GREETING thousands of engaged couples on the feast of St Valentine, Pope Francis told them not to be afraid of building a permanent and loving relationship in a culture where everything is disposable and fleeting.
The secrets to a loving and lasting union, he said, included treating each other with respect, kindness and gratitude, and never letting daily struggles and squabbles sabotage making peace and saying, “I’m sorry”.
“The perfect family doesn’t exist, nor is there a perfect husband or a perfect wife, and let’s not talk about the perfect mother-in-law,” he said to laughter and applause.
“It’s just us sinners.”
But “if we learn to say we’re sorry and ask forgiveness, the marriage will last”.
After a week of heavy rains, bright sunshine warmed St Peter’s Square and the 30,000 people who gathered for an audience on February 14 dedicated to couples completing their marriage preparation courses and planning to be married in the Church this year.
The initiative, The Joy of “Yes” Forever, was organised by the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Council president Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is a former bishop of Terni and successor to St Valentine – the third-century martyred bishop of Terni.
The archbishop told the Pope the young couples in the square were evidence of how many people wanted to “go against the tide” by having a love that lasted forever and was blessed by God.
Engaged couples attending the audience received a small white pillow with Pope Francis’ signature and his papal crest; the cushion has two satin ribbons for securing wedding rings during the marriage ceremony.
Three of the couples shared with the Pope their thoughts and concerns about living a Christian marriage and asked for his advice.
While the Pope confessed he had the questions in advance and wrote out his answers, that didn’t stop him from straying from the text to give further emphasis and examples.
“Living together is an art, a patient, beautiful and amazing journey” that “doesn’t end when you’ve won over each others’ hearts”, he said.
Rather “that’s exactly when it begins”.
A healthy family life, he said, absolutely required frequent use of three phrases: “May I? Thank you, and I’m sorry.”
People needed to be more attentive to how they treated each other, he said.
They must trade in their heavy “mountain boots” for greater delicacy when walking into someone else’s life.
Love was not tough or aggressive, he said, it was courteous and kind, and in a world that was “often violent and aggressive, we need much more courtesy”.
Couples also needed the strength to recognise when they had done wrong and ask forgiveness.
The “instinct” to accuse someone else “is at the heart of so many disasters” starting with Adam, who ate the forbidden fruit.
When God asked him if he did it, the Pope said, Adam immediately passes the blame saying, “‘Uh, no, it was that one over there who gave it to me.’ Accusing the other to get out of saying ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Pardon me.’”
Couples would make mistakes and fight, but “never, never, never end the day without making peace”, the Pope said.
An eloquent speech wasn’t necessary, he said, but things must be set right because if they weren’t, the bad feelings inside would become “cold and hard and it will be more difficult to make peace” as time went on.
Many people couldn’t imagine or were afraid of a love and marriage that lasted forever because they thought love was an emotional-physical feeling or state-of-being, he said.
But “love is a relationship, it’s something that grows”.
The relationship needed to be taken care of every day, “entrusting yourselves to the Lord Jesus in a life that becomes a daily spiritual journey, made step by step, tiny steps” toward greater maturity and spiritual growth, he said.
Like his miracle of multiplying the loaves, Jesus would do the same “also for you”, he said, “multiplying your love and giving it to you good and fresh every day”.
The Pope also urged couples to keep their wedding ceremonies low-key, focusing more on Christ than on the dress, decorations and photographers.
A Christian marriage was a celebration, but it must highlight “what’s really important”, and “the true reason for your joy: the blessing of your love by the Lord”.