By Fr. Joe Mannath, SDB
Tony, a close friend of mine since our university studies, is married, and has two college-going children. This is how he describes his wife to me: “The nicest thing that ever happened to me in my whole life is my wife Angela. I could not have wished for a better gift.” I can see their mutual love and respect, the sensitivity and humour which they bring to their relationship. No wonder they have been able to provide a happy and life-giving home to their children, and much support to friends who need them.
I met Rose and Robert, a lovely young couple, at a seminar in Chennai. Both are involved in retreat ministry, in addition to their jobs. In one of the sessions, I asked every participant to mention the best qualities they see in each of the others. When it was Rose’s turn to speak about her husband, her face lit up, and she came out with this exquisite compliment: “Robert is the most loving person I have ever met.”
Charlie’s parents showed him little love. His father in particular was an overbearing man, who treated him with excessive severity, humiliated him frequently and showed scant appreciation for his son’s undeniable talent. Life seemed to Charlie just a big burden, something to run away from.
All this changed after his marriage. He is, in so many ways, a new man—full of energy, joy and loving attention to others. The love he received in plenty from his wife and her family have truly transformed this once withdrawn young man into an admired and sought after person. And they, in their turn, never tire of singing the praises of this gifted and wonderful man whom they see as a priceless gift. The marriage has brought him deep healing and joy, and made of him a much-loved and deeply loving husband, father and family member. Both he and they feel richly blessed.
Sixty-five-year-old Benjamin’s situation is very, very different. I used to take Holy Communion to his wife, who was home-bound, with a severe case of arthritis. The disease had nearly crippled her, twisting her arms and fingers into pathetic shapes, and severely restricting her movements. Her joints were swollen and painful. She needed help with even the simplest chores.
Noticing the very loving way Benjamin looked after his semi-invalid wife, I expressed my admiration for him. He never complained. He did all he could to make his wife’s condition bearable and free of pain. We could see the caring and delicate way in which he looked after her needs. When I complimented him on this attentive care, Benajmin gave me a very simple and telling answer. “She is my wife, isn’t she?” is all he said. He did not think he was doing anything extraordinary.
Annie was ninety-one and Tom ninety-five when I got to know them. An inspiring and loving couple, they lived in an apartment in the parish where I worked. I would visit them, hear their confession and give them Communion.
It was a moving sight to see this ninety-one-year-old woman look after her husband with such commitment. She would take the lift to the basement to wash his clothes, and do everything else for him.
One day, she asked me a doubt: “I have a question, Father. My only prayer is that I may not die before Tom. He won’t be able to look after himself if I die first. Is it OK for me to pray like this?” Her evident concern was about him, not about herself.
I remarked to her one day: “I am moved to see the way you look after your husband. You do so much for him, in spite of your own poor health. You show him so much love.” Her reply was as beautiful as it was unexpected. She said: “I am sure he would have done the same for me.”
Another witness to the beauty of married love came to me from a death bed. I was called to anoint a dying woman, who was practically unconscious. The children told me: “Could you pray for Mom, father, and anoint her? As for Communion, we don’t think she is conscious enough to receive it.”
Although it happened sixteen years ago, I remember that scene well. The dying woman is in bed. Her husband is seated on the bed, holding her hand. His eyes are on her the whole time. She seems to be unconscious or asleep, and does not respond to words. Then, something beautiful happens, that takes me by surprise. He presses her hand, looks at her face intently and says: “We’ve had a great time together, haven’t we?” The apparently unconscious woman opens her eyes. Her face lights up. She looks up at him intently and nods in agreement. There is such evident love between them. I can see their expression vividly even now, after all these years.
Such loves does not end with death. A widower, who had a wonderful wife, tells me how he takes decisions. “When I have to take a decision, I sit down where I used to sit, and chat with my wife. I imagine her seated opposite me, as she used to sit. I tell her whatever is going through my head. I speak. I feel she responds. I get the guidance that I need.” He smiles and adds: “I do not tell this to anyone, not even to my children. Otherwise they will think: ‘The old man is going crazy!’ But it makes a lot of sense to me.”
If there is anything that makes sense in this crazy world, it is genuine and lasting love. A good marriage is one of the best manifestations of such love. It is no cake walk, no movie type song-and-dance romance, as every couple knows. But when it does work out well—better, when a man and woman give of their best to make it work—marriage is a miniature photo of what heaven must be like.
But, you will protest, how many marriages are so happy? What about the other side?
True, only too true. We shall look at the other side in the next parable.
This article first appeared in The New Leader
Father (Doctor) Joe Mannath SDB is the National Secretary of the Conference of Religious of India (CRI). He is a Seminary formator/professor for 18 years, and professor at Madras University (12 years), visiting professor in the US (some 20 summers), as well as in Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Thailand and UK. He conducts seminars for educators, religious and priests; counseling; parish ministry; past president of the Association of Christian Philosophers of India and of the Salesian Psychological Association. He is a member of British Mensa; a thinker listed in the Marquis “Who’s Who” in the world. He’s also linguist who knows English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Malayalam, Spanish and Tamil. Studies: M.A. and Ph. D. from Rome, research in psychology and religion at Oxford University, post-doctoral visiting scholar at Harvard University and Boston College. Also an Author/editor of both academic and best-selling books (including University textbooks) and hundreds of articles; enjoys friendships, jokes and cartooning. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org