Pope Offers Guidance and Encouragement to International Couples
by David Gibson
“Falling in love is a wonderful thing,” Pope Benedict XVI told an engaged couple June 2 in Milan, Italy. But a couple’s initial love needs over time to grow and mature, he added.
During a couple’s continuing journey of love, he considered it “important” that they “are not alone” – that they enjoy support from their parish community, friends and others.
The engaged couple, from Madagascar, addressed a question to the pope as part of an “Evening of Witness” during the May 30-June 3 World Meeting of Families in Milan. Five couples and families asked questions of the pope.
One couple inquired about the church’s relationship with divorced Catholics who remarry without first having an earlier marriage annulled. The pope’s response pointed again to the need of couples for support from others.
“Accompaniment during married life is needed so that families are never left on their own,” the pope said.
To help prevent divorce, he judged it important “that those who fall in love are helped from the beginning to make a deep and mature commitment.”
He also described “a great task for a parish, a Catholic community – the task of doing “whatever is possible” to help divorced-remarried Catholics “to feel loved and accepted, to feel that they are not ‘excluded,’ even though they cannot receive absolution or the Eucharist.”
Another question asked during the evening event reflected a central theme of the Milan meeting: the need to balance the work people do for a living with family life.
A couple from the United States, Anna and Jay Rerrie, said their work and their six children combine to create a life “of constant racing against time, anxieties, highly complex situations.” The couple suggested that “institutions and businesses don’t make it easy to reconcile” work and family life.
Pope Benedict’s response encouraged employers “to think of the family.” He recommended as well that family members exercise “a certain creativity” in the attempt to reconcile work with family life. But he recognized that “this is not always easy.”
He advised trying every day “to offer some element of joy to the family, some attention, some sacrifice of one’s own will in order to be together as a family, to accept and overcome the dark moments, the trials” and to consider “the great good that the family is.”
In addition, Pope Benedict underscored the importance of Sundays. It is “of great importance” that Sunday be viewed as “our day,” a day of “freedom for one another, for ourselves” and “for God,” he said.
The Pontifical Council for the Family sponsors a World Meeting of Families every three years. In Milan, Pope Benedict announced Philadelphia as the next meeting’s site. Immediately, some wondered if that raised the possibility of a 2015 papal visit to the U.S.
Progression of Love
“We feel that we were made for one another,” the Madagascar couple told Pope Benedict. “We want to marry and build our future together,” they said.
They acknowledged, however, that while applying the term “forever” to marriage attracts them “more than anything else,” it frightens” them too.
That was when Pope Benedict spoke not just about “falling in love,” but about love’s continuing journey in a couple’s life. The Gospel account of the wedding feast at Cana often comes to mind in this context, he said.
“The first wine is very fine; this is falling in love,” the pope said. But it “does not last until the end. A second wine has to come later, it has to ferment and grow, to mature.”
To progress “from falling in love to engagement and then to marriage requires a number of decisions, interior experiences,” Pope Benedict said. He noted that the church’s Rite of Marriage “does not say, ‘Are you in love?’ but, ‘Do you wish?’ ‘Have you decided?’”
In other words, he explained to the engaged couple, “falling in love has to become true love by involving the will and the reason in a deeper journey of purification” of such kind that “the whole person, with all his or her faculties, with the discernment of reason and strength of will, says, ‘Yes, this is my life.’”
It was a Brazilian couple, Maria Marta and Manoel Angelo, who asked Pope Benedict about divorced-remarried Catholics. Manoel said:
“Some of these remarried couples would like to be reconciled with the church, but when they see that they are refused the sacraments they are greatly discouraged. They feel excluded.”
Manoel felt that these couples’ wounds “afflict the world” and “become our wounds.”
The pope responded that “the problem of divorced and remarried persons is one of the great sufferings of today’s church, and we do not have simple solutions.” He agreed “their suffering is great.”
The pope stressed the church’s love for divorced-remarried couples, saying “it is important that they see this love and feel this love.” They need to “see that, in this state too, they are fully a part of the church.”
He proposed that “even if it is not possible to receive absolution in confession,” divorced-remarried Catholics might “nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide.” In this way they would “see that they are accompanied and guided.”
These couples need to “realize they are participating in the Eucharist if they enter into a real communion with the body of Christ” and that “even without ‘corporal’ reception of the sacrament they can be spiritually united to Christ in his body,” Pope Benedict said.
His hope was that these couples will “come to see their suffering as a gift to the church that “helps others by defending the stability of love and marriage.” But couples need “to know this,” he said — to realize “this is their way of serving the church, that they are in the heart of the church.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.