So far this year alone, my husband and I have conducted four marriage enrichment conferences. We share the story of our own journey back to each other and to the Church, and do our best to encourage couples to work hard at putting God at the center of their marriage. However, no matter how we simplify it, we still get quite a few far-away stares at the end of our presentations, as if we have been speaking a foreign language. In many ways we are and we get it. Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, as the old saying goes.
We are both cradle Catholics who learned more about religion than relationship in our early years, which did not go far beyond going to Mass each Sunday. Marriage preparation was brief and weak when we tied the knot 33 years ago. Thanks be to God, marriage prep in the Church is getting better through new and very solid resources and programs, but so many of us started out on this journey of building a life together with a spiritual tool box that was practically empty.
That’s why, on this Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be helpful to pass along a unique love poem; a poem shared at our events that seems to really help crystalize the importance of bringing God into and keeping him at the center of one’s life and marriage. It’s a poem that my husband brought home from a Catholic men’s retreat. Of course, I was moved when my husband read it to me? How could I not be?
Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe SJ, the poem is titled “Fall in Love”. Fr. Arrupe, who passed away in 1991, served as the twenty eighth Superior General of the Society of Jesus. This poem is easy to understand in regards to couples but it takes on an entirely different dimension when we apply the words to our own individual love story with God.
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
When my husband and I met and fell in love, like so many other starry-eyed couples, it did indeed rock our world. Everything changed and soon we began to plan our wedding and a life together. And as the words of Fr. Arrupe explain, it did change everything. Our priorities were different. The commitment to each other meant a new life—it was a new motivation for what seized our imagination, how we spent our time, and what decided everything. All of these emotions, thoughts, and actions are familiar to many of us who have walked down the aisle.
For me and my husband, the poem carries several levels of meaning. It reminds us, no doubt of those special early years, when we thought, as the Beatles sang: “love is all you need.” We had each other. All we had to do was focus on that love and life as a young married couple would be perfect. That approach was fine at first but soon the “everything” factor began to fade, and then to change dramatically. While we were married in the Church and were truly smitten with each other, somehow the most important part of the love and marriage equation was excluded. For many cradle Catholics, growing up in the Church was more about going through motions than pursuing a relationship with God. We certainly identified as Catholic, and yet with lacking prep and catechesis, combined with the worldly pressures experienced by most so-called YUPPIES (young urban professionals) of our day, was it really surprising that our marriage began to go south? We soon found ourselves replacing that love for each other with love for that brass ring. We believed our relationship would just take care of itself as we focused on fame and fortune.
It took a real crisis—as in a near divorce—to get our attention. The way God came back into our lives can and actually does fill a book, one that we wrote together. But it started by first falling in love with God. By committing ourselves to him we were able to see his plan for love and marriage in contrast to what the world sees as happiness. Falling in love with God does change everything. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. It guides every decision we make. What an incredibly positive difference it has made not only in our marriage but in our lives!
On Valentine’s Day 2017, give your marriage a special gift. In addition to the flowers, cards, and candy read Fr. Arrupe’s poem together. And then take some time to answer the following questions: the same questions we give to couples on our retreats.
1) What aspect or aspects of the “Falling in Love” poem resonated with you or gave you pause? Why? Discuss this with your spouse.
2) Independently write down two or three of the top things that you believe amaze your spouse with joy and gratitude as well as what breaks their heart. Compare and discuss your answers.
3) How will you take some of the points that Fr. Arrupe made in the “Falling in Love” poem and apply them to your marriage?
Don’t worry if it seems a bit odd or uncomfortable, just ask God to be with you as you engage in this small exercise. Just open your hearts and gradually you will discover as Fr. Arrupe and we did, that falling in love with the one who is love incarnate, does indeed change everything for the better.
I will leave you with a striking message my husband and I noticed on a billboard along a major Michigan highway a few years ago: “Loved the wedding. Now invite me to the marriage. Signed, GOD.” Happy Valentine’s Day!