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Quite frankly, I must admit that I don’t like the title! How can love be bracketed with dark secrets? It should not, but so often is; hence this attempt to remove the dark secrets and bring love out into the sunshine.

Let me begin with the story of Mary and John (not Joseph). They were approaching their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. In all probability, Mary and Joseph did not have that joy because the last reference to Joseph in the Bible is when Jesus was still 12 years of age. After that, Joseph melted into the shadows.

Mary and John did not believe in “precious metals” like silver and gold, so abjured the commonly used term “silver jubilee”. In the invitation cards, they carefully chose the words “A celebration of 25 years of marital bliss”. But the printer’s devil was not so careful. The cards were printed with the words martial bliss, reminding one of the martial arts!

Hey, come on. Marriage is bliss and also a martial art, with an emphasis on Art. Indeed, in the complexities of modern life, one needs to discover the Art of marital bliss. Together with the arts, marriage also requires a scientific temper. Art, science, martial, temper – they are all part of marriage. Worth exploring the dark secrets, to uncover the bliss.

Mary and John both loved road trips for their annual family holiday. But their Maruti 800 was now too old for long trips. They couldn’t afford a new car, so they went to a second-hand car showroom. They fell in love with a berry red Tata Tiago, but the price seemed beyond their budget. They were crestfallen. The agency said that the car would go to the highest bidder by e-auction. The couple felt doubly stressed.

As the date of their anniversary approached, the tension was palpable. John’s blood sugar, cholesterol and pressure levels shot up. He had to be hospitalised. The anniversary celebrations were cancelled. On the eve of their anniversary, both were receiving text messages, to which they were furiously replying. Both took it for granted that the other was replying to congratulatory greetings.

That evening the Tiago was delivered to their doorstep, with a price tag that was 25% more than the agency’s price! Mary and John had been bidding against each other without knowing it. There was no communication between them, only a dark secret. Mary, in her great love, had purchased the car for her husband! He died of shock. End of story. Unfortunately, the lack of communication in a marriage is one of its darkest secrets, a lesson that needs to be learnt.

There are two classic instances of how love’s dark secrets ended in tragedy. The best known is Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet consumed poison due to a lack of communication (non-delivery of a message), and Romeo stabbed himself to death. Love’s dark secret ended in tragedy.

The other, lesser-known, classical story is that of the silver fob chain. The young couple were penniless. She had cascading wavy hair that she kept under wraps because she didn’t have a tortoiseshell comb to embellish it. He kept his heirloom pocket watch hidden, like another dark secret, because he did not have a silver fob chain to go with it. Without telling her husband, the woman sold her precious hair to buy the chain for her husband’s watch. But he had sold his watch to buy the comb to adorn her hair! Another of love’s dark secrets that ended in tragedy.

Years ago, when I was into youth ministry, I had organised a training programme for youth animators. The resource person for marriage counselling was Rev Pepe Casasnovas SJ. He told us that communication was the most important thing in a marriage – to attain marital bliss. I have never forgotten his words, and it has held me in good stead in my marriage. He told us that silence or non-communication in marriage was like building a wall, one brick at a time.

It reminded me of my own parent’s marriage. Both were great personalities and recipients of papal awards from Pope Paul VI. Yet, in many ways, their marriage was a disaster. We had a huge dining table, which was expandable to accommodate twenty people sitting. Even in its constricted form, it was about twelve feet long. My father would sit at one end and my mother at the other. If there was a fight, there would be a stony silence extending (like the table) for a month. It was torture. Though still very young at the time, I vowed that I would never let that happen in my family life.

Let the sparks fly, as must they will, but those sparks don’t have to end in a conflagration of silence. I am reminded of these beautiful words from scripture “Even if you are angry, do not sin: never let the sunset on your anger, or else you will give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:26). This is a powerful lesson for love’s dark secrets. Never go to bed without, in some way, reconciling and talking, or even through non-verbal communication.

I compare it to a glass of milk. If left out overnight on the dining table in the hot summer, it will curdle by morning. Many couples don’t fight to avoid conflict. This is misconstrued logic that is fraught with danger. It is better to argue and fight or to be angry than to sweep it under the carpet, allowing it to simmer and eventually turn poisonous.

Many couples maintain a pretence of being in marital bliss because they are acutely conscious of what people will say, “The neighbours will hear us arguing and shouting”. As a result, such persons are unaware of what God is saying – that anger, per se, is not wrong. We know that even Jesus got angry several times, but that anger was channelled correctly. It was justified anger.

As we approach Valentine’s Day, market forces will flood us with messages of chocolate, hug, kiss or proposal day. Fine, but? A romantic young man sent this WhatsApp message to his girlfriend, “Sweetest honey, I really love you. I will cross the treacherous Himalayan glaciers, I will brave the tsunamis of the oceans, I will cross the scorching deserts, even without Bisleri water, to see you because you are my oasis. You are my date (pun intended), my shady palm tree. I will be coming with chocolates and a bunch of red roses to take you out for dinner on Valentine’s Day if it is not raining”!

Tragedy or comical farce? Sure, chocolates and roses have their place in a romantic relationship. But if we put conditions to our love relationship, especially to a marital one, then our marriage is doomed to darkness, with secrets out of the bag.

It is not enough to say “I love you”. One could as easily say that to one’s pet dog. There is more to it than meets the eye (I) – pun intended. One needs to say, “I love you only, I love always, and I love you as you are”. These are the three qualities of marital bliss – a love that is exclusive, eternal and unconditional. This may seem obvious, but so often, we miss the wood for the trees or the rose in this case.

Interestingly, this is also the official teaching of the church. While emphasising the unity and indissolubility of marriage (Can 1056), Canon Law defines it as a permanent and exclusive relationship (Can 1134) that does not permit any conditions for the future (Can 1101). There we have it. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church has these beautiful words: “Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of the wedding feast of the Lamb” (CCC 1602). And again, “The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage” (CCC 1613).

This is in sharp contrast to St Paul’s myopic vision, clouded by an imminent end of the world, that “What I mean brothers is that the time has become limited and from now on those who have wives should live as though they had none” (1Cor 7:29). Fortunately, he makes the qualifying statement that “I have no directions from the Lord, but I give my own opinion” (1Cor 7:25).

Unfortunately, in a celibate dominated church, marriage has been denigrated as second class. Overzealous preachers invariably quote this chapter from St Paul. They also quote out of context Jesus’ reprimand to Martha that Mary had chosen the better part (cf Lk 10:41). This is why quoting Scripture out of context is dangerous. I temper it with the teachings of Vatican II. “From the wedlock of Christians, there comes the family … The family is, so to speak, the domestic Church.” (LG No 11).

So let us dispel the dark secrets and let God’s light shine on all human love. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY.

The writer has several years of experience in youth and marriage counselling.

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