If we respect them, other human beings are by definition a mystery. What do I mean by that? I mean that I am fairly confident that I understand the rudiments of arithmetic. I understand theoretically how an engine works. I can mix a perfect martini according to a defined recipe. A person, though, now there’s a challenge. A person, as long as I don’t make the tragic mistake of labeling, categorizing, and then dismissing a person, well, people are infinitely complex. They are more than machines, more than the sum of their parts, and if we love them, we fully recognize that they are beyond our possession. They are fathomless miracles.
This is why other people are so wonderful. It’s also why they are so frustrating. We can’t fully know the contents of another heart or see from their perspective. Pope St. John Paul II recognized this when he advised us in “Fides et Ratio” to steer clear of judging the actions of another person too harshly. We don’t actually have all the information to understand the motivation.
To me, this is the most exciting revelation in all of God’s delightful creation, the friction and sparks between two people, the creativity that springs from odd pairings. I take great joy in spending time with people totally unlike myself, and the older I get I realize that absolutely everyone is totally unlike me. Not that I’m so odd or different, mind you, but every single person is an ocean spreading to an endless horizon. God’s creative activity truly spilled over when He broke the mold and fashioned human beings out of dirt and inspired breath. This means that we can be a bit messy and our interactions fraught with uncertainty, but also that we are capable of being reshaped to contain His infinite grace.
One of the best aspects of marriage is discovering new things about your spouse. Thirty years later, you realize your wife likes pickles or that your husband secretly reads romance novels. If God is ever ancient and ever new, it makes sense that the sacrament by which we are made into a divine symbol of His love would proceed by way of hilarious surprises and touching insights from beginning to end.
Marriage is funny, because for long stretches of time it can drone on in workaday fashion, you go off to your respective work and chores in the morning, maybe talk a bit at dinner about the day, and then fall asleep, but then, when it is least expected, the marriage opens up into a sweetness. Two people rediscover in an instant that they are not, as they had supposed, in a comfortable, life-long partnership but they are in something altogether more dangerously exciting — they are in a total union of souls. Will you ever totally know your spouse? No way. After all, what fun would that be? New knowledge to discover means that each marriage, each friendship, can grow in love every day from here until eternity.
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.