Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher

If familiarity breeds contempt, how can some couples stay married 80 years or more? Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher, who broke The Guinness World Record for the longest marriage (84 years) in 2008, but lived to tack on three more, had some simple advice for anyone wishing to beat their record:

“Remember marriage is not a contest, never keep a score. God has put the two of you together on the same team to win.”

They won with love that would not die. Maybe that’s why at sporting events where scores are kept, you’ll often see a fan holding a poster showing this familiar quote from the Gospel of John (Jn 3:16-18):

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

That reading is from this Sunday’s gospel, and is as appropriate for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity as it is familiar to sports fans who keep score. The point of some fans of faith posting it in ball parks is possibly to put it in a new context and keep us from taking it for granted. Let’s face it, as people of faith grow older, the scriptures they’ve come to memorize can lose a bit of their original beauty and we can be tempted to cut ourselves off from their truth. We must never sever our connection to it, however, because it is our lifeline to the Holy Trinity.

Just as the Father and the Son are united in Spirit, so are all people who feel love part of the same whole. The Fishers said the best advice they ever received was the legacy they hoped to leave: “Respect, support, and communicate with each other. Be faithful, honest, and true. Love each other with ALL of your heart.”

That secret kept their love fresh and devoid of contemptible familiarity. They reintroduced love to each other every day, just as God the Father reintroduced himself to Moses in Sunday’s first reading (Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9):

The LORD stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, “LORD.” Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out, “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” … Then [Moses] said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.”

Moses was asking God not to keep score, and to pardon humanity’s weaknesses—another trait old married couples like the Fishers shared. In Sunday’s second reading (2 Cor 13:11-13), St. Paul, who was faithfully wed to the church Jesus founded, shares yet another secret to lifelong marriage:

Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

We are all familiar with these “secrets” to maintaining a loving relationship. The real secret to avoiding contempt for them is to consistently reveal them within ourselves to others as Jesus taught—thereby completing the triple play from Father to Son to Spirit.

–Tom Andel