“…entering the kingdom of God before you…” Matthew 21:31

2.1-17_Wedding_feast_at_Cana_Johns_gospelJan_Vermeyen

Jesus eating with sinners

God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. — Catechism #1257

We know that Jesus himself ate and drank with sinners (cf. Mk 2:16; Mt 11:19), conversed with a Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:7-26), received Nicodemus by night (cf. Jn 3:1-21), allowed his feet to be anointed by a prostitute (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and did not hesitate to lay his hands on those who were sick (cf. Mk 1:40-45; 7:33). The same was true of his apostles, who did not look down on others, or cluster together in small and elite groups, cut off from the life of their people. — Amoris Laetitia #289

Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality. — Amoris Laetitia #305

I was speaking to someone early last week about Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, which is something I really enjoy doing. This person is Catholic, but the vast majority of her co-workers and friends and relatives practice no faith at all. She herself was raised in a very hard home situation. She’s very bright, teaches literature at a college, loves to write and returned to her Catholic faith a number of years ago. She considers herself a “permanent seeker” because she was raised in an ocean of unbelief which was, as she says it, “kneaded into my marrow and so is hard to totally shake.” She’s quite remarkable, super-honest, incisive and on point, and we have had some of the most refreshingly candid conversations over the years.

I asked her if I could share this one point she made, and she agreed. She shared especially her frustration over what she perceives as the lack of realism among some Catholic pundit-elites who have been railing against the Pope (or the “idiots” who try to make the Pope push their own anti-church agendas). I think the point she makes in my excerpt below is more of an intuition than an argument. While it certainly does not answer the more important technical questions in Amoris about, for example, Communion for the divorced and remarried, I believe it’s a very powerful insight and captures what I consider to be the pastoral genius of Pope Francis. She said (as I recall),

Pope Francis has brought a message of hope to people who find themselves stuck in nearly hopeless dysfunction and complications — their fault or not. People who can’t imagine a seemingly pristine religion of good and saintly people having any place in their yucky life. To me, his message to people like this is: the real Jesus meets you right where you are, right now, and loves you exactly there. He wants to pick you up and take the next best step with you, no matter how incredibly small it is. You don’t have to wait for your life to get fixed first, or match up with all the moral standards, to start feeling you can be holy and worthy. It can start now, in the worst wreckage. Isn’t that where Jesus made the world right?

I think the Pope’s saying: just set aside just for a moment questions about who gets Communion, which canon laws apply or not here and there, and let’s meet the human being where they are, as they are. Let’s show them Jesus wants to eat a meal with them right now. Alright, not Communion yet, maybe, but still a real meal. Right? Not the Real Presence but He’s still really present. And He’s hanging out right in the middle of the sinner’s dinner, long before we get to the Last Supper, and salvation is already there. No matter how furious the Pharisees grow, He’s free to spread His riches as He wishes.

My niece is on her third marriage with as many children, and she seems to have finally found a decent guy who treats her well and holds a job and loves her kids. Her life is really messed up. So is his. But Francis tells me I can invite her back to church today and let her know that God is ready to take her back today and fill her with all His love, even though her life’s still so far off the mark. It’s not that we say everything’s okay, or don’t worry about the annulment. It’s that we say, “God loves you when everything’s not okay and loves you in every step you take forward; in every time you fall back and get up again. He never quits loving.” And even if you die still muddling around, there can be holiness.

Imagine telling people far from the mark there can still be holiness for them here and now. That’s awesome, more hopeful than many critics of the Pope would ever realize. I am convinced that unless you share life with people in desperate situations all the time, you really cannot read Amoris this way; or get its core point. The Pope’s lived with people like that for a long time. The Jubilee of Mercy is designed for people who seem stuck in merciless hells.

I already let my niece know that the Pope says to her — even if she’s not ready for Communion or Confession with all her and his unresolved marriages — God’s mercy is everywhere and God loves her just as infinitely today as He will the on the day she, God willing, can take Communion again. I’ve got her praying now and reading the Bible, and the next step is back to Mass. So far so good. She’s loving finding herself loved. Repentance only comes, it seems, when that is known first…

Fr. Tom Hopko echoed this point:

A woman once wrote me: “Some people seem to come out of the womb with a spiritual silver spoon in their mouths. Yeah, maybe they have huge trials, but they also are holy from their childhood. They have all the advantages that leave them inclined to make good use of all the graces they’ve been showered with. Others get to be used and abused and never even have a choice. And never get to be saints, because they’re just too damaged. If, as the Church teaches, God calls us all to be saints, why is it that he lets some people to get so damaged by life that the best they can do is stumble around the rocks at the foot of the spiritual mountain, never able to trust God enough to make it up the mountain?”

But I would dare to say, maybe that’s the vocation! And if a person still stumbles around the foot of the mountain, and they’re still at the foot of the mountain, and they still have enough sense to know that they’re never going to make it up, my guess is that that person is a saint. That person will be saved. Man, according to the Holy Fathers, if you know that you’re a sinner and you can’t do anything, you’re already saved. You’re saved. If you’re stumbling around the foot of the mountain, you’re saved. You’re a saint. Who knows, maybe you’ll get on an icon one day. Probably not, but that doesn’t matter. It really does not matter. It shouldn’t matter in any case, and if it does matter, then 99.9% of us are in huge trouble if that’s what matters. It doesn’t matter.

I love Fr. Tom.

I will end with that stunning selection from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment that I have quoted three times in this blog before. The book is a must-read! In this scene, Marmaladov, a drunkard and despicable lout who allows his own daughter to take up prostitution to feed the family, and spends her money on alcohol, gives voice to Dostoevsky’s vision of divine mercy that comes to full flower in the midst of the Last Judgment:

…And He will forgive my Sonya, He will forgive, I know it. I felt it in my heart when I was with her just now! And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek. And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us. “You too come forth,” He will say, “Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!” And we shall come forth without shame and shall stand before Him, and He will say unto us, “Ye are swine made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!” And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, “O Lord, why dost thou receive these men?” And He will say, “This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.” And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him and we shall weep and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!… and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even… she will understand…Lord, Thy kingdom come!

St. Augustine said, “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts are meaningless.”

Yes.

Iconic meditations

Let me give the words a rest and allow images to prevail. A self indulgent post as these are a few of my favorite things. All taken with my phone. Under each picture is a brief commentary.

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I drove by this field in New Orleans last week.

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Last November near our home.

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At the pump station along the levee just after a flooding rain

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No comment needed

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After that same storm, looking down the very full canal

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Brunch at the home of dear friends

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My daughter Catherine’s art before completion (note it’s made of the letters of her name)

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After completion

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Epitome of my humor

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My daughter’s annual Christmas building project

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An Icon in the Omaha Cathedral of St. Cecilia. By means of this icon Christ, back in the summer of 2013, taught me two things. First, how to accept being looked *into* by those all-seeing Eyes. Second, how to accept being looked into with love, without shame. From that I concluded icons are not windows for looking into Heaven, but windows for being looked into by Heaven.

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Hope for the flowers

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On an expansive and abandoned parking lot in Metairie, there grew this one and only sign of life. I had to stop and take a picture. Even in its total isolation, surrounded by an inhospitable concrete wasteland, this plant had proffered its blooms upward in hope of discovery, offering joy to unsuspecting observers and the tiniest of inquiring pollinators. But its real secret was hidden beneath that tiny split in the concrete, in the humble trust of its deep roots sunk into soils both damp and welcoming. I thought of Jeremiah 17:8:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.

St. John of the Cross, while he was imprisoned by his own Carmelite Order for 9 months in a latrine-made-cell, said that God “made it a place of springs.” He was deprived of the Sacraments and his Breviary, starved and insulted. But it was precisely within the wasteland of that cell that John discovered within himself a superabundant spring of living waters — waters Jesus Himself had promised another exile from humanity, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:14).

All of us who have been baptized into Christ contain within us the boundless riches of the New Creation, as we have been made temples of the life-giving Trinity (John 14:23; 1 Cor. 6:19; Rev. 22:1-2). No matter how dry, inhospitable or lifeless our surroundings, every Christian must know that within him are the Gates of Eden (Gen. 2:10; 3:24; Rev. 22:2). As St. Symeon the New Theologian says, “Life in the Spirit is nothing other than cultivating in our bodies and souls a fresh Paradise in which God can again walk with us in the cool breeze of evening” (Gen. 3:8).

Sometimes the journey within, by which we discover and unearth the buried Kingdom (Matt. 13:44), requires our being left for a time in an outward desert. It was only in the desert of imprisonment that St. John of the Cross was able to compose the mystical poetry that gave stunning evidence to the vehement beauty of the living Fountain within him. It was in what he called the “vast and silent desert” that he said he finally succumbed and, by saying Yes, unsealed within himself the upwelling River of Life that waters the virtues within. And he permitted his own life to become a “river in the desert” that made the deserts of Spain, and the whole world, bloom in bright meadows (Isaiah 35:1, 6-7).

Life’s barren deserts, in God’s paschal providence, become the privileged invitations to discover the beauty that lies within. Once this living Spring is discovered and embraced, we can then turn back with serene confidence to all who people and circumstances that seek to deprive us of joy or life or freedom and permit God to pour out on them His torrents of mercy through us. How wildly marvelous of God to always desire most to bless our enemies through us. Then, above all, we become sacramental signs of Christ’s ongoing dying and rising (2 Cor. 4:11-12).

Some related wisdom from Henri Nouwen:

It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone. The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ and allow him to unseal within us the fountain of baptism. He has preceded us there and made it a place of life. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1).

I will leave you today with a lovely and meditative musical rendition of a poem St. John composed while in prison, “I Know a Well.” It captures perfectly the heart of my attempted insight.

Mind-blowing immensity

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One who seeks to comprehend God is like someone who finds himself on a mountain ridge. Imagine a sheer, steep crag, of reddish appearance below, extending into eternity; on top there is this ridge which looks down over a projecting rim into a bottomless chasm. Now imagine what a person would probably experience if he put his foot on the edge of this ridge which overlooks the chasm and found no solid footing nor anything to hold on to. This is what I think the soul experiences when it goes beyond its footing in material things, in its quest for that which has no dimension and which exists from all eternity. From here there is nothing it can take hold of, neither place nor time, neither measure nor anything else; it does not allow our minds to approach. And thus the soul, slipping at every point from what cannot be grasped, becomes dizzy and perplexed and returns once again to what is connatural to it, content now to know merely this about the Transcendent, that it is completely different from the nature of the things that the soul knows. — St. Gregory of Nyssa

Today I was, for whatever reason, overcome by an overwhelming sense of God’s immensity, along with a sense that the unthinkable vastness of our cosmic home is but an inkling of that immensity. As you saw in my opening quote, to give voice to this inner intuition I turned to St. Gregory of Nyssa. He always delivers. But whenever I try to articulate a deep intuition like this, I always feel I am somehow carrying out, to use Thomas Merton’s expressive phrase, “raids on the unspeakable.” As if I am doing violence to something that is better left in silence. So what I will do to minimize my act of violence is share three artistic works that seem to get at what I’ve sensed today: (1) a textual selection from the Liturgy of St. Basil, (2) a 7 minute NASA recording of “cosmic music” and (4) Cynthia Clawson’s rendition of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (with lyrics below video).

If you have a few minutes, I hope you can allow all three to sweep over you.

How great is our God.

Master, Lord, God, worshipful Father almighty,
it is truly just and right to the majesty of Your holiness
to praise You, to hymn You, to bless You, to worship You,
to give thanks to You, to glorify You, the only true God,
and to offer to You this our spiritual worship
with a contrite heart and a humble spirit.
For You have given us to know Your truth.
Who is worthy to praise Your mighty acts?
Or to make known all Your praises?
Or tell of all Your wonderful deeds at all times?
Master of all things, Lord of heaven and earth,
and of every creature visible and invisible,
You are seated upon the throne of glory and behold the depths.
You are without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible,
beyond words, unchangeable.
You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is the great God and Savior of our hope,
the image of Your goodness,
the true seal of revealing in Himself You, the Father.
He is the living Word, the true God, eternal wisdom, life,
sanctification, power, and the true light.
Through Him the Holy Spirit was manifested,
the Spirit of truth, the gift of Sonship, the pledge of our future inheritance,
the first fruits of eternal blessings, the life giving power,
the source of sanctification through whom every
rational and spiritual creature is made capable of worshiping You
and giving You eternal glorification, for all things are subject to You.
For You are praised by the angels, archangels, thrones,
dominions, principalities, authorities, powers,
and the many eyed Cherubim.
Round about You stand the Seraphim, one with six wings
and the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces;
with two they cover their feet; with two they fly,
crying out to one another with unceasing voices and ever-resounding praises…

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand
Ponder nothing worldly minded
For with blessing in His hand

Christ our God to Earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand

At His feet the six-winged Seraph
Cherubim with watchful eye
Veil their faces to His presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry:

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Lord, Most High!”

House of Gold and Pope Francis

I could not help but smile when I read this paragraph in Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia:

As the word of God tells us, “a man leaves his father and his mother” (Gen 2:24). This does not always happen, and a marriage is hampered by the failure to make this necessary sacrifice and surrender. Parents must not be abandoned or ignored, but marriage itself demands that they be “left”, so that the new home will be a true hearth, a place of security, hope and future plans, and the couple can truly become “one flesh”. In some marriages, one spouse keeps secrets from the other, confiding them instead to his or her parents. As a result, the opinions of their parents become more important than the feelings and opinions of their spouse. This situation cannot go on for long, and even if it takes time, both spouses need to make the effort to grow in trust and communication. Marriage challenges husbands and wives to find new ways of being sons and daughters.

I smiled because it touches on what I have found to be one of the most challenging parts of getting married and having a family: negotiating your relationships with families-of-origin. I know this is a universal challenge, as I have spent uncountable hours speaking with other married men and women about their own struggles with how to interrelate their own marriage and family with their parents and extended family members. By coincidence, just after I read this portion of Amoris Laetitia I went to see the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which is all about that struggle. Not as funny as the first one, in my opinion.

Years ago, I knew a man who had a very controlling mother. When he was dating a young lady and got engaged, she was clearly jealous of the relationship and made the man feel caught between her and his fiancée. It was very painful to watch. His fiancée finally said to him, “It’s either her or me.” He was tortured by this ultimatum. But one day something absolutely remarkable happened. He and his fiancée were in a public parking lot and a man came up to them demanding money while threatening them at gunpoint. He said it was in that moment, when he realized he would take a bullet for her, that he knew his choice. He called his mother up that night and told her that if she was going to force him to choose, he was going to choose his wife-to-be.

My wife and I often say to each other that we want our children to fly, to discover their own life callings, grow and flourish, and that our greatest hope is that they always find in our home, and our love for them, an anchor, a refuge, a safe place where they can be themselves, know they are loved and supported; where they can share any struggle or any joy. It’s hard! My two sons will be in college this Fall. It’s hard! My daughters are flying through high school. It’s hard! I want them to stay, I want them to go. I want to hold on, I want to let go. I want them to want to stay, I want them to want to go. The words of that Sting song come to mind here: “If you love somebody set them free.”

Okay, so I know you will be very surprised but there’s yet another Twenty One Pilots song that now comes to mind as I am writing this post — House of Gold. My 89 year old mom loves this song. lol. It’s all about the tensions between a mother and a son. The mother wants her son to stay near home and promise to take care of her when she is old and her husband dies, while the son is anxious to set out into life to discover his unique calling. The son clearly loves his mother dearly and wants to promise her everything, but feels torn (literally!) as he also wants to go out and begin a music career (“be a bum so I just might become someone”). The music video is both comedic and macabre, and admits of no resolve in the end.

So with no other better idea as to how to end this reflection today, I will share the wild music video. Enjoy:

Calluses and dusty prayer

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A truly humble person ought to be ashamed to resent whatever is said or done against him; for it is the greatest shame in the world to see that our Creator bears so many insults from His creatures, and that we resent even a little word that is contradictory. – St. Teresa of Avila

My spiritual director back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was the most important mentor I have had in my life. He walked me through the “valley of the shadow of death,” and helped me discover hope. And he was a saintly priest who exemplified charity and humility in the most amazing ways.

He was a parish priest whose first love was being a pastor. Part of his priestly ministry in the latter years of his life was to take into his rectory priests who had grown bitter or burned out, and love them back to life. * Every morning, when I would stay overnight at his rectory, I would see him already praying in the tiny rectory chapel at 5:00 a.m. Often he would be holding the parish directory, which he kept next to his Breviary to pray for his parishioners by name. * It was his personal philosophy to not own a car that was better than those owned by his poorest parishioners. * I was with him once when he got pulled over by a cop for speeding. The officer offered to waive his traffic violation ticket when he noticed he was a priest. He said, “No, I’m a priest not a prince. Why should I get any perks my people do not?” I think the cop got choked up. He followed through with that philosophy through on everything. * He would wander around the neighborhoods of his parish territory several mornings a week and enter bars, clothing stores, restaurants, car repair shops — the haunts of his people — and speak with them, joke with them, bless them, hear their confessions on the spot or gently ask them why they have not been at church recently. Long before Catholics Come Home, he was already in the streets seeking the strays. * Once he said to me about his own prayer life, devoid of sweetness, “Tom, I have eaten dust in my prayer for 20 years. But [he said with a wry smile] it’s my own fault. I pray each day that God give me the grace ‘to give and not to count the cost,’ and He answered my prayer. Be ready when you ask for a grace to receive it.”

Though his prayer may have been bitter, the fruits born in his life and ministry were sweeter than honey. What a marvelous and mysterious exchange love effects! Long before Pope Francis, he was a missionary of mercy. It was all a wonder to see.

I would write down his aphorisms in my journal to pray on later. So many! Each was like open heart surgery. Let me share four today that were on humility.

Remember Tom that once you think you’re humble, you’ve lost it. Humility forgets it’s even there.

The best litmus test of humility is how you take criticism. Yes, you’re so humble, Tom, when everyone praises you, likes you, affirms you. Yes, you deflect those things. But if you are honest, you know you secretly feed on them. But the moment someone criticizes you, disapproves of your behavior or opinion, you throw up walls, protests. You’ll know you’re humble when praise and blame are both equally welcome. In the mean time, make your lack of humility a cause for humility!

When I came to my parish here, the secretary, who had been here for over 20 years, gave me this advice: “Father, let the people know no job is to low for you and you’ll have their trust. Let them see you clean toilets now and again.” There’s a terrible clerical saying — “These hands were made for chalices not calluses.” But Jesus, His hands would have been hard and worn.

Whenever anyone compliments you on any one of your gifts or talents, say to yourself: “How much God must love them to give me these gifts.” Because it’s not about you, Tom.

“You have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev. 2:4)

Sts. Joachim and Anne. pinimg.com

The married couple forms an intimate community of life and love established by the Creator in their irrevocable personal consent. Both give themselves definitively and totally to one another. They are no longer two; from now on they form one flesh. The covenant they freely contracted imposes on the spouses the obligation to preserve it as unique and indissoluble. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” … St. John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should 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.” — Catechism #2364-65

After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the greatest form of friendship — St. Thomas Aquinas, quoted in Amoris Laetitia #123

I know a Catholic gentleman who has been a divorce lawyer for several decades. I asked him what he would say are the top reasons marriages end in divorce. He said lots of amazing things, some of which I wrote down later in my journal. Here’s a segment of his feedback:

There are lots of major factors, for sure, like money, infidelity, addictions or family of origin issues. Or maybe even psychological or physical abuse. But I found that behind many of the failed marriages that show up in my office is a slower story of how the couple drifted apart over time.

Like the proverbial frog being gradually boiled to death, the spousal relationship gets de-centered and other priorities begin to take precedence. Children and work usually loom large. For women it tends more to be the children, for men it’s more the work. Though this varies of course. This process of displacement can begin when one spouse — or both — begins to take the other for granted. “Okay, you’re not going anywhere so I can relax.” They stop working at the marriage and just coast along. You can’t coast in marriage — stagnation is regress. Usually one spouse coasts more than the other.

Then hairline cracks begin to open up. Things like the peculiar habits and quirks of one spouse begin to grate on the other. Irritants inevitably arise in any marriage in those first few month and years. You know, you start to be yourself, let your guard down over time, get sloppy with each other. It’s true that love is mostly in the details, and when you stop attending to details they begin to loom large. Also, when you go into default mode, coasting, those dysfunctional habits you picked up from your own families start to become your new autopilot. You swore you’d never become the worst parts of your dad or mom, but there you are; and you’ve stopped caring enough to work it through.

The guarantee to failure is, instead of dealing with these initial problems directly and quickly, allowing them fester or seethe under the surface. One spouse, or both, tolerate things they shouldn’t. Maybe hoping they will go away, or just not wanting to deal with the conflict of confronting hard issues. Anger and resentment build up. Spouses will often pick up crappy coping mechanisms to medicate the pain or emptiness, or find distractions in work or children or busyness or just zoning out. Watching TV, surfing the Internet, being on social media excessively. Or sometimes in more dangerous things like addictions to alcohol or pornography. Other times they begin to satisfy their need for emotional intimacy with others, and that can also be very dangerous. Sometimes these widening rifts make the relationship more volatile, and the couple fights or nitpicks all the time. Usually over stupid stuff that’s symptomatic of bigger things. Other times couples just grow cold and aloof, living like strangers in the same house.

All this is going on, but they’re not getting help. Or one wants to or is, but the other refuses.

Then there’s usually some trigger, a major stressor that comes in — like unemployment or a death in their family or an empty nest that leaves them alone with each other. Or infidelity. They find themselves faced with some crisis. But with few resources left to draw on, things can quickly unravel. They’ve squandered their most important relational resources for dealing with stress together. If they’ve learned to cope, they’ve learned to cope on their own, without each other. They suddenly discover in crisis that they had long ago ceased to operate as a unit, as a couple. The crisis exposes all the damage to the light. If they don’t seek help in this moment, there’s little hope for restoration.

I also find there are some core issues that are nearly universal. Often I hear the wife say, “He didn’t put me first anymore in his life. I was like an afterthought.” And the husband might say, “She didn’t respect me anymore, all she did was find fault with everything I did.” What both are really saying to each other is, “You don’t love me anymore.”

Though I obviously don’t get into counseling, I am often put in that role. When one or both come to my office for the first time, I usually recommend they go to counseling before they call it quits. And I usually say, “Before you finalize the end of your marriage, make sure you know what you are about to lose, why you lost it and decide if it’s worth finding again.” But so often, by the time I see them, the hurt is so raw and acute, the damage so extensive, they’ve forgotten there’s anything good left at all that’s worth saving. Sometimes they’ll say they can’t even really recall why they married in the first place. Or if they do, it’s like a distant memory from another life. The life that has died.”

When my wife and I went through marriage preparation, the Bishop who married us said to us over lunch one day, “Two-in-one-flesh isn’t some sacramental miracle God performs on your wedding day. It’s hard work. Don’t have any illusions. You don’t become one overnight.” Then he put a hand on each of our shoulders, looked back and forth at both of us, and said, “The two people sitting at this table right now are where everything starts and ends.” Then he said, “Patti’s face and Tom’s face will be the first thing you see every morning, and the last thing you see every night. I want you both to promise me that every single day you will remind your families, your friends, your employers and one day your children that [pointing at Patti] she comes first and [pointing at me] he comes first. Agreed? [Yes!] Everything else will follow.”

O God, may it always be, every day that: