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Marriage as God's Intensive School of Love

3/28/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Monsignor Cormac Burke Gives Tips for a Happy Union

NAIROBI, Kenya, MARCH 27, 2004 (Zenit) - Marriage is one of God's most intensive schools of love, where he wishes to train most of his pupils.

So says Monsignor Cormac Burke, an Opus Dei priest and former judge of the Roman Rota who teaches anthropology at Strathmore University here.

Monsignor Burke explores the dynamics of love, marriage and children in his book "Covenanted Happiness" (Scepter Press). He shared how only the person who is prepared to face the challenges of love will grow in love, and how children challenge each spouse's capacity to love even more.

Q: What are the "laws of happiness" as they are found and lived in Christian marriage?

Monsignor Burke: The first thing to bear in mind is that marriage cannot give perfect happiness, nor can anything else here on earth. The purpose of marriage is not to give the spouses such happiness, but to mature them for it.

In everything here on earth, God is trying to teach us to love, which we will enjoy fully in heaven. Marriage is one of his most intensive schools of love, where he wishes to train most of his pupils.

Happiness demands an effort. When a married person in difficulties allows the thought, "I'll get a divorce and marry this other man or woman, because I'll be happier with him or her," they are really saying, "My happiness depends on not having too much demanded of me. I'll be happy only if I don't have to make much of an effort to love."

The person who chooses to think this way can never be happy, for happiness is above all a consequence of giving, as it says in Acts 20:35: "It is happier to give than to receive."

Happiness is not possible inside or outside marriage for the person who is determined to get more than he or she is prepared to give.

In marriage, then, one has to learn to love. If people don't learn, they remain stuck in selfishness, like the devil or the soul in hell. Yet marriage remains a divine institution to gradually draw them out of that selfishness.

One also has to bind oneself to this task, that is, to enroll oneself in a definitive way in this school of love. If one is prepared just to give love a try and to abandon it if it doesn't seem to work, it will not work nor will one ever become a person truly able to love.

Q: How does marriage achieve, deepen, mature and make permanent one's personal happiness?

Monsignor Burke: Above all by drawing out of ourselves. We will never get started on the way to happiness until we realize that the main obstacle is our own self -- our self-centered concerns, worries and calculations. Paradoxically all these are absolute obstacles to personal happiness.

The paradox should not be difficult for the Christian to understand, for it goes to the heart of Christ's teaching on those who selfishly, calculatingly seek their lives: "Whoever seeks his life will lose it; whoever loses it for my sake, will find it." The phrase "for my sake" points to all that is good, generous, pure and worthwhile.

One of the most common modern errors is to think that happiness comes by calculation. We think that our happiness depends on thinking things out cleverly and accurately: "Will this plus that, minus the other, make me happy?" It is not so. Personal happiness and the happiness of marriage depend mainly on generosity and sacrifice.

Q: How do children bring happiness to a marriage and to the individual spouses?

Monsignor Burke: This century has come to separate and oppose married fulfillment and having children. Many look on marriage just as a tandem affair -- happiness deux -- in which children are regarded as a possible advantage or a possible hindrance to personal fulfillment. This is fundamentally not to trust God's design for marriage.

Those who marry need to ponder that each child is a totally unique and unmatchable gift to the spouses' union and love. They also need to realize that children challenge each spouse's capacity to love even more than conjugal life does. Only the person who is prepared to face up to the challenges of love will grow in love.

Forty years of emphasis on self-fulfillment or on material comfort have been accompanied by an equal emphasis on family limitation.

Children -- one or two, at the most -- have come to be regarded as "optional extras" for a couple, not as the natural fulfillment of their married aspirations. Job, status, social life, gadgets, vacations, ease and comfort are seen as offering more happiness than children would.

Yet, if one is to judge from the growing number of broken homes, fewer children does not seem to have led to greater married stability, fulfillment or happiness.

Catholic couples, ...

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