Amour is a 2012 French film about an elderly man’s love for his wife. As Anne’s quality of life slowly deteriorates, Georges’ generous love for her grows, up until the film’s climax.
Let’s recall the fundamentals of marriage. Can you define marriage correctly? This is essential in this day and age.
Marriage is the freely consented permanent and exclusive union of a man and woman, which is for the good of each other and for the procreation and education of children. Permanent means life-long. Exclusive means faithful. Sexual intercourse, the act proper to marriage, must be open to children.
Married love is described in the words of the wedding vows. Marriage is the taking of one another through all the good and bad circumstances of life, from that moment on, until the moment of death.
If husband and wife actually keep their vows, their love will be humanly noble. In Amour we can see Georges’ quiet nobility in his faithfulness to Anne “in sickness.” Georges rises to almost every occasion in the kindness and humble physical care he provides Anne as she becomes more helpless in body and hopeless in spirit.
But for Christians, the natural love between a husband and wife can also be sanctified. Sanctified refers to all the ways a husband and wife and God can help that husband and wife become holy through the power of the Sacrament of Matrimony. When a baptized man and woman are married, God raises their union to the dignity of a Sacrament. All the facets of human love now become a means of growing in goodness, in every virtue, and in closeness to God. Now, if husband and wife keep their marriage vows, they will become holy.
Even though the Sacrament of Matrimony is a gift, marital love must be learned. Christ commanded, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This means to love with a sacrificial love. This New Commandment applies especially to husbands and wives. It applies to how you love your wife or husband. It must be learned by experience. Marriage certainly begins with joy—courtship, engagement, the wedding, gifts, the honeymoon—and then sacrifice begins to enter in. Marriage can be hard. However, it is the primary way God has designed for most of us to grow into truly loving people.
An important way to learn to sanctify married love is through the virtue of generosity.
Generosity. If sacrifice is key to love, then love means giving. It means yes to your spouse and often no to you. The key virtue, then, is generosity. Generosity is “the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.”
A few points about generosity worth recalling:
• Generosity is both the desire to give and the actual giving. It’s good to have noble impulses but they are worthless without follow through.
• The beauty of generosity means the rejection of ugly vices like selfishness, greed, fear, and meanness.
• Generosity doesn’t mean just giving what you want to give but what is objectively good for the other. How much the gift benefits the receiver is a more important consideration than how much the gift “costs” you.
Since generosity toward our spouses means giving them what they really need, we need to communicate with them better. How can we know what our spouses really want and need? Sometimes it is obvious just by observation. We can also listen to what they tell us. We can ask them. We can also try giving different things and seeing what comes of it. We can pray about it. We must also consider the whole matter in light of the moral law (recall that Shakespeare’s character Lady Macbeth wanted murder, which her husband should not have given her).
In light of the culture of death which surrounds us, we must ask, are human virtues and human reason enough to sanctify married love all on their own? No. The Sacrament of Matrimony is a gift of grace with which we cooperate, if we cooperate.
Again, are virtues and reason enough even to ennoble human love, all on their own? In theory, I think the answer is yes. In practice, without the Faith and grace, reason can easily lose its moorings.
In Amour, Georges and Anne had some kind of connection with the Church. Georges attends a funeral for a friend and remarks that the priest was “an imbecile.” We don’t know if Georges considered the priest a fool for preaching the authentic Catholic faith or some silly watered down version of it. In a photo album, we see Anne’s first communion photo from long ago. But there are no other signs of God in their lives.
In the end, Georges smothers Anne with love, literally, using a pillow to kill her. It is what she seems to have wanted. I think the writer and director Michael Haneke wants us to see this as an understandable if tragic act of love.
But it is not up to us either to kill ourselves or to inflict that death on the other. Married love must conform to the moral law. Married love is not a law unto itself. Perhaps it is almost impossible for reason to grasp this in the darkness of suffering without the light of Christ.
By all means, let’s smother our spouses with love, but not with a pillow. Let’s sanctify our love by learning generosity according to Christ’s calculus.
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