Loving the expanse between them

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[re-post from 2013]

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke

I said to my wife the other day how grateful I am that she knows when I need to be alone, or respects when I am not ready to speak about or deal with something. And vice versa. We then discussed the artful balance in marriage between togetherness and, for lack of a better word, ‘otherness.’ That marriage is unity, not uniformity — is the intertwining of identities to mutual gain, and not the fusion of identities to mutual loss. Love augments good in the other, and it does not diminish or steal from a person’s uniqueness.

The real power of marriage as a path to holiness, for me, is that balance — especially when it involves children — which is truly the ascetic art of love. Two freedoms, two personalities freighted with so much baggage, so many other people and so much history, come together to enter into a common quest of loving a new world into being. The family. It’s a gigantic adventure, soaring and humble, fraught with thrill and danger, haunted by the impending uncertainties of life lived trustingly beneath the wings of Providence.

Once when I was in Omaha, praying in front of the icon of Christ the Teacher, I saw in His eyes that our marriage was an entry into the the inner mystery of His divine-human love, especially His agonizing love in Gethsemane. There His two freedoms — human and divine — struggled mightily, sweat drops of blood beneath the looming shadow of the Cross in order to forge a new creation, founded on the costly unity born of obedient love offered on High as a living sacrifice.

Since we met in 1988, thousands of times our wills have cut cross-grain, sometimes very painfully, when we have found ourselves at odds and had to find a way forward together to achieve a new unity of mind and heart. Now it is so clear to us that all of these cross-cuts have been grace drenched opportunities to enter more deeply into Christ, into the mystery of His divine love that ceaseless labors to create unity with our human love; though only at great cost to both God and Man.

Which is why our marital practice of always stopping to pray when we find ourselves facing a painful disagreement has been life and marriage-saving. Praying breaks the impasse and brings our struggle immediately into Jesus, with confidence that He has already been victorious in that combat of love. His struggle is ours, and ours His.

Deo gratias.

Yet amid all of the various areas of unity we have achieved, our differences abound and remain. Some will hopefully one day be overcome, while others will never be overcome (nor should some of them ever be). Belles différences! All of them, though, as they create tensions, give us fresh opportunity daily to choose love again, to opt for a restless oneness that opens up new and far more interesting spaces with fresh possibilities to create.

But through it all — and this is the greatest grace of all to me — we know one lives for the other, exists for the other, is for the other. My wife is all at once a garden of challenge and of rest, a garden guarded by impregnable trust. Our marriage is fueled by a sacramental fire that burns deep in me for her, and deep in her for me — a fire of éros that drives me out of myself to live in her as lover; a fire of philía that drives me out of myself to walk beside her as friend; a fire of agápe that drives me out of myself to die for her as sacrifice.

This fire is our only hope. Amen.

This is…

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“When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.” — G.K. Chesterton

I can often get sappy here about my family, I know. But family is the soul of existence, the ground and goal of social order, the deepest structure of the Church, and the very inner beauty of God.

It was God who established the Church in order to heal the human family, and take it up into His own Triune Life.

A friend of mine, before she had her first baby, once said to me something like this, “It’s just crazy. A new person I don’t even know, doesn’t know us. My husband and I discerned marriage, spent lots of time deciding whether we were a good fit for each other to be bonded together for life. But our baby? No choice on who this is, on either side. Soon this child will pop into our world and join a family he or she never chose. I don’t even know who this is inside me! I know it’s wonderful and a gift, but it’s really scary…”

I added, “Yes! Mystery is the flip side of every true gift. Get ready for the ride of a lifetime…”

Sell your cleverness, and purchase bewilderment.

 

Mashley, in video

The Friends section! (Maria’s sister Catherine on the right)

Seminarian Big Brothers, Dr. Jennifer!

As I share Ashley and (my daughter) Maria’s Saturday night concert video, I thought this letter by author Kurt Vonnegut was a perfect way of expressing what, for me, was the greatest part of this night — their leap in soul-growth as artists performing live, raw, real, one-take…

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is Maria’s edited selection of clips of footage taken by Ashley’s grandfather (he did not get everything). It was recorded in the middle of the crowd so there’s lots of mixed-in sounds, but you will catch the vibe!!

Enjoy! ❤

Disability is not the last word on life

[still a busy week that will be tough for writing, but I felt moved to share this video]

How eloquent are your words for us today, Lord of life and hope! Every human limitation is ransomed and redeemed in you. Thanks to you, disability is not the last word on life. Love is the last word; it is your love that gives meaning to life. Help us to turn our hearts to you; help us to recognize your face shining in every human creature, however tried by toil, hardship and suffering. Make us understand that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” — St. John Paul II

“Still, at a cultural level there are still expressions that offend the dignity of the person and that maintain a false concept of life. An often narcissistic and utilitarian view, unfortunately, increasingly leads to the consideration of people with disabilities as marginal, without seeing in them the multifaceted human and spiritual wealth that they possess. There is still a strong attitude of rejection of this condition in the collective mentality, as though it prevented the individual from being happy and self-fulfilled. Proof of this is the eugenic tendency to eliminate the unborn child that shows some form of imperfection. In fact, we all know many people who, even in their fragility and with great effort, have found the way to live a good life and richly meaningful life.” — Pope Francis

Un-mute this video it as it begins:

Sheer grace

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[This post from 2013 came to mind as I showed the video below to a friend last week]

“There is your brother, naked and crying! And you stand confused over choice of floor covering.”— St. Ambrose

I met a woman recently who shared with me the story of her husband’s infidelity, and their subsequent journey of reconciliation. It was breathtaking. I asked her if I could share the insights from the story with my readers and she graciously agreed. Here is what I later wrote down, written in her voice.

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It didn’t just happen overnight. It was a slow drift, years. We had just grown apart, gotten busy, had developed other interests. We got comfortable is the best way to say it. Nothing ever bad or hurtful, he was kind to me and I to him. And I just thought, okay, maybe this is just what happens for some couples. I had the kids and friends and church, and I found ways to deal with no intimacy. But I can see now that we both just stopped fighting for each other, for what our marriage was. And then he did that and it shattered my entire world.

After all of this happened, and he left the other woman, I found out I had cancer and then he lost his job. It seemed like everything we had relied on, the comforts and securities of life, had been ripped out of our hands. And suddenly everything we had once thought important and safe just fell away. What we did have was each other, and we had our children, family, friends, faith. I know its sounds so cliche, but only when everything collapses do you really see life is so damned fragile, teetering on the edge of a cliff. Clearly it took that to shake us awake. Thanks be to God it didn’t tear us apart in the end. That’s sheer grace, let me tell you.

During the time of my health crisis, I could see so clearly that our priorities before all this happened were totally out of whack. The frenetic press of life we kept up to acquire material comforts, our compulsive busyness (which was really distracting us from our misery), taking each other for granted, all of this had made it so easy for anything to pull the rug out from under us. We had lost each other over the years and he fell. But really, we fell. I can see both of our responsibility for it now. Never could have then.

After I found out about his cheating, I was so angry and bitter. I wanted to punish him bad. I wanted to spend all of his money, ruin his reputation and leave him impoverished. Even after he came back and begged my forgiveness when he’d left her. But then the cancer struck, and he lost his job. And everything just looked so different.

I remember one time we sat alone in the oncologist’s office waiting forever for the doctor to come, and we were just silent. I know he was guilt ridden, and I was angry, felt alone and terrified. You could have cut the air with a knife. And then he just broke down, and then I broke down, and we embraced and sobbed. I forgave him, and he received that through his tears. We knew all we had was each other. Again, sheer grace.

For me, now, that’s where God is most present — between two people who having nothing left but love. But each other.

When you share this, my message to everyone is, check your priorities. If everything was taken away from you, but you could keep just one thing, what would be left? What would it be? Then ask yourself, is your life built around that one thing, or something else? Fight for it. Don’t wait. And ask God to help before it’s too late.

Thank you for offering

[I had written this post a while ago, but did not feel it was complete. A friend of mine sent me this quote today. Now it’s complete, on this Feast of the Presentation]

The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all.  — Pope Benedict XVI

A week after my wife experienced her first miscarriage, the pastor of our parish asked me and my wife Patti if we would be willing to bring up the gifts of bread and wine during Mass at the Offertory. As we brought the gifts up and approached him, he said very quietly to us, “Thank you for giving your child back to God,” and blessed us.

When he placed those gifts on the Altar, returning them to God, I knew they were no longer ours. They never were. Living Fire, salty tears mingled.

It was an extraordinary moment to feel so viscerally the seamless unity of human life and Divine Liturgy, of tragedy and redemption; to hear God gently inviting us to let go; to discover in the darkness of the death of your child the kindly light of hope found in a simple gesture of offering the castles and ruins of life to God for safe keeping.

It was also extraordinary to experience such tenderness in that priest, such sensitivity to suffering. While I don’t remember much about the many (excellent) homilies he gave over the years we knew him, I will always remember those words.

As he prayed the preface to the Eucharistic prayer and came to the words, “Lift up your hearts!” — I thought, yes, I have lifted my heart up to the Lord. Our child. “I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you” (Philemon 12).

May you, our child, rest with the Son in the love of your Father unto the endless ages of eternity. Pray we one day see your face, His Face, in love’s triumph. Amen.