“Let me now sing of my friend” — Isaiah 5:1

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
‘Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you. — John Legend, “All of Me

On September 14th I felt compelled to violate my self-imposed blogging silence and write something on the mystery of the Cross. Now October 14th has come and I yet again feel impelled to say something, though this time it is for the sheer joy of Patti and my 19th wedding anniversary. It will be more of a gushing than a meditation, but here it goes…

What to say?

The Catechism (#2365) reminds us of what St. John Chrysostom suggests young husbands say to their wives:

I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us…I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.

 

Wedding

“Stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.” — Song of Songs 8:6-7

When we were married I thought my love for Patti to be so intense and fiery it could never be surpassed. I believed my love so absolutely unyielding that I could confidently assert it was “stern as death.” On our wedding morning I pronounced our nuptial vows with a deep sense of conviction, willing every syllable with all my might. I even remember quietly whispering words from the prophet Malachi just after I completed the vows, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel” (2:16). In fact, my original choice for the first nuptial Mass reading was Malachi 2:10-16, but I later changed my mind.

I was fiercely resolved that our bond, entrusted to us by God that day, would never be soiled, damaged or broken. I prayed, “God, keep us faithful.” Our Gospel reading was from John 17,

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. — 17:21

I could never have imagined, though, the whole truth of the matter. I could not have known what it meant not just to be, but to become “one.” The ways in which we’d live our life together, day in and day out, would forge and reveal a unity, a depth, a bond that was far more powerful, thrilling and real than anything I could have conjured up in my imagination that day we were married. What a mystery marriage is as it imparts to us no abstract or sentimental unity, but the privileged opportunity to cooperate with the God who effects re-unity in our fragmented humanity by means of the dying and rising of Jesus. The pledge of lifelong unity was a pledge to receive, to embody and to return to God in death Christ’s cruciform love.

The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος), taken from iconreader.files.wordpress.com

Forging a totius vitae consortium, a “total partnership of life” (Can. 1055 §1)

Better and worse, sickness and health, prosperity and need, births and miscarriages, peace and chaos, laughter and tears, arguments and peace, leisure and exhaustion, faithfulness and sin and reconciliation. We’ve truly been learning to dance together, to sing in harmony. We’ve become, and are daily becoming more, co-celebrants of the sacrament of life and love, co-stewards of a domestic church, co-mediators of divine grace, co-lovers of Christ in each other. Our marriage has been drenched in happiness; raptured in joy; baptized in tears, blood and sweat; has burned with passion and anger; labored through sleepless nights and weary days; and has accompanied us into unknown lands and uncertain futures.

Wherever you go, I will follow,
Wherever you live is my home.
Though days be of blessing or sorrow,
though house be of canvas or stone,
Though Eden be lost to the past,
though mountains before us be vast,
Wherever you go, I am with you.
I never will leave you alone. – Covenant hymn 

We learn again every day, fumbling along the way, how to fashion our “two in one flesh” body into a living sacrifice for our children, our church or whomever it is God places along our pathway. We learn to pray together, from afar and near, tracing crosses on one another’s forehead, bending on our knees together beside our bed, blessing our children. We offer our entwined lives at Mass, repent our sins in the same Confessional line, learn to love in silence together. We bless meals holding hands across the table and wrap our children in begging, thankful, praising prayer.

One night I recall suffering terrible anxiety and fear, and Patti spontaneously turned to pray over me. All at once my fears fell away and I fell asleep under her watching eyes. We have also prayed together out of terrible anguish, and as the anguish still remained, strength to endure came. We can feel welding, knitting, in our souls; harder, stronger each time. I am weak, but as this marriage is His, He is strong. He is what we have to offer one another.

I will hold the Christ light for you
In the nighttime of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear. – Servant Song

Over time, day by day, bit by bit, muddling together through the messiness of living and loving, amid the glorious tangle of our children, through ebbs and flows, our unity intensifies, our bond strengthens, and our love uncovers a depth within we ourselves cannot see until life’s trials break us open to reveal what lies hidden within. The mysticism of marriage is a mysticism of messy, mundane, playful, intoxicating love. But how could sacramental love be otherwise, plunged as it is in the mystery of Christ?

Patti once said, “We never could have known that day of our wedding what it meant to love…and I thought I really knew then what love meant. Laugh at me!”

“Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” — 1 John 4:20

A priest once told me in Confession something like this, “You love God best when you love your wife most. Before your children, there was her. [Your children] need you to love God in her first. She’s your Sacrament, not them. And they need your Sacrament.”

Christian marriage, like the other sacraments, “whose purpose is to sanctify people, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God,” is in itself a liturgical action glorifying God in Jesus Christ and in the Church. By celebrating it, Christian spouses profess their gratitude to God for the sublime gift bestowed on them of being able to live in their married and family lives the very love of God for people and that of the Lord Jesus for the Church, His bride. — St. John Paul II

That’s what we have tasted, what we aspire to, what we have failed in, repented of and resumed again and again. It’s a quest more thrilling than any other adventure. In our nuptial liturgy divinity and humanity are laboring to love one another on the Cross. The liturgy of marriage, like the Cross, is a place of glory and pain, of rejection and inexhaustible mercy, of infinite grace and fearsome love, of unspeakable joy and total surrender, of beauty and new life, of fear and trust, of darkness and light, of patience and long-suffering.  It’s a ceaseless liturgy that give this world glimpses of Another. I have found that marriage, when one surrenders oneself to its grace, offers an intimacy with Christ that can hardly be justly praised for its grandeur. Even as I was seduced into marriage by my love for Patti, I was simultaneously seduced into another Love.

The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught. — Aidan Kavanagh

Marriage is also, as Pope Francis said, a revolutionary liturgy:

Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion… They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.

We are capable! We who are fashioned in the image of a God who is love are capable of true love, enduring love, love that endures as relentlessly as the Crucified and shines as gloriously as the Risen One. Divine love is the core-gift of marriage and we must daily receive this love as a gift from Christ’s Spirit in hands outstretched and hearts uplifted. Petite, et dabitur vobis: quærite, et invenietis: pulsate, et aperietur vobis — “Ask, and you will receive: seek and you will find: knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

Man is a pauper who needs to beg everything of God. — St. John Vianney

Facie ad faciem, “Face to face”

My grandfather sent us a letter just before our wedding, a letter I’ve quoted before in this blog. When they sent it, Nana and Pop had been married for sixty nine years. Here are the very first lines of his letter:

First and foremost we will follow the time-worn custom of sending you our congratulations. More importantly, my response to Patti’s photograph is “Wow! What took you so long.” Nana’s is more sedate but eloquent with the elegance of her simple honesty: “Patti is a beautiful girl. She has a good character. It is in her face”. I’m not going to attempt improving on that assessment except to say, “Yeah!”

That beautiful face, the face of Patricia Ann, became for me on 10/14/95 the face mine was created to look at, to kiss, to smile with, to cry with, to laugh with. Her face became for me on that day the sacrament of Christ, a shroud bearing the imprint of His paschal gaze. I love that face.

On that day, O Lord, after death has parted us, may Patti and I be eternally reunited in the Garden of your Paradise. With her face beside mine, hands joined, O Lord, may I forever behold your Face through,, with and in hers. May it be so in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Deo gratias.

When I fall in love it will be forever
Or I’ll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it’s begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun

When I give my heart it will be completely
Or I’ll never give my heart
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.

And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I’ll fall in love with you.

— Nat King Cole, “When I Fall in Love” (Our wedding reception theme song)

Patti

58 comments on ““Let me now sing of my friend” — Isaiah 5:1

  1. Jennifer says:

    What a beautiful tribute to Patti and to the sacrament of marriage! May you have a beautiful, blessed day with your beloved. Thank you for sharing your joy with the rest of us!

  2. Jerry Deegan says:

    Happy Anniversary Tom andPatti! What a beautiful couple you are!

  3. Ben Patterson says:

    Amen!

  4. Tim says:

    Thanks for writing this, Tom……..glad to know y’all are out there, exemplifying what God intended…….great picture of Patti……Happy Anniversary……..

  5. Jeane says:

    Happy Anniversary.
    Thanks for your witness.
    Love you guys,
    Jeane & Bo

  6. oneview says:

    Thank you for once again breaking your self-imposed blogging silence to write on this most joyous occasion of your anniversary. Prayers for many, many more years together. I love this:

    “We never could have known that day of our wedding what it meant to love…and I thought I really knew then what love meant. Laugh at me!”

  7. Carol Aina, Dowling Catholic HS says:

    Happy Anniversary!

  8. Sherri Paris says:

    THAT was so beautiful to read!! Your writing is so very much like my husband’s–so kind, gentle, passionate and full of love. You give credit where credit is due–the Lord and all of His goodness that He poured out for you and your wife. He just keeps on giving and giving. Ahh, He is indeed so GOOD. Thank you for that wonderful tribute. Happy Anniversary and may you have many, many more! 😉

  9. Maureen Brown-muir says:

    Beautifully written… Congrats! Happy , happy Anniversary to you and Patti !! Enjoy your Special Day! Peace and Love to All, Maureen Brown-Muir

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  10. Rosary Maker says:

    I always ask myself – regarding suitors — can this person love me as Christ loves his Church? Is the potential there – does there actions move them toward this goal? Thanks to you and Patti for being an example to follow.

  11. WoopieCushion says:

    So glad you violated the silence and invited us into holy ground for your anniversary. Thank you Father for loving us in giving a Tom and Patti Face of Jesus to your Church. Bless them and their children now and forever!

  12. A friend says:

    Beautiful. Thanks as always for laying your heart bare for us on this blog! The two of you should consider going to Ruth’s Chris to celebrate! 🙂

  13. Marva says:

    Wow! What a down to earth marriage you and your wife have.
    May the Lord guard you, and the Virgin Mary smile at you.

  14. Pat Beckett says:

    Hello Tom, I have missed your blog. Your beautiful tribute to the Sacrament of Marriage and to your beautiful bride touched me very deeply and made me cry tears of joy that Bill and I have been able to experience so much of what you described. Your words express that experience in a way that I never could. I will send your blog to our daughters who are still in those early years of finding their way. Much love and prayers, Pat (and Bill)

    • Coming from you I receive that as high praise — one thing I did not mention here are the many couples that have modeled marital fidelity for us over the years; couples whom we have sought to emulate. Your marriage is one of those, unquestionably. Blessings on your family! Love from the Neals, Tom

  15. GuadaGirl says:

    Ahhh wow! wow! I am overjoyed Dr. Neal with this piece in celebrating your many years of marriage to your beloved Patti. I too was in tears for a while getting through the whole piece. But there were tears of great JOY and PEACE. You give me Hope that agape true love is out there and exist and you and Patti are a matrimony living this out. I don’t have the privileged to know you in person but know that you are very much an inspiration to me and pray I meet my significant other who is like you (you are like my Spiritual Father). A virtual hug to you both! You are blessed to have each other to make it into heaven. I am a single young adult lady living in Los Angeles and with this message you give me hope for my future husband and it’s worth the wait.

  16. Ann says:

    Beautifully written, Tom – and thanks for sharing the marvelous pictures. Happy anniversary to you both, and our prayers for many more. We sure do miss you in Des Moines!

  17. Mike Day says:

    Tom, you always were – and continue to be – an inspiration. May the Lord continue to bless you and your beautiful witness of sacramental love in great abundance. Happy anniversary!

  18. Max K says:

    Beautiful post, but the line “When we were married I thought my love for Patti to be so intense and fiery it could never be surpassed” threw me for a loop. I took it to mean you were no longer married or something had happened to her.

  19. Enver says:

    Deo gratias. Thank you for this. Reading it convicts me even further of my call to married life. I was brought to tears by the beauty and sanctity of this call and the unspeakable gratitude to God for calling me, crooked and undeserved as I am. God’s face shed its light upon you two, as it already has through the face of your beloved.

    Love,
    your brother in Christ.

  20. Mike White says:

    Tom, always a blessing to read what you have to share. Our heavenly Father has blessed our Church with the gifts he has bestowed upon you and you bless us when you share them. Your life together with Patti and the very public way you have shared both your joys and sorrows is a great witness to married life and a mirror of Christ’s love for his Church. Happy 19th, and many many more!

    • Thank you, Mike, for your words and (more) your witness with your wife and children to sacrificial, faithful and joyful love! So many great memories with you, funny and profound, that I will always keep. God bless the Whites! Tom

  21. Marie says:

    Dearest Tom,
    As a young undergrad, I was terrified of marriage. I was angry that I felt the Lord calling me to such a vocation. I was resistant to acknowledging His voice in any such matter. But, in His wisdom, be brought me to you and Patti. The two of you spoke to me about what marriage really is, which was in conflict with all I knew and had seen in my own life. With careful eyes, I watched. You were always open that just because we are called does not mean it will be easy always. Years later, as I said my own wedding vows, I said a prayer for you and Patti, for allowing the Lord to minister to others through the witness of the sacrament. This tribute to your marriage and to Patti has me again saying a prayer for you both, and your family. Thank you again for sharing so much of who you are with others. And for the gentle reminders of what this calling is really all about.

    All my love to the Neal family,
    Marie

    • Marie, Thank you for sharing this incredibly beautiful story of grace. What clear and fond memories we have of you from those years! The Neal family, especially Patti and I, send our love to your family…and a hope to see your face again at Mardi Gras. 🙂 Blessings on your family. –Tom

  22. Dearest Tom,

    It is a wonderful post indeed ! Wishing you and Patti happiest wedding anniversary, though belatedly. May the Almighty and ever living Lord Jesus Christ bless both of you abundantly to celebrate many many more happy anniversaries. As one who is from India, looking forward to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary in the ensuing January, I am delighted to know that you both have been together for 19 long years. This only shows that the sacrament of marriage is a life long union of two individuals brought together by the God.

    I pray and wish that you both have a meaningful life together to serve the Lord.

    Best wishes from Aikkarakanayil Augustine Jose, India, aajose2010@gmail.com

    • Thank you for your words and affirmation of the reality that is sacramental marriage, Aikkarakanayil Augustine Jose. I am honored and so grateful to receive wishes from so far. May the Lord bless you richly! Tom

      • aajose says:

        Dearest Tom,

        Thank you very much for your encouraging response. As you know, we are one in Christ Jesus and as such physical distance cannot be a barrier. Let us remember in prayers. Have a God-blessed life ahead. Jose

  23. Sherry says:

    We have 59 years blended by the Lord. Your witness is beautiful. Our time together is only richer every year. May you also be so blessed.

  24. bcoffin says:

    Brandon was right,,,this is powerful. I think I enjoyed it so partially because I suggested my daughter use the Servant Song in her wedding which she did 10 years ago and because for almost 46 years of marriage I too am blessed by a special woman named Patricia Ann.
    And since I’ve been known to pass along good stuff, I emailed/tweeted/fb and scooped it here last week http://www.scoop.it/t/marriage-and-family-catholic-christian

  25. Danielle Simoni says:

    Simply put…this is beautifully powerful. It is definitely something I will share with my husband, as well as all other married couples we know. Such inspiring, truthful words here. Everyone needs to be reminded how beautiful this sacrament is. This is just the article to do that.

  26. Laura T. says:

    What an absolutely beautiful post. And a beautiful lady!
    My husband and I enjoyed reading this together. We celebrate lucky number 13 on Monday. 🙂
    Peace.

  27. scott Smolenski says:

    Tom, How wonderful for you and Patti.

    Scott, Filomena and kids

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