The Vocation To Love

“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child.”

–          1 Corinthians 13:11

There was life before the engagement and life after the engagement. For years, the thought of marriage was walled off as something unthinkable, remote. An unimaginative life choice for others, not for me. My reasoning, that only until a successful career had been established, ambitions realized, life lived, would I consider the married life.

A rationality very much along the lines of childish thinking and reasoning.

Little did I know beforehand—or even care to comprehend—that the physical act of proposing, on bended knee and verbally asking her hand in marriage (a truly time out of mind moment), would serve as a prologue to the public and vulnerable profession of vows that is quickly approaching for us in a matter of weeks. Indeed, there is something to be said about the power of words and actions.

During this graced period of our engagement, a new vision of life has remarkably and unexpectedly dawned: life itself has grown in marvel and profundity, while amid planning and preparation the mutual love between us has deepened in turn. The intensive process the Church requires of those seeking the Sacrament of Matrimony is certainly not to be taken lightly—it is far beyond pomp and circumstance—and suddenly we found ourselves in the never-before-experienced world of joyful gravitas, ever more aware of the serious step of saying “I do.”

But among all the new things being revealed as a couple preparing for marriage, what was pleasantly unexpected was the free advice just waiting to be discovered, seemingly from everywhere. All we had to do was ask. Refreshing to be sure, especially when arenas of popular culture have flippantly foregone marital sanctity, favoring—as a mild example, but no less hackneyed—glossy photo spreads of million-dollar celebrity unions quickly followed by headlines of celebrity divorce.

There are many seasoned veterans of life quick to dish advice about a conjugal life, who enjoy waxing philosophical on weddings, marriage and love. Love seems to always get people talking, from chatting with elderly women on an immersion trip to Kingston, Jamaica in the spring to frequent encounters with the wise—and longtime married—facilities workers on the university campus.

All spoke the same keywords: patience, communication, and surprisingly consistently, God. Chris, the lovably loquacious university employee, has enjoyed giving mini lectures these past few months from his maintenance golf cart, always asking how the planning is going. Even certain students have inquired about the process. This interest and advice, especially from those either widowed or married for decades, displays an ongoing hope in what marriage offers. They are a testament to its sacramental nature, even though the comedic gold mine of the sometimes stressful situations involving so many personalities and dilemmas surrounding the planning is quite real and very much part of the procedure.

Shortly after our engagement, I found in the university library basement storage an original 1951 hardbound printing of Fulton J. Sheen’s Three To Get Married. When the student clerk stamped the due date on the ticket, it was the first time someone checked it out in 24 years. I’ve chosen to read it as a meditation, a few paragraphs here and there. Pivotal points and insights I would share with my fiancé, some things I would jot down, but often just quietly taking in the ideas, and I hope to complete the 300-page text by our wedding day. That the news and controversy over Archbishop Sheen’s cause for sainthood surfaced while spending so much time with his words became of personal interest. Three To Get Married proves to me its author was a saint in the making.

In his chapter on children, Sheen shares a moving quote. “A wise father once said to his son, about to be married: ‘Try to make it last for only ten years. After those ten years, your heart will be full of memories and your house full of children and you will never want it to end.”

Deo volente. God willing we are indeed blessed with what so often seems presumptuous: a long life together, surrounded by children, financially, professionally and physically secure. What has also emerged as another example of a new way of thinking and feeling after becoming engaged has been a growing awareness of the fragility and preciousness of life that evokes a thin melancholy, something that was even present in the early life of Christ: “and you yourself a sword will pierce” Simeon tells Mary (cf. Lk 2:35).

On the one hand, this sensation of knowing our lives are finite prepares a couple to address the inevitable trials of life—suffering, loss, setbacks. On the other hand, this soft but pervading melancholy is a reminder that I know I can do better, that I indeed can love better. Just as young couples are wrapped up in the moment, in anticipation, in planning and looking ahead, I must remind myself to always be a gentleman, even in the familiar and mundane, or when talking on the phone at night or parting ways until we see each other again.  Deo volente. Because this could all vanish one day, gone like a golden summer evening from my childhood.

Benedict XVI once said something long committed to memory: “The vocation to love makes the human person an authentic image of God.” That vocation, that call to love is in a way the call for all people, married or not. If so, even the most quiet and simple moments are precious. And as we come to care for the people around us, we are reminded that Deus Caritas est – God is Love. Engaged in this vocation and the sacrifices that come with it brings divine love closer that I can only imagine grows with the presence of children.

It seems to be no coincidence that the sanctity of marriage is very much in the public view, as the developing Synod on the Family suggests. Pope Francis himself is making a bold gesture in emphasizing the wonder and awe of marriage: by witnessing the Sacrament of Marriage of 20 couples during Mass at St. Peter’s on September 14. In June, Francis celebrated the wedding anniversaries of 15 couples during a morning liturgy. He talked of “persevering in love, in good times and in difficult times.” Finally, on Valentine’s Day, Francis met with engaged couples in St. Peter’s Square and took questions on marital love. “Marriage is an everyday task, because the husband has the duty of making the wife more of a woman and the wife has the duty of making the husband more of a man.”

I am the lucky man, so very grateful for putting the self-centered childish things away before it was too late, before this gift who is to be my bride very soon passed by, who has found in the humble exaltation, in the vulnerable an unnamed strength, and in the question “Will you?” the answer “I do.”

James Day

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James Day's work has appeared in Crisis, Catholic World Report, and Catholic Exchange. He is the author of Father Benedict: The Spiritual and Intellectual Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI (November 2016, Sophia Institute Press).

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