Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Beauty of Married Love

Eileen and I watched an Iranian film a few nights ago called Leila, about the man whose wife couldn’t have children, which resulted in the end in him taking another wife. This is a custom in Islamic societies, and is permitted by Islamic law, which allows a man to have up to four wives.

It was really painful to watch. The husband and wife were committed to an exclusive love for each other (as are so many Muslim married couples in Iran and elsewhere). He was emphatically determined not to take another wife when they discovered Leila’s infertility. But his family pressured the wife to make her feel like she had to convince him to do it. The one who pushed hardest and was the most manipulative was the man's mother! (Because he was an only son--with four sisters!--and she wanted him to have, not just a baby, but a son, of course. Ay!)

The movie was extremely well done, beautifully and tenderly filmed (like so many of these wonderful Iranian films from the 1990s). It showed family life as full of affection and convivial spirit. But there was an oppression that weighed upon and seemed to sow corruption inside the family relationships, even inside spousal love. The husband and wife really loved each other and they were torn apart by this experience. Neither of them wanted him to take another wife, but the cultural expectations, the manipulative kindness and soft sentiments of the family, and the resulting confusion of their own understanding worked like discrete but implacable forces on them. There was a subtle but pervasive violence which the film artfully unmasked by the very honesty with which it was portrayed.

It was the suffocation of true human love. It was painful to watch. Eileen and I were both very troubled by it.

God's plan for the love between man and woman is so beautiful. It's a difficult beauty, like the beauty of climbing a great mountain, and sometimes you have to grab the rocks and just keep going. But there is beauty, and it's worth the sacrifices. Watching this film made me grateful for Eileen, and for our marriage which has grown and persevered through some significant trials.

What has made it possible for us to grow closer to each other, and has generated everything that is good in our home? Both of us would answer without hesitation: the grace of Christ, the grace of the sacrament of marriage! Where would we be without it? We are frail, fragile, sinful persons. We are weak. Western culture is a sea of forces waging war against so many kinds of human love, especially spousal love. Where would we be? As it is, there is beauty, and it amazes us as we recognize it, growing deeper.

All of us who are in the married state of life, consecrated to Christ by this great sacrament: let us pray for one another, support one another in fidelity, be grateful for the beauty of this gift. Let us help one another and live in solidarity as we build our families into a community which is a witness to the world. Let us help one another to treasure this beauty, and let us always beg for mercy, for without Him we can do nothing, and the best of our intentions will come to nothing.

Let us pray that people in this world will see the beauty of spousal love taken up into the mystery of Jesus, radiating His suffering and His glory.