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.

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