World Meeting of Families 2018
The Amoris: Let’s Talk Family! Let’s Be Family programme is well underway now in parishes. The six different parish conversations are designed to invite people to reflect on The Joy of Love, the document Pope Francis prepared after a worldwide consultation and the two synods on the family.
One of the parish sessions looks at Married Love Growing to Maturity; I have found myself reflecting on what that actually means. My husband Bryan and I will be 22 years married in December of this year. Does that mean we are at the stage where we can consider ourselves as married and growing to maturity?
In a way it feels like yesterday that we stood nervously opposite each other on a snowy December day in 1995. I remember the vows we chose to share as we made our commitment to each other. Mine went something like this: “With love and joy I accept you as my husband. I will stand by your side in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…”
I remember too how nervous we both were on our wedding day. Everyone we knew and loved was watching us in the church. People planning weddings after ours were taking in every detail. What wasn’t helping our nerves was the fact that I had sprained my ankle three days before the wedding day and we were not sure whether I would be able to walk up the aisle at all! In fact, if you were to look closely at our wedding video you can see me whisper to my dad to ‘slow down’ as he was walking too fast and I was afraid that I would take a tumble.
Our wedding day went by in a blur of happiness and we set out on our journey together as a young married couple confident that we had done all of the preparations for married life that we needed to.
But married life is a journey. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reminds us: “Learning to love someone does not happen automatically nor can be taught in a workshop just prior to the celebration of marriage. For every couple marriage preparation begins at birth. Those best prepared for marriage are probably those who learned what Christian marriage is from their own parents who chose each other unconditionally and daily renew this decision” [AL 208] That was certainly true for us as we had the marriages of our parents and grandparents to look to.
Things were going well in the early years of marriage and we got busy with living. In fact you could say that married life was extraordinarily ordinary for us as Mr and Mrs Tobin which was just the way it should have been. We welcomed our first child in April 1997 and life really got busy after that. We were blessed with a son in 2004.
On a day-to-day basis we never really thought about the vows we had shared with one another on our wedding day. As a young couple with two small children, we never really had the time.
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis says: “Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope. Hope is the leaven, that in those first years of engagement and marriage, makes it possible to look beyond arguments, conflicts and problems and to see things in a broader perspective.” [AL 219]
That was us – we were dancing towards the future with hope! We never really had to think about the “in sickness and in health” or the “in good times and in bad”. Life was good.
Then in 2003 we lost a baby through miscarriage. My beloved gran died in 2006. We knew that life was not without its challenges and that difficulties arise in all families. We had to grow in love and in acceptance that things would not always be perfect and that challenges and grief would come.
In 2007 when our daughter was nine and our son was seven our family life was disrupted by a diagnosis of cancer. While I was the one who received the diagnosis, it was the whole family who was impacted by it. In many ways it is harder on the family members as they have to stand by feeling helpless as they watch you suffer through treatment.
I could not have come through my treatment without the love and support of Bryan, Emma, Cathal and my wider family circle.
It was only after the treatment and hearing I was in remission that I started to think about the practical implementation of our vows and particularly the “in sickness and in health” bit. Bryan had stood by me in sickness and in health and in the worst of times. His standing by me was never in doubt. All the way through the treatment he was there for me. He took over all of my chores while I was in treatment. I somehow have ended up never having to lift an iron since I was diagnosed!
I have been blessed by my marriage and family and all they have brought into my life. We are still dancing towards the future with immense hope in our more mature married love – albeit with more sensible shoes!
If you get a chance to become involved in the Amoris Parish Conversations please take it – these simple reflections are enriching and offer a timely reminder of the Gospel of Hope that families are for the Church and for Society.
Brenda Drumm is Media and Communications Manager of the World Meeting of Families 2018