Monday, August 17, 2020

Feelings and emotions have a part to play when it comes to love, but their role should never be a starring one. The same applies strongly to our prayer life.

Any couple married for a relatively long period of time will attest to the truth that challenges abound.  The courtship years, with all their allure of electrifying romance and bewilderment have a certain use-by date.  Once the rigours and stresses of effortful love kicks in, along with these rigours is the reality that it is not romance and feelings or ‘sparks’ that keep the cogs of the marriage wheel turning but active decisions to love at each moment where love seems to be lacking.  There is really little effort to love if one is constantly able to ‘feel’ love in a romantic way.  

This is particularly true during the honeymoon period that follows marriage.  A wanting to love one’s spouse at honeymoon time hardly needs much effort, and is more like a “knee-jerk reaction” largely because it’s in response to what is already there in a very sensate way.  But it is when the honeymoon period is over, and the drone and humdrum of daily unexciting life sets it when the effort to love is most needed and also at the same time most valuable.  Oftentimes, it is when these ‘feelings’ or ‘sentiments’ of romance that was previously so electrifying are no longer electrifying in any way, that one needs to activate one’s will to love, demonstrating what true loving is.  As St John of the Cross succinctly puts it – “where there is no love, put in love, and there you will find love”.

One wonders if married couples are aware of this dynamic at all, what with the rising rates of divorces that the statistics show.    It is dismaying to see how so many couples decide to end their marriages citing that it is because there was no longer anymore ‘spark’ in their marriage, and that the marriage has become more of a habit than anything else.  But isn’t love (love that is effortful and lived with an act of the will) supposed to become a habit?  And not only a habit but a good habit at that.  A habit is an action that one does repeatedly, often many times a day. Of course, habits have their positive and negative sides. Where love is concerned, it is certainly desirable that one cultivates the active choice and decision to do loving actions that are selfless and kind, leading them to becoming one’s second nature, whether there are ‘sparks’ or whether ‘sparks’ are lacking.  

But there are also challenges when habits have become actions that have turned to be somewhat annoying and grate on the nerves. I heard an elderly priest say to a couple at their wedding Mass that before marriage, every pimple is a dimple, but after marriage, even dimples can be seen as pimples.  What may be seen to be ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’ in the courtship and pre-marriage days can unsurprisingly become the very thing that annoys and irritates later in the marriage.

It takes effort and an act of the will to not let these overshadow a couple’s decision to love when these surface in marriage, but this is only made worse when one views the aim or goal of marriage. 

If marriage is seen as an end it itself, it is seen as a destination rather than a new embarkation point.  The Christian view of marriage is never that of an end, but a means to an end.  This end is not of this world.  The end is a heavenly one, where each individual attains the perfection of one’s existence, which is to be in the eternal embrace of God and to behold him ‘face to face’.  The aim of marriage, especially when it is a sacramental marriage of two baptized Catholics, is to give each of the spouses the means through which each party is perfecting himself or herself in selfless loving to grow closer and closer to their individual heavenly selves as their marriage matures.  It is, as it were, the garden where their seeds of love are given the adequate nurturing, pruning and nourishment to flower and eventually bear fruit.  

However, if marriage is only seen as a destination and an end, there really is no good reason either party should put in any effort to keep the love sustained and growing.  One would have the attitude of having reached the highest summit of the mountain, and as they say, it is all “downhill from here”.  It gives no reason for either of the spouses to not just sustain the love, but to keep it growing with desire, effort and acts of the will. 

All that has been said can be applied to our individual spiritual lives as well.  If our prayer life is largely based on our feelings and emotions, it will not be something that is sustained.  Are we praying only when we come across a reflection that brings some delight and activates our imagination?  Do we find ourselves only wanting to pray when we ‘feel holy’, whatever that may mean?  Is our communication with God in prayer predicated on how emotionally high we are, like having come out of a retreat where we experienced a particular grace? What happens to our commitment to prayer when those sentiments and emotions are no longer there?  

Just like marriage, our prayer life cannot be seen as ends in themselves.  Just going to Church and receiving the sacraments are not ends in themselves, but need to be seen as means to our final end, which is our final union with God in heaven, where we will see us attaining our best selves.  If participating in the sacraments are ends in themselves, the final words of the celebrant priest at each Mass makes no sense when he asks that the congregation “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. It’s a reminder that the Lord we have received at Mass is not for ourselves, but for us to bring him to others by becoming Christ ourselves.  And that takes tremendous effort.

1 comment:

  1. Marriages may be made in heaven but the blueprints are drawn on earth! Love is a decision!!!