Love means many things. The baseball player loves his glove. The little girl loves her Easter dress. The father loves his son. When we think of the essence of love, however, we tend to think of the love of a man and a woman, especially the love of a man and woman who give themselves to each other in marriage. For Christians, especially, marriage is the paradigm for love, which comes to us from the Bible. God loves his people like a husband should love his wife. Jesus loves his Church as the groom his bride. The love of Christian marriage is touched by a spark of the divine. And it is through marriage that that spark is passed on through the creation and formation of human persons.
Jesus, of course, is the model of divine love made flesh. What divine persons do that we call love is to give themselves away to another and to receive the self-gift of others. This is what the Persons of the Trinity do. This is what Jesus has done for us, especially in his sacrifice on the Cross and in the Eucharist. This is what Christian lovers are called to do, with regard to each other, with regard to God and with regard to those in need. It’s hard to receive the self-gift of another! Of Jesus, for example. Or of your spouse. Or your friend. Or your enemy. To receive the self-gift of another requires us to really listen and respect and care for another. It’s also hard to give oneself away. I mean, we’re talking sacrifice here. Big sacrifices sometimes. Little sacrifices all the time. And no whining allowed! No pity parties!
Many young couples have a great confidence in the strength of their love. They don’t think they need God to purify their love or to strengthen their marriage, if they even bother to get married. They think they can do it on their own. Real love, however, is always a participation in God’s love. The more we depend on God, the more loving we can be. And God himself is the bond of Christian marriage. He holds together through thick and thin those married couples who trust in him. Our “Yes!” to another is part of our “Yes!” to him and flows from his “Yes!” to us. As fallible as we are, as changeable as we are, as selfish as we are, with God’s help we can accept the self-gift of another and make a gift of ourselves to another. In receiving another, we receive ourselves. In giving ourselves away, we come to truly possess ourselves, to become ourselves, to become the people God intends us to be. Love, that ambiguous little word, finds a place to thrive in Christian marriage, which leads to family, which leads to the family of God, which includes the Church, which shares in the self-giving love of the Trinity.