The lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. A mentality that can only say, “Then was then, now is now”, is ultimately immature. Knowing and judging past events is the only way to build a meaningful future. Memory is necessary for growth: “Recall the former days” (Heb 10:32). Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country.
A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future. “A society that has no room for the elderly or discards them because they create problems, has a deadly virus”; “it is torn from its roots”. Our contemporary experience of being orphans as a result of cultural discontinuity, uprootedness and the collapse of the certainties that shape our lives, challenges us to make our families places where children can sink roots in the rich soil of a collective history. — Pope Francis
This last week, I taught my last Sacrament of Marriage class of the semester at the Seminary. It was my first time teaching this course, and I must say that teaching it was significantly life-changing for me. We explored things like the rich theology of marriage in the Catholic tradition; marriage in art (using the movie Shadowlands); same-sex marriage; pre-marital cohabitation; marriage-friendly sub-culture; single parent families; broken marriages; the spirituality of marriage in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition; marriage decline among Millennials.
We spent two weeks on Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” and all agreed Chapter Four should be made into a booklet for marriage prep and marriage enrichment everywhere. In fact, it is a superb examination of conscience for couples. Patti and I will continue to reflect on snippets of it in our daily evening “bubble” for years to come.
Okay, so let me tell the Faithful of the Deep South, the region of the U.S. our Seminary serves: you are in for a treat when these men are (God willing) ordained to diaconate and priesthood. Whoa! These men “get” that marriage and family is the epicenter of the New Evangelization, and they bring a realism, a passion and a vision for marriage and family that will super-abundantly bless the parishes they come to.
My favorite class of the whole semester was the last one. After a brief discussion on Millennials, I offered a final wrap-up lecture and then my wife came to respond to questions students had on marriage and family life. I sat in the back of the room and kept silent as she shared her wisdom with all the energy and authenticity and beauty of her feminine genius. Though she and I have in the past spoken to groups about marriage and family, it was really remarkable to hear her reflect on what 22 years of marriage and 29 years of friendship meant to her for these future priests. It was a transcendent experience for me.
Over the years I have said to couples I know — have your spouse speak to other people about your relationship in front of you, and vice versa, and it will open up whole new perspectives on your life together. My paternal grandparents did it all the time when I would visit them as a child and as an adult and it was beautiful to see and hear! After Patti and I got engaged, we would call them fairly frequently and they would have us rolling with laughter, or choked up with emotion, as they spoke about each other and their life together. My grandfather (Pop), at the time married to Nana for 69 years, wrote Patti and me a 34-page handwritten letter a few weeks before our wedding day. It was jam-packed with advice and stories. Here’s a section from this letter that deeply influenced us both:
Let your children hear from each of you about your love for each other. Your marriage is their story, not only your own. They must learn from your example and from words that explain your example. Remember that it is together you hold them up. Don’t leave the storytelling of marriage and family to radio, TV or school. Tell them yourself what is love, what is faith, what is hardship, what is joy, what is sorrow, what is fidelity, what is infidelity, what is the glue that binds you together, what are the wedges that drive you apart and what are the sutures that stitch you back together again. Telling stories is the most important way for you both to help them see the world through your eyes. Giving children vision is a mother and father’s weightiest noblesse oblige … Tell them our story, the glories and the sorrows …
As I have quoted here often, he ended his letter with what I consider immortal words. I will end this reflection with those words and with one of Nana and Pop’s favorite songs:
God bless you both and your love and marriage. But take it from an old man, but a wise one: From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules; there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I”, “me”, “my”, “mine”. Only “us”, “ours”. I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends. There is and always has been the union of all singular pronouns into a composite image of joy, happiness and fidelity which floods our togetherness which has never lost the first moment of magnetic reverence and worship which blanked out all the world and its occupants. And for over 69 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity. So, Tom and Patti, to you we bequeath our heritage, our fidelity and reverence for each other and our gratefulness to God for bringing us together.