By DR. BERNARDO M. VILLEGAS
As the Philippines transitions from a low middle-income to a high middle-income economy in the next two to three years, a message I usually deliver to the millennials and to those who come after them is that they can expect to, on the average, live longer lives. Their generation will see life expectancy to average 80 or beyond. Even if these yuppies tend to marry later (say, in their thirties), they will still live long enough to celebrate with their respective spouses their golden wedding anniversary. In fact, even among the generation of baby boomers, I am delighted to see a good number of my contemporaries living long enough to celebrate the 50th and even the 60th anniversary of their wedding. These happy celebrations compensate for the sad experience of attending so many funerals of many friends and relatives. They also highlight the beauty of everlasting love in the face of an increasing number of broken marriages.
In his Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Love in the Family,” Pope Francis writes about the “transformation of love.” Commenting on long-lasting marriages, he writes: “Longer life spans now mean that close and exclusive relationships must last for four, five or even six decades; consequently, the initial decision has to be frequently renewed. While one of the spouses may no longer experience an intense sexual desire for the other, he or she may still experience the pleasure of mutual belonging and the knowledge that neither of them is alone but has a ‘partner’ with whom everything in life is shared. He or she is a companion on life’s journey, one with whom to face life’s difficulties and enjoy its pleasures. This satisfaction is part of the affection proper to conjugal love. There is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all through life. Yet if a couple can come up with a shared and lasting life project, they can love one another and live as one until death do them part, enjoying an enriching intimacy. The love they pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling, or state of mind, although it may include all of these. It is deeper love, a lifelong decision of the heart. Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives, and to continue loving and forgiving. Each progresses along the path of personal growth and development. On this journey, love rejoices at every step and in every new stage.”
I am proud to say that I saw this undying love in my own parents. They lived long enough to celebrate their 50th anniversary and my father lived another six years. We, their children, were blessed by the very long life of my mother who lived another 20 years after the death of my father, living till the ripe old age of 102 with her mind completely lucid until her last breath. Although they had their normal share of quarrels and misunderstandings, we were edified to see them in their old age treating one another like young lovers, calling one another with such endearing words as “darling” or “sweetheart.” Even after the death of my father, for twenty long years, my mother would write the most romantic messages on greeting cards that she would stick to the tomb of my father on his birthday, wedding anniversary, All Saints’ Day, and other memorable occasions. This example of love even after death has not been lost to my married brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces. They know the meaning of enduring conjugal love.
To my married readers who are in the twilight of their lives, let the words of Pope Francis be an encouragement to everlasting love: “For emotion caused by another human being as a person does not per se tend toward the conjugal act. It finds other sensible expressions. Indeed, love is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. The marriage bond finds new forms of expression and constantly seeks new ways to grow. These both preserve and strengthen the bond. They call for daily effort. None of this, however, is possible without praying to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of his grace, his supernatural strength, and his spiritual fire, to confirm, direct, and transform our love in every new situation.”
For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.