As the director for the Office for Family Life in the Archdiocese of Washington, I have the privilege of helping to prepare hundreds of couples for marriage every year.
Every time couples come to marriage preparation, I am in awe of their desire to walk together in love as Christ loved us and to pledge themselves in love to each other in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, until they are parted by death. Marriage, which entails giving your whole life, surrendering your entire life, to another person is a radical act of generous love.
Like Christ’s total, faithful, self-less, fruitful and sacrificial love for the Church, the love of marriage is a generous love. Each year the Cardinal celebrates the richness of God’s grace that comes through the love of a husband and wife at the annual archdiocesan Jubilarian Mass where we honor couples celebrating milestone anniversaries of 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and more years of marriage.
With marriage for the whole of one’s life as a goal, we encourage couples preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church to begin and build their marriages by participating in the generosity of God’s love. St. John Paul II taught us that there is no better image on earth of the Triune love of God than the love of a husband and wife.
The generosity of love is found first and foremost in the obedience of the spouses to the will of God who has made them his children through the gift of baptism and called them to marriage. One of the greatest gifts husbands and wives can give to each other is being devoted to Jesus Christ by developing a life of prayer and growing in holiness.
Spouses are also generous in their love toward each other when they seek the good of each other even, and most especially, when this is difficult to do. This generosity is expressed through little gifts, by serving each other, offering words of kindness, spending time together, and through the intimacy of marriage. This generosity is also expressed when husbands and wives participate in the grace of Christ and apologize for times when they have hurt each other and forgive each other.
One of the primary ways that married love is generous is by being open to a new life in the gift of a child. The gift of a child is a blessing to marriage, and for couples who cannot experience this gift, it entails a real suffering. By being generously open to life, husbands and wives cooperate with the generosity of God who creates every person. In the gift of a child, married couples are generous not only with the child they receive but also with their family and society.
Adoption is another way in which married couples can be generous in the gift of love: to make room in one’s home for another person and to care for someone who has no one else to care for him or her is an act of generous love. Today many grandparents extend this gift to their grandchildren as well.
Married love is generous in serving both the Church and the world in witness to Christ. Pope Francis recently reminded us that the Church is built up by families and their love saying, “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”
One way to begin a marriage with generosity for the Church is to participate fully in the life of the parish, beyond going to Mass on Sundays. The generosity of marriage is always a call to go above what we are obligated to do.
Young married couples can share the generosity of their love in their parish by offering themselves to serve in any number of ways, reading at Mass, greeting newcomers, passing on the faith in religious education classes, joining a men’s or women’s group, or helping to serve in the food pantry.
The great model of this generous love is the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. St. John Paul II wrote in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio: “T[he Holy family] will not fail to help Christian families-indeed, all the families in the world-to be faithful to their day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to be open and generous to the needs of others, and to fulfill with joy the plan of God in their regard” (FC, 86). Marriage and family life is indeed a generous love.