A number of years ago my Spiritual Director said to me “friendship is the highest form of love.” I remember thinking “No it’s not. Marriage is the highest form of love.” However my spiritual director went on to explain that if a man and a woman were not friends in marriage then the marriage was not likely to last.
I was always feel on shaky ground speaking on marriage when I have never had the lived experience of knowing what it is like to be married to someone else. What I have had is the opportunity and the privilege to witness the marriages of my parents, my brother, my friends and parishioners over the years. I am happy to say that most of the time I walk away thinking “wow they really are best friends. That is awesome.” At the times in my life when I have felt I have got it tough in my own vocation and then I think of the struggles they have experienced in their own lives and how they emerged from them stronger, I am challenged in the best way possible. My reflections are born from those experiences.
Marriage is a reminder of God’s Covenant with us. In this Covenant God makes a promise never to give up on us no matter what. Therefore when a couple promise to love, honour and cherish each other for the rest of their lives, what in fact they are doing is promising to try and live up to this very high ideal. This is what best friends do. They know both the giftedness and failings of each other and remain best friends just the same.
In the Gospel Jesus uses some pretty confronting language in stressing the permanence of marriage. He did this at a time when he witnessed many marriages struggling. Jesus was aware that inevitably struggles and problems arise in any marriage. What he wanted the hard-hearted to understand that those times could be opportunities for growth and this in turn leads to life. The ideal of the two becoming one does not happen by accident. It comes about by a lot of goodwill, patience and effort. If people become intolerant of each other’s failings then the ideal of two people becoming one in mind and heart becomes impossible. People must work at marriage giving time, communication, generosity and forgiveness etc. This is what people who have been married over many years have come to appreciate and their witness reminds us of God’s fidelity to us.