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By Deacon Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator for the Diocese of Westminster

One of the many party games I liked as a child was pass-the-parcel.  It is a seemingly simple game with the main prize hidden amongst many layers of wrapping paper. However, if we look carefully, we will notice the layers of paper are different in colour and design and the parcel carefully constructed. Again, every so often an unexpected small surprise is hidden within the folds. The process is accompanied by music which periodically stops, so that a new layer is unwrapped. Whilst there is a certain simplicity to the game the moment of discovery of a hidden gift fills the participant with wonder and joy. In a similar way married love is not unlike a vast ‘pass-the-parcel’, one which is experienced over a life-time.

At the World Meeting of Families in 2022 Pope Francis said that marriage is a gift, not a formality not a rule. 'You get married,' he said, 'because you want to base your marriage on the love of Christ, which is as firm as a rock. God offers the couple who fall in love the gift of marriage.' God lies between the layers of the relationship, within the folds of the parcel within which our relationship is being discovered and rediscovered.

When we first fall in love, we believe we have discovered the central prize at the heart of the wrapping paper. However, falling in love lies outside our control, whereas growing in love is the decision that enables us to unwrap aspects of our personal life and shared relationship. As we grow in mutual love and self-giving, we discover that the game of married love is more complex and nuanced than we could ever have imagined. There are those moments though when the music is discordant or we mishear the rhythm, tearing the layers and missing the gifts. Working through our mistakes and misunderstandings we rediscover the gift of married love unwrapping new layers of our mutual love, becoming more aware of ways in which we take delight in the giftedness and forgiveness of each other.

At the beginning of a new year, it is good to look back at the layers of our married love that have been revealed, the colours and the texture of our narrative, and to turn once again in excitement to know that in this life new layers remain yet to be discovered. Pope Francis went on to say that ‘Marriage is a marvellous gift, which contains the power of God’s own love: strong, enduring, faithful, ready to start over after every failure or moment of weakness’.

As the different layers are stripped away, we will discover that our unique parcel-of-love is filled with the delight of continually growing closer to one another and rediscovering how the prize at the heart of the parcel is constantly changing.