Monday, September 04, 2006

Greater love hath no person than this...

We had a visiting priest conduct services yesterday morning. At the coffee hour which followed, I thanked her for joining us and we spoke briefly. She shared a moving story of her circumstances. Both she and her husband are priests. She was ordained first; her husband a few years later. About four years ago, her husband was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, He was in his late fifties then and is now in is early sixties. He has lost most of his mental capacities. She is the caregiver. “Will it be necessary to institutionalize your husband,” I asked. “When it is not longer possible to carry on,” was the reply. I said I would pray for her husband and for her. “Pray for God to give me strength,” was her request.

Often, I reflect on the meaning of marriage vows. Whatever form they take, promise of a lifetime commitment is common to all. Yet in America, the probability that a marriage will end in divorce is fifty per-cent. For me the most moving part of marriage rituals has never been the exchange of vows, but the brief speeches given by friends and the couple themselves at a rehearsal dinner or the reception following the ceremony. In those bright, happy moments, couples share the feelings about each other and themselves that lead them to make a lifetime commitment. When I see older couples together, obviously living out lives of resentment and tedium; when I see couples – and those close to them – creating and enduring the searing acrimony of a painful divorce, I have a wish to replay those joyful, hopeful first moments of their committed relationship.

For some couples at least, for whatever reason, the marriage vow is a serious one. It seemed as if I met one partner in such a committed relationship yesterday. A passage from the book of John in the Christian Bible (Chapter 15, Verse 13) came to mind. I will paraphrase it in gender-neutral language.

Greater love hath no person that this, than to lay down their own life for a loved one.


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