I was blessed last month to be invited by our morning and evening MOM’s Groups to speak about marriage. At the time, I wondered what a man in his late 40s could offer a group of mostly young mothers in their first several years of marriage. Then I recalled a conversation with our oldest son Brendan and his wife Becky when they were discerning marriage. Specifically, I remember telling them, “We promise for better or for worse without really knowing what that means.”
It’s best that we can’t see the future. Maybe an unforeseen struggle will derail all our plans. Maybe it’s a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a child, a broken past or hidden addiction. Or maybe it’s the slow-building weight of sarcasm or unsolicited advice, the accumulated slights of day-to-day living in close quarters, or the endless routine of raising a family. Whatever our cross, when it comes, we can either carry it as a burden or swing it as a bludgeon. For better, or for worse.
After 26 years of marriage, I’ve learned that I’m still the same guy. Certainly I’ve changed a bit: I’ve kicked a few really bad habits, praise God, and gained some gray in my hair and beard. But I still have all the same buttons in all the same places, and Jodi still pushes them—for better or for worse.
I recently finished an English audio version of the 1828 Italian novel The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni on Audible. I first learned of this book—apparently the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language—from a post by Joseph Pearce on the Imaginative Conservative website with the provocative title, “The Betrothed: The Greatest Novel Ever Written?” That caught my eye, because, as a somewhat educated person, I had never heard of it.
I also share all this information to distinguish this book from a much more recent young adult romance novel and two-book series of the same name by Kiera Cass. This is NOT that.
Instead, this is a wonderful historical novel set in the 1600s in Lombardy, Italy (pictured above), telling the story of two young, relatively poor, and essentially good villagers preparing for their much-desired marriage, and a cowardly priest who refuses them the sacrament after a tyrannous local lord threatens his life if he should join them. The fearful parish priest is balanced by two heroic clergy, a Franciscan friar who serves as a father and spiritual director to the pair, and the real-life Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, the heroic and holy archbishop of Milan, whose pastoral efforts bring about novel’s conclusion.
What struck me most about this novel is how timeless great literature actually is. The book is about many things, each as relatable today as in the time it was set and the time it was written, including:
“Wherever there is repentance, there is faith. Where there is no repentance, Jesus is rejected and His Church persecuted.”“One Bread, One Body” reflection on John 10:31-42
Over the past few weeks, a handful of lifechanging Confessions have been on my mind. Each resulted in a deepening of faith, but only after I humbled myself and turned once again to God and His Church:
A SECOND FIRST CONFESSION: Not long after Jodi and I started our family, I began to think about my dormant Catholicism. Aside from a brief period in grade school, I had grown up outside the Church and had a lot of questions, misunderstandings, and disagreements regarding Church teachings. Our priest in Michigan, Father Bill Zink, spent an hour or more allowing me to unload my spiritual baggage in his living room, then told me I should ask my questions from within the Church, after receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion again—in fact, he offered to hear my confession then and there. At first I refused; I said I didn’t remember how, but he offered to help me through it. I had to acknowledge the need for mercy and accept the invitation; to let go of my pride, humble myself, and return to God. That was the beginning of my reversion.
This post appeared in the June 27, 2021, bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church.
This August, my bride and I will have been married 25 years. At this point, you’d think we would understand each other, or at least give one another the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t. Most of the conflict in our marriage turns on the same little things that derailed us a quarter century ago. Our insecurities, assumptions and coping mechanisms are the same—and so our frustrations are also the same.
After 25 years, I wonder why she doesn’t get me, but I rarely apply that standard to myself. I inflict, then apologize for, the same little wounds, to the point now that most of the time, Jodi doesn’t realize what I’m apologizing for. She seems to take nothing personally (thank you, Jesus!), but that doesn’t make it right.
Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8
Woke this morning on the wrong side of the bed. Shuffled to the living room to pray with my bride. Opened the missal to the Tenth Thursday in Ordinary Time (Year II) and began to proclaim the first reading, only for Jodi to say that her copy of “Living With Christ” had a different reading.
Of course. It’s the memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle.
I turned to the back of the missal and found June 11. Sure enough, the first reading was about St. Barnabas, from the Acts of the Apostles. I read the responsorial psalm, then began the gospel.
“Um,” said Jodi, “I have a different gospel.”
I sighed and shrugged. “Well,” I said, exasperated, “I don’t know what it is…what do you have?” Continue reading