Sunday Afternoon Matinee: “A foundation so that you can serve others”

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Just as a well-constructed home needs a variety of materials, if you are only giving up chocolate for Lent, then chances are that you’re not getting the most out of the Lenten experience…Prayer, fasting and almsgiving make for a very solid foundation for the season of Lent…Lent builds a foundation so that you can serve others.

– The Most Reverend Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City

Leaning on the Sacrament of Marriage

(Or "Why I Love My Wife, Volume II")

Two years ago on St. Valentine’s Day, I wrote nearly 800 words about why I love my wife. As the same day came and went this year, I have been reflecting a lot on those words and the time at which I wrote them.  I found they have never been more true than they are today.

Much has changed since I wrote that post, though. There has been much more uncertainty than certainty over the past couple of years. Despite the uncertainty, my life has still been full of great blessings. I am quite sure that many people would trade their troubles for mine, especially if the blessings came along with them.

Still, some of the changes over this time have led to a lot of stress and anxiety; two things with which I do not deal well. This has affected me most deeply in my spiritual life. When I wrote the post two years ago, I was in a really good spot spiritually. My prayer life was good. I was really involved in my parish. Having recently returned from a trip to Rome, I felt deeply connected to the global Catholic Church. And, after attending the Catholic New Media Conference the year before, I felt like I had found a career path to which God was calling me.

Even as I was writing that post, little changes and challenges were already beginning to chip away at my spiritual perch. A year before, the longtime pastor of my parish had been elevated to bishop. For the first time since my conversion to Catholicism, I was going through a pastoral change. While not an uncommon change, it was nonetheless difficult to say goodbye to the man who brought me into the Church and witnessed my marriage.

In addition, only days before I published that post, Pope Benedict XVI had shocked the world when he announced his retirement. I took this especially hard and have written plenty about my affection for him and his vital role in my conversion. That announcement capped a three-year period where I experienced the appointment of a new local bishop, new parish priest, and eventually, a new Pope. None of these are devastating changes on their own, but nonetheless disrupted that spiritual stability to which I had grown accustomed.

There have been changes at church. There have been changes at work.  That career path for which I had once hoped has not yet materialized. Changes all over the place that have sent my head spinning at times and left me both spiritually and physically exhausted. This exhaustion reached a tipping point a couple of Sundays ago. Unable to concentrate on anything spiritual, my mind raced with thoughts about what has transpired over the past couple of years. All of that baggage had finally seemed to break me. Full of cynicism and apathy, I sat in mass, for the first time in a long time, wondering why I was even there.

I silently expressed this to God in what I assumed would be another shout into the echo chamber that had become my prayer life. Then, something subtle, yet amazing happened. I looked to my left to see my wife serenely listening to the homily, and I realized that she was why I was sitting in that church on that morning. On a day that an unmarried version of myself might have just stayed at home, I was there, not because she had forced me, not out of guilt, but because of my desire to be there with her.

It was the first time that I was able to experience so clearly the grace from the Sacrament of Marriage. I saw in it how the sacraments work to compliment each other and how the grace from one can help bridge the gap to the grace from another. The Sacrament of Marriage had drawn me to the Eucharist. This realization felt like my first moment of clarity in months.

That clarity allowed me to see that even with all the change and transition, my wife and our marriage along with God was the constant. The idea that marriage is to be a manifestation of God’s unwavering love for us had become such a real thing in that moment.

The Eucharist and other sacraments, like Reconciliation, have tangible acts that are often centered around drawing yourself closer to or making yourself right with God.  Marriage is more subtle.  It is God in everyday life.  Often, it is not about making yourself right with God, but about helping your spouse to do so.  This help is what I’ve experienced over and over again, even if I have failed to recognize it.

This Lent, I am going to try to focus less on what has or will change and more on the grace and stability that I receive from all the Sacraments, especially Marriage.  And for all the grace I receive, I will work to see that my wife receives the same.