Saturday, January 30, 2016

DIVORCE-PROOF YOUR MARRIAGE

Although I have started writing a book about my marriage that I hope will help couples see the inside workings of a marriage and that we weren't just "lucky" in having a strong, happy, passionate marriage, I've realized as I've been writing it that it will be a long project, since we knew each other since I was 17 and he was 16, and we have 35 years of love letters to be alchemized into our story.  But I have started a second, much shorter book, tentatively called Ten Radical Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage, that I hope will summarize what we learned in our marriage and thirty years of ministry to married couples.  Some of these ways are more challenging than others, but if marriage is to be a lifelong vocation, it is important to invest in it from well before you are married.

The first way is to marry someone who has the same faith as 
you do.  I have spoken with so many individuals who struggle in their marriages because his or her husband or wife has a different faith or none at all.  In the glow of romantic love, we can think that it doesn't matter and love will conquer all, but if faith is important to us, those differences will loom more significant as the marriage matures and particularly when children arrive.  It is difficult to convince a child that your faith is a key to salvation when your spouse believes and acts differently.  

I was raised in a Catholic home, and my mother particularly emphasized the importance of finding a Catholic husband. She had been engaged to a Baptist, who looked into the Catholic Faith, but just said he couldn't believe, and my mother broke her engagement to him when she met my father, who was Catholic. When I began dating John Hazard, my mother frequently pointed out that he wasn't Catholic, and I responded that I was just dating him, not marrying him.  Of course, she was right in that dating someone often does lead to marriage, and by the time I was a sophomore in college, John and I were becoming more serious about our relationship.  

However, I also knew that I didn't want to marry someone who wasn't Catholic.  I wrote a prayer asking God to grant John the gift of the Catholic faith, and I prayed it every day.
When I was a child I had thought I had a vocation to the religious life, and I wondered if maybe that was still true.  I was praying outside our home at night the summer before my sophomore year of college, and I reached the point where I was able to tell God that if he wanted me to marry John, he would have to convert him, but if he didn't, I would take that as an indication that I should become a nun.  As I prayed, a huge wave of peace washed over me, and I was perfectly open to whatever God's will for me was.  

That Thanksgiving, when I flew back to New Jersey from Texas, I very reluctantly and tentatively asked John if he had ever thought about looking into the Catholic Church.  He replied that he had been taking instructions and would be received into the Church on Palm Sunday.  I was dumbstruck with joy; I had no idea he had even thought about it, and God had answered my prayer very dramatically!  John later told me that when he had decided to become Catholic (after basically reading his way into the Church, like Scott Hahn) he thought in a vague way that I would be pleased.  He'd had no idea then that it was so critical to our relationship from my point of view.  I wanted him to become Catholic because he believed in the truths of the Faith, not because I would like it. And by then I knew that he would never become Catholic unless he could assent intellectually to the Faith.  

After we were married, he became the leader of the Faith in our home, and we had many lively discussions about aspects of the Faith throughout our married years and worked together to pass it on to our children.  He was curious about what it was like to grow up in the Church before Vatican II, and would often ask me questions like what the Mass was like when it was a Double, Second Class.  I had no idea; I remembered seeing things like that written in my missal but hadn't the faintest idea what they meant.  My husband was truly delighted when the priest who baptized our son was made a Bishop and they could discuss all the tiniest details of the Tridentine Mass when celebrated by a Bishop.  Being a lawyer, my husband was fascinated by Canon Law, and was one of the few laypeople who could discuss Canon Law in detail with our Bishop, who had served on the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church apart from the Pope.  

I close with the poem I wrote about that moment of decision when I surrendered to God's will for my future.



PYROTECHNICS

Also in a garden--in Austin--
Spirit's rich silence bolts creation to sound
(crickets loud as gunshots at Town Lake
on New Year's Eve), night noise
evokes colors from the Texas wind 
to flames that whisper the world asunder 
with thundering stillness.
A solidity of peace enkindles
the shining clarion of a French horn
against a flat dark portrait of strings,
an alabaster song of yes and yes and yes.
The gathering rush of dawn is fused
into a long-held twilight pause.

The great starry doors of the indigo sky swing wide--
immersed in light, the soul ignites:
tinderbox of joy.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

MERCY UPON ALL

Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.  I Jn. 2:24

This verse from the first Letter of St. John carried me back to my childhood faith and how the Ursuline nuns in Oklahoma and the Dominicans in New Jersey added to all that my parents taught me and gave me a picture of a Catholic world that was to my childish mind a miniature of the Medieval Synthesis that I encountered later in college, actually in Art History.  

But it also brought to mind the priest whom I met as a freshman who became my spiritual father and led me into an adult faith that continues to nurture me now.  After I had taken his course on Philosophy of Man, I realized I had not only encountered someone who understood the faith at a depth I hadn't even imagined existed, but who lived it as well.  He was Hungarian so many of my recollections of things that I learned are tinged with a slightly Transylvanian accent.  The summit of all my courses was a graduate course on the Trinity, where my classmates were primarily seminarians.  My final paper was a comparison of the Nicene Creed of 325 and the Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, which he included in his book on the Triune God for later classes. 

When my husband and I were married, we flew him to St. Louis as the main celebrant of our wedding.
We had five priests, and my father-in-law, who was not Catholic, told us it looked more like an ordination than a wedding!  We had picked out our Scripture passages carefully, but when he arrived, he asked if we could change the Gospel reading to Matthew 7:24-27, the passage about the two foundations, because he had written his homily on that.  Of course, we agreed,  and I never hear those verses without hearing them read with a Hungarian accent, and remembering how in his homily he said, "This marriage vill be built on the rock of the Church," and so indeed it was.

When our son was born, he was named for him, and he was very proud of that fact, although he was sent back to Hungary to help reopen the Cistercian monastery where he had been ordained, and never saw him.  He celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his Ordination back in Hungary, but sent us a prayer card with the verse he had chosen which summed up all that he had taught me and so many others:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways (Romans 11:33)!

When I got my Bible to copy this down, I noticed that the verse just before it was "For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all."  Reading this in this year of mercy I pause before all that is inscrutable and unsearchable in the Divine Other who yet reaches out in love to each of us.  

I had forgotten that I had called my paper on the Trinity "Perichoresis."  I used that same title years later on a poem, which I will close with here.
PERICHORESIS

For Gilbert Hardy, O.Cist.


The Greeks knew; while Latin defined
God in more static terms
perichoresis drew the Trinity
as a dance among lovers--the dancing more
than movement, Being poured 
out in being, a waterfall of grace
sparkling from the dancers in a radiance:
love dancing, the dancers perfectly expressed
in their dance, never confined
by our understanding of gavottes and turns
and filling of place
kinesthetic yet completely at rest
perfectly one: a symphony of three
springing into concert eternally,
infinitely resonant -- deep
beyond voice and instrument and sound
past meaning yet more profound
depths plumbed becoming height
dizzying in the triune shine
of brilliance surpassing heat and light
entwining the dancers who still keep
all in dance.


Monday, January 18, 2016

MAKING CONNECTIONS

It is amazing how many connections pop up at unexpected times.  I was at a meeting recently and encountered a young woman who mentioned that her sister had gone to Hawaii, and I asked if she was from Hawaii.  She told me that actually she was Korean and had been adopted and brought here when she was nine months old. The following week, I met her mother who was not Korean, but had tried to introduce her daughter to as much of the Korean culture as was possible.

Because my oldest daughter's husband is Korean American and was born just after his parents came here from South Korea, I have learned more about Korean culture and am always interested to know more.  I asked if she had had a hanbok, a traditional outfit worn by a Korean child on the first birthday, and she assured me that she had.  

Because my new friend has a Masters in Library Science and works at one of the large libraries near me, we proceeded to discuss books, and of course we talked about A Single Shard, the Newbery Medal winner in 2002, set in 12th century Korea.  It is one of the most memorable books I've ever read,  and although it's a children's book, it resonates deep in the heart for adults as well.  I told her that my granddaughter Jung-Sook, when she was about nine years old, had read it, and asked her mother about the author, whose name is Linda Sue Park, if that was a Korean name, and her mother assured her that it was.  She smiled, heaved a big sigh, and said, "At last!  Someone who understands my culture!"

When we met again this week, our conversation again turned to books, and I mentioned that when my son was little, I'd found a wonderful book that he loved about a baby who ate avocados and defeated a burglar, but we'd never been able to find it again after the first time we took it out of the library. I couldn't remember the name of the book, either, but she whipped out her phone, and started clicking and in a few minutes was able to tell me it was Avocado Baby by John Burningham.  I'm not sure if Gilbert will remember it, but I ordered it to share with my grandchildren as well as to bring back happy memories for me.  My son still appreciates quirky children's books, and this year bought I'd Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio for one of his nieces, in which the little crocodile with a big appetite discovers that the child is more than a match for him.

And while we're rounding out our discussion of children's books, I was delighted to learn that Dan Santat, a long time friend of my son-in-law won the Caldecott Medal in 2015 
for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
It's a charming and unique book, and I am thrilled that it won the top award for children's picture books.  When I studied Children's Literature in college, Caldecott and Newbery award winners seemed to be in the same category as historical characters, but here is one the same age as my son-in-law, some of whose adventures in writing for children I have heard about through the years!  It gives children's literature a three dimensional reality for me. 


Saturday, January 9, 2016

MY FIRST "OFFICIAL" 5K

I just finished my first official 5K.  It was a walk in support of the Lost Boys of Sudan, some of whom our pastor has been helping for a number of years.  When he came to our parish, he included it in our Works of Mercy ministry.  I walked with our choir director and several choir members, and the time flew by.

However, I know I once walked a lot farther than a 5K when I visited friends who live in Northern California in a town that has an extensive trail system.  Louise and I set off along the trail, which is paved and goes through beautiful areas of town, and since we hadn't been together for a long time, we walked and talked until the summer sun was high in the sky, and Louise realized we were a long way from her home.  I told her we could just turn around and return the way we came, but she began to bewail the fact that she never walked that far, and she'd never be able to walk all the way back, and she should have noticed how far we were going and now what on earth could we do?  It was before we had cell phones, but I really didn't think it would be too difficult to retrace our steps.  I tried to make light of the situation, convinced that if we just set off and started talking, the way home would seem almost as quick as the miles we'd already covered, but just as we were crossing one of the streets, a friend of hers drove by and offered us a ride, which Louise gratefully accepted.  I teased her for not being tough enough to walk with me, she jokingly accused me of being a cruel taskmaster to her friend, and we returned to her house in comfort.

I know that walk took a lot longer than the 5K I walked today, but before the idea of a "5K" seemed daunting.  Now that I know I can do it, becoming more fit seems like an accessible goal.  I already walk almost an hour every Tuesday with my neighbor across the street; find an entertaining walking companion and you can go far!

Monday, January 4, 2016

UP ON THE ROOFTOP

Since today is the memorial of St. Elizabeth Seton, who is the patron saint of my oldest daughter, I called her to wish her a happy feast day.  Her oldest daughter answered the phone, and told me that she hadn't had school today, which meant my daughter hadn't had to drive the high school carpool.  I asked if Elizabeth were out somewhere with one of the younger children, and she said, "No, she's up on the roof," in her nonchalant way.  I asked if she knew what her mother was doing on the roof, and she said she thought she was putting tar on it.  This statement brought up a rather odd picture in my mind, although I'm suspecting that she is possibly trying to staunch a leak, since their roof is getting quite old.  I suppose I will get the rest of the story at some point, but while my first reaction was one of surprise that she should be up there attempting repairs--certainly understandable with the prediction of rain for the rest of the week--it also brought back memories from years ago when I was up on a roof helping friends with a re-roofing job. 

It was the bleak period in our marriage when my husband had lost his job, we had no savings, and the months were dragging on with no prospect of another job in sight.  Friends of ours were about to put a new roof on their house, and they offered to pay us to help take off the old roof.  Not only was I thankful for the opportunity to make a little money, but having been a tomboy as a child, it seemed like an adventure as well.  We had only three children at the time, who were all quite small, and they stayed in the house with our friends' older children while we clambered about on the roof, tearing off the old roof, and then nailing boards in between the boards that were already up there, so the new roof could be attached to that.  It was fairly easy to do the deconstruction, since we had footholds between the boards, but as the fill in boards went in, the roof became more slippery.  Rain was predicted for that evening, so as evening approached, the men who were left working on the roof primarily were concerned with getting tarps on over the areas that weren't fully covered yet. Once that was done, we all came in the house, where our friends had a huge pot of spaghetti and sauce for all of us, and I remember total silence as we all chowed down, ferociously hungry after a long day of physical labor.  Seldom has any food tasted so ambrosial as that simple meal flavored with the sense of a job well done, and the knowledge that the money we'd earned meant we could now buy shoes for our daughters.  Our friends probably could have just given us the money, but instead they built up our self-respect (especially my husband's), we had a wonderful day of fellowship, and I have warm memories of that day thanks to friends who are still dear to me.