The art of debate and conversation have certainly been in better places. Rarely, at least in my own experience, are people persuaded through dialogue. In my own case, I find I’m all too ready to adopt defensive positions when I encounter a new or opposing perspective. Too often, our speech doesn’t say what we think it does; rather, it says, “I know better, and I refuse to consider your point.” Whether or not this is to be found in what we’re saying, people will find it. There’s just something about speech these days that begs disagreement. Am I suggesting that dialogue ought to be abandoned and that we should all move off into separate bubbles? Far from it. Instead, it seems that providing an example with your life is the most effective way to convince someone of the truth of your claims.
Why is all of this of any relevance whatsoever? Recently, I’ve been reflecting with others upon the fact that it’s not always easy to follow God. Worse still, it’s not always easy to even choose God, never mind follow him. Nowhere is this difficulty of more concern than in our relationships. As Catholics, we have a specific and straightforward ideal to uphold in our relationships, which is to put love before all else. This commandment acts as a guide and reference point as we develop friendships, attractions, date, and ultimately get married and enter into that new stage of life. We trust the words of St. Paul, as he tells us:
“Love does no wrong to a neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)
Love is the only way we treat all people, and particularly those we’re dating, as they deserve. As St. Paul says, it ensures we do no wrong to those around us – but it goes far beyond that. Love elevates our relationships by filling them with the greatest goods: love itself, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All of these things are instantly recognisable as goods, and as desirable for our own relationships. Despite this, they are still not easily chosen. As humans, we have a tendency to choose that which isn’t the best for us. We look beyond our immediate surroundings and see an easier way of doing things, and this appeals to us. It would be easier to text that girl or that guy you’ve developed feelings for than to have a serious conversation face to face about what you’re thinking. It would be easier to have one foot out the door in relationships so that when things get tough, you can get out and start again somewhere else, somewhere simpler. To adopt this attitude, though, is to seriously misunderstand what this life is about. Pope Benedict XVI summed this up succinctly when he reminded us that “you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
Those who know Christ are privileged to know what love is. While others argue and disagree over what exactly it is, Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter and shows us. He tells us in no uncertain terms, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). A relationship of any kind, but particularly our romantic endeavours, must be founded upon this rock. A love that never ends. Too many of us have fallen prey to the idea that this kind of love makes for a nightmarishly difficult relationship, but it is the task of the disciple is to uphold it as the standard, and as that which will make us happiest. I heard it said at a talk one evening that the greatest joy of marriage was in knowing that you have a person in your life who’ll never walk out on you, no matter how difficult it gets. This is not to downplay the importance of those obvious factors for happiness in a relationship – your attraction to each other, the fun you have together, the joy you experience in each other’s company. It is just to say that while these make a relationship possible, they are not enough to build the strongest foundation upon. Only love provides for that.
C.S. Lewis clearly identified the problem when he stated in one of his books that “we are far too easily pleased.” Our greatest happiness is to be found in love alone. This does not mean that we must make ourselves miserable in irredeemably difficult situations, rather, it means we must learn to be faithful to that which is good for us, and for the others in our lives. We must learn to be faithful to those things mentioned above: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In a world suffering with a sort of spiritual amnesia, it’s the job of the loving relationship to the remind the world of the Good, of what’ll make us happiest.