In the light of today’s readings, I might comment on the fact that Joshua asked the Israelites to make a commitment to do things God’s way. I could point out that the apostles recognised that in Jesus, they had a Teacher who could show them the only safe way to eternal life. Or I might take up what the letter to the Ephesians says about marriage, and ask whether it is unbalanced in the way it asks wives to obey their husbands, while husbands only invited to sacrifice their priorities for the sake of their wives. But I’m going to do none of those things – instead, I’m going to tell you a story which is about marriage, but which can also be applied to other important relationships in our lives.
Betty and George were both practising Catholics when they decided to get married. They attended the Marriage Preparation course which the Church required of them, and during the course, the lead couple suggested that it would be a very good idea for them to schedule a “sofa night” at least once a month when they would make time to sit down together and talk about any frustrations they had with each other, or with life in general – and to affirm the good things, too.
For the first few months after they were married, Betty and George tried “sofa time” but it seemed a bit pointless. They were still in the first flush of romance, and everything was rosy. They didn’t need a special time to communicate affection because their love for each other bubbled over each day. So they let their monthly sofa date lapse.
Then, along came one, two, three children. All Betty’s attention was on child care, and in the evenings, she was tired. She would have liked to have had a protected opportunity to de-stress by telling George all about it, but it was impossible – either the baby would cry, or the toddler would declare a potty accident, and Betty had to drop what she was doing and attend to their needs. There was no chance of scheduling her monthly sofa time with George. Yet when Betty’s Mum fell ill, somehow she managed to arrange babysitting and spend a whole weekend at Mum’s house, caring for her. For those things that are really important, you can make time. There’s always a way.
A few more years went by, and now all the children had learned to keep a reasonable bedtime. George and Betty could have an hour or two for themselves in the evening. But George had accepted a promotion at work, and often had to bring stuff home to prepare for the next day. So when Betty suggested re-starting sofa time, George put it off because he needed the flexibility to set aside an evening for work at short notice. Yet George had also agreed to become a school governor, and his sense of duty and male pride wouldn’t let him quit that when the workload stepped up. For those things that are really important, you can make time. There’s always a way.
Fifteen years into their married life, Betty was concerned that she and George were drifting apart. A friend suggested that they go on a weekend retreat for married couples. She timidly suggested the idea to George, but he was embarrassed that they had let their “sofa night” lapse for so long, and didn’t feel that he could spend a whole weekend talking about things which they’d been avoiding until now. Besides, a whole weekend? That was a big commitment. Yet when one of his colleagues at work arranged a stag weekend in Prague, somehow he found time for that. For those things that are really important, you can make time. There’s always a way.
Betty felt she was drifting apart from George, and confided more and more in her closest girlfriend. They would spend long evenings together over coffee and cake. Then, an economic downturn forced George on to a reduced-hours contract, and he found he was able to spend more time at home. He suggested they re-start sofa time, but this time Betty was the one resisting. She had grown used to confiding in her friend rather than her husband, and made excuses. She said she was getting tired in the evenings. But on those evenings she wanted to visit her friend, she did so freely. For those things that are really important, you can make time. There’s always a way.
When the youngest of the three children left home and went to University, Betty’s frustrations came to a head. She walked out of the family home and went to live with her elderly Mum. She was angry with God for letting her marriage break down, and stopped going to Mass. A year later, when George received the divorce papers, he stopped going to Mass, too. He thought, wrongly, that just being divorced automatically stopped you from going to Holy Communion, so he didn’t feel welcome at Mass. He had forgotten the Church’s teaching that it’s only entering a new relationship that dishonours marriage vows in God’s eyes.
Eventually, Betty and George died, and passed into that afterlife where time flows differently. Betty and George were both escorted through Purgatory by their own guardian angels. And at the very same moment they arrived in the room which, their angels explained, was the waiting room to enter heaven. Set in the furhest wall was a locked door, with the only handle on the other side.
In this waiting room there was a single piece of furniture – a two-seater sofa. Betty and George were free to spend as much or as little time in Purgatory as they wished, where they would experience the pain of being separated from God. They could enter Heaven whenever they wished, the angels explained, but there was one condition: the door to heaven would only open when they chose to take time to sit down on the sofa, together.