or that will hurt Rita and know that I have to say or do something let her know that I regret what I have done. In little things, a simple, “I’m sorry” and maybe a hug or kiss is enough, but some things require more. In those situations we believe that we must directly ask for forgiveness of the other. It is also important to offer forgiveness when asked. Our experience is that asking for and offering forgiveness doesn’t always make the feelings of hurt instantly go away, but is necessary to start a process of healing. This is especially true when hurts are deep. One of the great things about being married for a long time and having the experience of wounding and healing, being wounded and being healed, is that we have learned to trust the process. We know that we will get through the current situation and will still be together, confident that there is more fun and joy ahead for us.
We would like to hear your comments.
Today’s scripture readings, reflection and prayer:
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time. Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.