This past month I read a fascinating book on marriage. It was the sort of pleasurable, impulsive reading you do not because you have to but because that’s the book you want to read right now. Reading for the soul.
It was a more personal kind of reading too, for I had the opportunity to first meet the author of the book during a visit to Lisbon in June. I took part in a conference which hosted two panel discussions on the spiritual landscape of Portugal. Tiago Cavaco spoke on both occasions. He’s a curious figure at first – a pastor in Lisbon who is also a well-known blogger and leader of a heavy-rock band. This set of experiences grants him an out-of-the-box perspective, and it showed at the panel discussions: he poured forth fascinating insights and analysis which debunked stereotypes and asked still harder questions.
That’s a guy I need to know, I thought. Later we met, we exchanged our books, and I flew back to Rome reading and underlining his book on marriage.
Fascinating. In English its title would go something like Happily Ever After, and other Misunderstandings about Marriage. Each chapter deconstructs common conceptions about marriage, such as the moon is made of honey or marriage needs good husbands and good wives, and proposes a healthier view. Consider, for instance, this turning of the tables:
The happiness of marriage seems to be rooted in the capacity it has to transform us … more than wanting to make us happy, marriage wants to make us new… When marriage is valued for the transformation it brings, we stop having our spouse as adversary and start having ourselves as adversaries… it becomes a calling to my own transformation.
This is such an insight. Marriages can’t flourish out of self-centered postures. However romantic the notion may seem, to hope that marriage will make us happy yet not transform us is impossible. The happiness a good marriage engenders is precisely the happiness of transformation in the context of a bond of love. It is the difficult but ultimately thriving metamorphosis into a life lived in two, into being centered on the other, into seeing myself as the obstacle to be overcome. The opposite posture – I’m in as long as this relationship is pleasurable but doesn’t ask much of me or call me to change – is the recipe for a me-against-you relationship where spouses don’t find the deeper waters of self-giving, sacrifice, and soul intimacy. It remains a bond forged by shared duties and distractions. It remains a half-baked union of individuals reticent to let go of their autonomies. It remains a marriage based on a selective shadow of self-giving love. And that’s not much of a balm.
What marriage requires is a promise that we will be in the Future what we are not yet in the Present: spouses…. When we promise to be faithful to someone the most unknown person present is not the one to whom we promise: it is ourselves. We don’t quite know who will we be in the future and yet we propel ourselves toward it. Notice how daring that is. Or, from another angle, how creative. The Christian faith rests in in the confidence that men and women are called to make promises to learn something else about themselves.
Marriage is a call to personal transformation.
 Tiago Cavaco, Felizes para sempre e outros equívocos acerca do casamento (Lisbon: Cego Surdo e Mudo Edições, 2014), 96-97.
 Ibid., 25.