Bernardo M. Villegas
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Exemplary Couples in Conjugal Love

          Among my closest friends are five married couples with whom I have had the fortune and pleasure of meeting almost every month in dinner get-togethers for the last thirty four years.  The husband of one of them passed away but the widow continues to be part of our regular reunions during which we savor the cuisine of some of the leading restaurants of Metro Manila.  We talk about everything under the sun and since all the husbands have reached the peak of their respective professions (two of them served in the Cabinet of one Administration or another), there is much to talk about what is happening to the country in politics, business, and civil society in general.  Among the outstanding qualities I admire among these close friends of mine, I would like to cite the exemplary way in which they live their married lives.  All of them have celebrated or are about to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary and it is so edifying to observe that they still show their love and affection to their respective spouses as if they had just been married yesterday.

         As I already wrote in a previous column about one of the wives, on the occasion of a wedding anniversary, all of the married women in the group are highly educated and professionally qualified and could have reached the heights of their respective careers if they had chosen to do so.  But all of them chose to devote their time primarily to the home, taking care of their respective husbands and bringing up their respective children (and now helping in the care of their grandchildren).    Far from being affected by the currents of feminism obsessed with extreme forms of women’s liberation, they remind me of the advice given by St. Peter to  married couples and I quote:  “In like manner also let wives be subject to their husbands;  so that even if any do not believe the word, they may without word be won through the behavior of their wives observing reverently your chaste behavior.  Let not theirs be the outward adornment of braiding the hair, or of wearing gold or of putting on robes; but let it be the inner life of the heart, in the imperishableness of a quiet and gentle spirit, which is of great price in the sight of God.  For after this manner in old time the holy women also who hoped in God adorned themselves, while being subject to their husbands.  So Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You are daughters of hers when you do what is right and fear no disturbance.” (1 Peter 3, 1-6)  In turn, their respective husbands have acted according to the advice of St. Peter in the same passage:    “Husbands, in like manner dwell with your wives considerately, paying honor to the woman as to the weaker vessel, and as co-heir of the grace of life, that your prayers be not  hindered.”

         Through all these years, I have seen their conjugal love endure and intensify despite the many challenges that all married couples have to face, especially in the turbulent socio-economic environment in the Philippines  over the last three decades.  Indeed, they are the perfect images of what Pope Francis writes in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love,” (par. 163):   “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 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.”  Frequently, they would go on “dates,” as if they were still in the courtship stage.  Every year, together with other married couples, they would have their “annual honeymoons” going on cruises, traveling to tourist destinations all over the world, or just visiting their children and grandchildren who are living abroad.

         Theirs is not just an emotional love based on nice feelings and mutual physical attractions.  As Pope Francis continues: “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 a 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 must add that the wives, like most Filipinas at their age, have retained much of their youthful beauty.  I can’t say the same thing about the husbands, with their bulging bellies and thinning hair (I am no exception).   Pope Francis has this observation to make about physical attractiveness:  “In the course of every marriage, physical appearances change, but this hardly means that love and attraction need fade.  We love the other person for who they are, not simply for their body.  Although the body ages, it still expresses that personal identify that first won our heart.  Even if others can no longer see the beauty of their identity, a spouse continues to see it with the eyes of love and so his or her affection does not diminish.  He or she reaffirms the decision to belong to the other and expresses that choice in faithful and loving closeness.”  If ever I would have the chance, I would like to introduce my friends to Pope Francis for him to confirm how true are his words in the lives of these married couples with whom I hope to have monthly dinners for many more years to come.  For comments, my email address is