“Love is the greatest drama of human existence.” - Saint Pope John Paul II, The Jeweler’s Shop
Anyone who has been married, or even dated, knows the truth of this line, which is possibly more true than any of us suspect.
Earlier this year, I found myself producing and directing a play by Saint Pope John Paul II, The Jeweler’s Shop, a drama about marriage. This improbable project was pulled off on a grand scale by a seemingly random group of 37 young adults. Because we were all amateurs, there was a lot of discovery involved. However, the greatest discoveries were the ones “backstage”, in the hearts and minds of the community bringing the story to life. The Jeweler’s Shop contains themes important to John Paul II in his book Love and Responsibility and the compilation of his Theology of the Body writings. However, these themes are enfleshed in the lives of three couples in this play. Performing this content on stage, it is internalized differently than when it is consumed through reading or discussion. This provided all of us a unique angle into John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a perspective from lived experience. As someone who works with Theology of the Body and marriage preparation for my work, I learned much about the formation of young adults for marriage through this process.
The play centers on the dramas and internal experiences of three couples. Andrew and Teresa, at the point of engagement, reflect on their mysterious call to love each other, a call that in the end overcomes their fear of love. A second couple’s marriage hangs in the balance due to bitter disappointment and pain. It is narrowly saved through a painful conversion and the wisdom of a mysterious stranger. This couple, Anna and Stefan, never seem to thrive, but something new is born from conversion, humility, and painstaking commitment by the end of the play. The audience hopes that the next season of their marriage will be better still, and possibly healing. The final couple Christopher and Monica, the children of the first two, prepare for their wedding day with both excitement and trepidation. They are all too aware of the cost of marriage as experienced through their parents. Still, their wedding is a triumph of grace and the commitment to a covenant they do not yet fully understand. However, their parents have matured in their understanding of marriage as they experience this wedding of their children. This leads the audience to wonder if the children will benefit from the marriage stories surrounding them as they learn how to love.
All three couples’ lives revolve around a jeweler’s shop where the couples purchase (or even try to sell back) their wedding rings. This strange jeweler offers not only rings but a reflection on the permanence of married love through his consistent presence in the backdrop of the play. In the final act, the jeweler’s shop’s cart is transformed into an altar, the place where Monica and Christopher’s nuptials take place. After their wedding, their parents realize the meaning of their own marriage journeys, and we see that each season of marriage is connected to the love of the divine Bridegroom, to the eternal love story of God with man.
You can imagine how powerful it was to bring these stories to life in a concrete way. Our own dating relationships, dreams, fears, and relational wounds came to light in our interpretations. In the wrestling with the text, our own experiences were clarified. “Name it to tame it” is a strategy often used to handle stressful emotions. In acting there was a naming, an intentional storytelling that shone the light of truth on our experiences of relationship. Sometimes that clarity is gratifying and enlightening, other times, it’s challenging, but there is a peace brought by clarity.
The stories of these three couples, containing such depth and history, were difficult to bring to life without careful study. Acting is a process of integrating your own subjective experiences, emotions, and movements, etc. with the objective truth of the text, of the character written by the author. This process challenged us to bring together our personal experiences and with them to encounter the story written by John Paul II. It mirrors the message of the play…that true love must simultaneously contain the whole of life and personal experience, and yet be structured by the truth. This is the mystery, the drama, and the beauty of marriage.
The experience of The Jeweler’s Shop, both the story and the production process, made me realize that the process of preparing for marriage needs to include both an inventory of one’s own lived experiences, fears, and desires, and also an encounter with the reality of marriage, most likely through the encounter with a couple living marriage well. Marrying truth and experience sheds light on the way to true love. Questions about suffering in married life, overcoming the fear of love, the meaning of commitment, the need for a relationship with Christ in marriage, and many others carried by young couples, can be fruitfully encountered and addressed in this context. The beauty of marriage prep is that it provides this very important context.
Often, amidst these questions that surround preparing for marriage, young adults today find themselves struggling with the truth about God’s plan for their sexuality. This truth can be obscured by the loud voices around us advocating the path of following one’s sexual desires, allowing them to be the only guide. Since these desires carry a lot of experiential weight and are validated by our culture, it can be difficult to learn the habits that are in accord with the truth and lead to true freedom. In fact, habits like pornography and masturbation can take hold even in individuals who acknowledge God’s plan for sexuality. In this arena, the truth must not only be acknowledged; sometimes young adults need support in living it out. The reality of the addiction, and the desires and wounds behind it, need to be acknowledged, as well as the beauty of the truth. Clearly, this difficult process is best done in the safe context of a relationship with another person. Given the high percentage of young adults struggling with unwanted sexual habits or even addictions, marriage preparation must take these needs into account.
We need more opportunities for young adults, engaged or otherwise, to encounter the meaning of marriage, and to internalize the teaching of Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body, truths that form the heart and speak deeply into our lives. However, this content is often just presented, without the opportunity to integrate that teaching into our lives, the real purpose of formation. So often our own experiences of relationship seem to contradict the truth, and the tension caused by this makes us doubt the truth or hide from the reality of our own hearts. Who will be there for these young adults to walk with them into the deeper transformation offered by Christ? What opportunities will we offer them to take a deeper step toward the freedom needed for love?
Most of us learn how to love by learning first to be loved. We can help young adults prepare for marriage by loving and investing in them, and offering them the chance to be a gift, whether through a play or otherwise. Then in the process, the truth can be more than offered, it can be planted in a willing heart that is able to live in that truth. Even challenges like pornography and masturbation can be overcome by the gift of love and truth through a strong relationship. Young adults can prepare for marriage now through relationships that challenge them to become transformed in their real life, here and now. It’s a beautiful process, and worth the drama.
Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Brochure
This brochure explains how pornography use affects everyone, with a particular focus on engaged and married couples, and what can be done to protect the most intimate of relationships: marriage. This is a good resource for marriage preparation, marriage enrichment, chastity courses, and RCIA classes.
Audience: Engaged and Married Couples
Resource Type: Brochure
Cost: Free download or $6.99 (25 per pack) for printed