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As a child, I imagined a world of eventualities for myself. I would be a famous writer (of course). I would probably live in New York, because that’s where writers lived (or so I believed). When I was terribly young, I accepted the fact that I might marry and have kids, because that’s what people do. By the time I was teenager, however, I’d changed my mind: I would never marry and never have kids. I was a product of the late ‘60s and ‘70s — a proto-feminist, cultural daughter of Ms. magazine and Free to Be, You and Me. I was woman!

The one thing I never expected became the thing I got — a love story of the grandest and rarest sort. I met my (now) husband shortly after my 20th birthday, and married him at 23. We have, in many ways, grown up together. After 31 years together, we are still ecstatically in love. My husband is my best friend, my “happily ever after.” He is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

Until we were well into our 30s, strangers would ask if we were newlyweds; we still walk hand-in-hand everywhere we go. When I finish a slice of pizza, he cuts me another of the exact size and proportion that I am craving — sometimes comprising just the crust — and when I cut him a quizzical look, he says, “Well, duh!” or “Like I’m a separate person from you!” We engage in mental telepathy on a regular basis, crack each other up with inside jokes that bewilder outsiders. We don’t socialize. We don’t go to parties. We prefer each other’s company over any other in all the world.

I know this is a terrifyingly rare and fragile gift. The idea of losing him, ever, leaves me breathless. I’ve sworn him, on many occasions, to a pact in which I get to die first. Ideally, however, we would die within moments of each other, when we are quite elderly, having lived out one of the world’s greatest romances. You know, the kind of thing they used to write up in newspapers, the sort of phenomenon that still makes a splash on social media.

I can also honestly say that my husband has brought me into closer relationship with God. His decision to convert to Catholicism (having spent most of his life as an agnostic) reengaged me with my own faith, made me fall in love with the Church all over again. My husband encourages me to follow my heart — to give money to strangers, even if they turn out to be disingenuous, to serve a community of women religious despite their geographical distance from us, to pray for other people because he believes my prayers are strong ones. I once heard a priest remark that the primary function of a marriage is to make sure one’s spouse makes it into heaven. If I ever achieve such lofty heights, it is due at least in part to my husband. (Though my mother deserves a big shout-out here, too. Thanks, Mom.)

A former co-worker once dismissed my marriage as “boring,” as compared to her “rollercoaster” of a union (which ended shortly thereafter). I tried to explain it to her: How I married Owen because he is a good person, and, as Socrates once explained, true love can only be love of the good. Good is enduring. Good is of God. Can a marriage really be both sacred and sanctifying? Yes. Yes, it can.

Happy birthday, honey.

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There is a very real temptation to constantly focus on what the Catholic Church does wrong. And wrongness in the Church does abound: from statements of non-inclusivity by those who ought to know better to crimes against innocent children. But there are heroes, many heroes, whose praises ought to be sung. Let’s let the rafters shake:

  • For the religious men and women of India, the Middle East and Africa. It takes tenacious bravery to live your faith in regions of the world where 71-year-old nuns are raped and their convents ransacked. There is nothing on earth that can rationalize such acts. God be with these courageous men and women.
  • For our Pope, Francis, who continues to speak with boldness on subjects such as mercy and acceptance and social justice, going so far as to call failure to provide living wages a mortal sin. I am proud that Francis is my Papa.
  • For all the men and women who will become Catholics at the Easter Vigil this year. There are more than 200 of them in the Wichita area alone. My husband is one of them. It takes guts to choose, with open eyes, a faith tradition with such a rich history, both good and bad. Catholicism has been celebrated and deeply maligned, even through the first half of the 20th century, when Catholics were not allowed to teach at public schools, when crosses were burnt on the lawns of Catholics by hate groups, when riots by Lutherans targeted Catholics in major cities across America. The same anti-Christian bias continues around the world. These men and women are taking a real chance in walking away from their previous lives and into the Church: One of the women in my husband’s group is being shunned by her family, who are all Mormons. Additionally, members of our parish have taken significant time out of their lives to act as sponsors to these candidates — my husband’s sponsor is an amazing example of faith in action, deeply involved in parish life and a busy husband and father to boot. This change, this decision to enter the Church, has called for a heavy investment of time and spiritual energy by the RCIA candidates. This is not something entered into lightly. I am so proud of them. While I am eternally grateful to be a “cradle Catholic,” I cannot imagine the fortitude and faith required to take this leap as an adult.
  • To all the good shepherds out there, including our own pastor, who deal daily with budget shortfalls and the pressing needs of their sheep with good humor and holiness. There are an awful lot of them out there. You don’t hear news stories about them. They are unsung heroes.
  •  To all the faithful who struggle with the Church’s teachings yet hang on, hoping for change. To all of us who keep the ship sailing ahead with our work in ministries large and small. And to all people of faith, everywhere, who accept one another and celebrate the diversity of faith around the world and in our own country without prejudice or the arrogance of supposed superiority. Let’s all pray together for a better world. Amen!

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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