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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What's Love Got to Do With It?...

Brings back memories...
In her 1984 classic song, Tina Turner asked, "What's love got to do with it?  What's love, but a second hand emotion?"

In all honesty, I wasn't much of a fan of the song but it came to mind lately, as I reflected on a good friend, whose nearly 20-year-marriage is coming to an end after his wife left a note stating, "I don't love you anymore," in contrast with my brother, who, following the footsteps of George Clooney, is finally taking the plunge into respectability, while still in his 40's and before needing Celebrex to keep his body in motion, announced he is getting married next year.

If you think about it, there's a profound truth and wisdom in the Turner song.  Whether the songwriters meant it as such or not, the truth is, as I said in the toast I made for my brother and his fiancé on the night they made public their intentions to a group of family and friends, love is not a feeling (although, it can be).  It's an action; a choice.  Feelings can come and go, and anyone who's been married can attest there are days, where the feelings are stronger than others (i.e., a second hand emotion!).  But, a choice to love can last forever.

One of the most popular Bible verses at weddings is from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians,  "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  (1 Cor 13:4-7)

If you look around today, when more than forty percent of marriages end in divorce, and it goes up to sixty percent of second marriages and seventy percent of third time marriage (You see, the grass is not always greener!), not to mention, the children of divorced parents are more likely to end up divorced themselves, there is obviously a disconnect between the words of St. Paul and what couples at the altar are hearing, or, at least, living.

Let's face it, we live in a throwaway society that tells us, moreover, reinforces at every chance, that it's all about us; looking out for number one and finding personal happiness.  And, if something is broken or damaged, forget fixing it, throw it away and get a new one!  An entire generation of best-selling books bolstering this message can be found at any local book store.

Last Sunday, I was helping my good friend remove furniture from his house and into a new apartment he was forced to move into, just days before Christmas.  I'll be honest, it was a bit heart wrenching for me to see that house, where we had shared in so many laughs, good meals, good wine and memories, be left in shambles and disarray from the emptying of book cases, consoles, closets and furniture that kept two decades of mementos.  The remnants of a marriage coming to a bitter end and whose casualties are two teenage kids, who will now be forced to live bouncing from house to house to be with their parents.  I could only imagine what my friend was feeling as he moved out of the house, where he started a life with his wife and was raising his family. 

At one point, during a short lapse in work, I told another man who was helping, "I don't know about you but this really saddens me."

He shot back in a very pragmatic tone, "It's better that it happens now then finding himself unhappy ten years from now."

Really?  Is that what marriage has come down to?  I take you so-and-so for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part or until you stop making me happy!

With that mentality, it's no wonder why marriages are failing.  Resting one's happiness and fulfillment on another person or thing, is a sure recipe for disappointment and frustration, because no one can ever live up to those expectations, no matter how hard they may try (or not try in some cases!).  Happiness and fulfillment become as elusive as the Road Runner to Wile E. Coyote, unless our priorities are grounded correctly.

St. John Paul II once wrote that our lives, "which seem like so many other lives, are in fact caught up in a great drama of sin and redemption.  In that drama, human love will yield to 'the pressure of reality' and crumble unless it is completed and perfected in being conformed to a Love that is capable of fulfilling love's longing for absolute fulfillment." 

That is a transcendent love that can only come from God.  A marriage without God centering it, is always at risk to the pressures of society.

I think we, as a culture, with all the destination and "venue" weddings, have lost that sense of "till death do us part" because marriage has been devalued and relegated to a piece of paper; a contract (like a business partnership) in a civil ceremony rather than a covenant before God in a church or place of worship.  That's not to say that taking wedding vows in a church guarantees success, unless God is a prominent part of the marriage. 

Still, a contract can be dissolved for any just reason at any time, although in states with "no-fault" divorces, no reason, aside from "I'm not happy," is needed.

However, a covenant in ancient times was how a person, who was not a blood relative, became part of another family.  It was and is a commitment usually sworn before God, is sacramental, since it is self-offering and sacrificial, and meant to last forever. 

Last May, my parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary.  Fifty years!  Like an old Cuban grandmother would say, "Que Aguante!" or loosely translated, "What patience!"  Fifty years of good times and many happy memories, as well as, plenty of sacrifices and hardships.  No marriage can ever be measured by just the good times but how it overcomes the tough ones.

In my parents' case, like most couples, I'm sure there were many ups and downs in how they felt about each other at different times in their life but they never gave up.  They chose to love like St. Paul described it; a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

I cannot thank them enough for their example of perseverance and true love, not just to one another but, just as importantly, to God and to their family; my brother and me, because marriage is not just about the couple but about the good of the family, and the good of society, if you want to take it a step deeper.

As St. John Paul II also stated, "Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family - a domestic church." And, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

A marriage is not easy.  It takes hard work, sacrifice and a will to endure.  I pray my parents serve to encourage my brother to choose to love through rough times, which are inevitable in any  matrimony.  Although, let's not get any illusions of grandeur.  For my brother to make it to his 50th Wedding Anniversary, it would mean he would have to live to nearly 100!  Yikes! 

After experiencing the somberness of having to move my good friend from his house earlier this week, I see how easily a failure to choose to love and putting God in the center of a marriage can lead to the lyrics of another '80's song, this one by Luther Vandross, "A room is a still a room, even when there's nothin' there but gloom.  But a room is not a house and a house is not a home, when the two of us are far apart and one of us has a broken heart."

May God bless my brother's marriage and heal my good friend's and his children's' broken hearts...


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