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What an elderly Jesuit and a dog named Rover taught me about love, marriage and family
Marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one’s own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving. (CCC 1609) In the late 1990’s, by some providential stroke of good fortune, I took a class taught by an elderly and brilliant Thomistic philosopher named Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J. He graded our graduate level philosophy papers so fast and with such detailed comments that to this day I am still in awe of his intellectual abilities. The man was amazing! The main topic of this class was Clarke’s own brand of metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that examines the basic nature and causes of all things. Clarke was known for his “creative completion” of St. Thomas’ thought. It was Clarke who introduced me to ideas such as “the relationality of being.” Taking his inspiration from the nature of the Holy Trinity, Clarke taught that love does not merely go in an outward direction from a person, but it also simultaneously involves receptivity. Love itself requires a relationship, which means acting upon and being acted upon simultaneously. In an act of love, you reach out to another and come back to yourself a little different. Even when your love is not reciprocated by the object of your love, your love itself is still intrinsically dynamic. It always changes you. Fr. Clarke led his students to see that in the image of the Holy Trinity we find the perfect example of love going forth and coming back at the same time. Each person—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—both give and receive love in a perfect way. Human beings mimic the Holy Trinity because we, like the Holy Trinity, are persons. We are “self-possessed,” we belong to ourselves. We are able intentionally to direct ourselves, which gives us the ability to cultivate virtues that assist us in achieving this ideal of love. What does this have to do with marriage and family? Well, unlike the Holy Trinity, human persons are not perfect in their relationality. We must continually cultivate virtue, good moral habits, to fully realize this ideal of love.