[from my journal 7.20.2015]
Great story I heard today from a priest who was on mission in Africa over two decades ago. He met a young man whose faith tradition was Sikh and who was from India. In their conversation the priest learned that this man was working in Africa with an Indian company, but was getting ready to move back to India as he was about to get married to a woman he’d been engaged to for 12 years. Their marriage had been arranged by their parents when the girl was 8 and he was 12. When the man detected the priest’s look of surprise, he said:
I see you’re surprised abou this as an American, and wonder how someone could ever have a loving and happy marriage if they did not fall in love with their spouse to be and choose to marry. Okay, let me share an analogy that might help you see my perspective. Think of marriage as a pot of water and culture as a pile of sticks. In your culture, marriage is a boiling pot of water steaming with passion, while your culture is a pile of cold, wet sticks. In our culture, marriage is a pot full of cold water, while the wood of our Sikh culture is ablaze with fire. So, while your boiling water sits atop the cold and wet sticks, it warms the sticks for a brief time but eventually the water cools and turns cold. When our cold pot of water is placed on our tight-knit culture burning with passion for lifelong marriage, the water slowly warms eventually to boiling. While both systems have their problems, from what I’ve seen of the state of American marriage, I’d choose our fire over your boiling water.
The priest then said to me:
So when I came home I was determined to expend my energies on drying out and kinding wood wherever I found it. I realized that though we need better marriage prep, the church needs to worry less about marriage prep and than it does about fostering cultures that feed marriages and families with more light and more heat. This is the fire Jesus longed to see burning. I’ve always worked hardest in my parishes growing communities with such a culture. It’s the only way I see out of the mess we’re in.
After he said that, I couldn’t help but recall the words of St. John Paul II in his Letter to Families:
Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin and will it then be possible to speak concretely—as the Council did—about “promoting the dignity of marriage and the family.”
May it be so. Amen.