Sunday 26 August 2012

Hope Springs from the Heart of Jesus

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

I have recently learned about the struggles and heartaches of many married couples for whom I deeply care. They have been in my prayers and thoughts throughout the summer; it is something that has affected my prayer life and my understanding of family dynamics.

It is with this disposition in the background that I watched the film Hope Springs a few days ago. It tells the story of a couple from Omaha, Nebraska who are struggling with their marriage. Kay (Meryl Streep) is married to Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), a crotchety old man who takes no interest in his wife; he is rather content with the newspaper and the Golf Channel. Kay realizes that she wants a “real marriage” again and coerces her husband into attending marriage counselling. Their counsellor, Dr. Fend (a very subdued Steve Carell) then invites them to rediscover intimacy and to explore their feelings.

The therapy appears to be very intrusive and meddlesome at times; Dr. Fend constantly asks them about their sex lives, but not once about their children. Yet, he understands that routine has killed the passion in Kay and Arnold's marriage. He helps them to rediscover each other. In an age where films increasingly promote unfaithfulness and adultery, it is delightful to watch one that makes a positive moral claim about the importance of marriage and the need to persist to keep it life-giving and fruitful.

After many years of helping with marriage preparation and counselling sessions, I find that many couples today forget the real meaning of their marriages because they are too busy taking care of practical aspects of managing a household: raising kids, working to pay the bills, cleaning the house, packing lunches, making dinner, etc. Very often I discover couples who have forgotten what it means to be husbands and wives because they have only been parents for the longest time.

Regarding this, I frequently tell the parents: ''The best thing you can do for your children is to love each other. If you love and care for each other, that love and care will trickle down to your children.'' That is how I see the love of God having an effect on us. The Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – love so much that their love spills out in a creative way. They created the world and all creatures out of love. So it ought to be with families. Parents, love each other. Let that love affect and inspire your children.

The film also does very well to present the theme of hope, which differs from optimism. Optimism is the conviction that something will go well. There is enough evidence out there that allows us to think things will be better. On the other hand, hope is when one looks at the evidence and says: ''Even if it does not look good at all, I will make a leap of faith and go beyond the evidence to bring forth new life.''

That is hope. Kay has hope. She knows having a real marriage again involves hard work and it is not easy; in fact, it seems downright impossible at times. But hope eventually wins the day. For all the couples who are struggling in their marriages, there is hope. If they desire greater peace and joy in their marriages, there is always hope. It is never too late. Hope is the last thing we lose. God is constantly inviting marriages to be recreated in Him. He calls couples – the whole family actually – to find new life in him.

Hope springs from the Heart of Jesus. Christ is the True Hope of all families. Just as he gives himself fully to his Bride, the Church, he also desires that same level of commitment and intimacy for all marriages. Indeed, willed by God in the very act of creation, ''marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of His graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their 'beginning,' that is, to full understanding and the full realization of God's plan"
(Familiaris Consortio 3).

Only by the acceptance of the Gospel can the hopes that couples place on marriage be truly fulfilled. Couples need the grace of God to truly enjoy the peace and joy God desires for them. In accepting the call to be recreated as couples, families find new life. Let us pray then, that all families find their hope and inspiration in the Crucified and Risen Lord. May they contemplate and look at him, who has been pierced out of love. And when they love him in actions and prayers, may they become sources of inspiration for the whole world. After all, a very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.

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