Every good Catholic, it seems, has a St. Anthony story – a time our patron saint for lost articles helped us rediscover something precious. I thought I had a St. Anthony to tell here, until I realized that it was really a story about Our Lady.
The story begins about 75 years ago in Havana, Cuba. A young man walked into a jewelry shop and asked the proprietor to fashion a set of rings for his bride. The wedding band was to be five small diamonds set in stainless steel. Below each diamond was a delicate cross. The matching engagement ring followed the same pattern, but with a larger center stone, evoking the solitaires popularized by Tiffany a continent away.
The man and his bride were married and blessed with a daughter. But tragedy struck when the young family had to leave everything behind to escape the terror of communism. They went first to Buenos Aires, then Los Angeles, then Chicago, and finally settled in South Florida. It was there that their daughter graduated from college, married, and gave the man and his bride their only grandchild: me.
As a little girl, those rings that my grandfather commissioned would frequently catch my eye, flashing glamorously on my grandmother’s finger, or, more mundanely, placed on the wooden sofa table where she would put them while she did her knitting.
When it came time for me to marry, my grandparents were both gone. But our link to them was crystallized in those beautiful rings, passed down to me, their only grandchild, which my husband lovingly slipped on my finger as we vowed to love and honor each other all the days of our lives.
What a vow to make. I recently heard a Catholic professor of theology give a lecture where he said that marriage is not only difficult, it is impossible. After a dramatic pause, he added, “It’s impossible without God’s grace.” It got him a laugh, but he was actually quite serious. Marriage is too hard to do on our own. And this is why Our Lord elevated it to a Sacrament.
Original Sin ruptured the communion between Heaven and earth. And it also damaged the communion between man and woman. Our capacity to love was now broken by selfishness. Jesus performed His first public miracle at a wedding as a sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God: to show the world that the time had come for God’s people to be restored to right relationship with Him, and with each other. Marriage was now a Sacrament, an indissoluble union, and a sign by which married couples image the Trinity to the world.
My story picks up again on a recent fall weekend. Looking for something to do with an out of town guest, we got in the minivan along with our two sons and drove almost three hours to Conway, NH, to see the beautiful fall foliage at its peak. It was a mob scene: cars were lined up for blocks on either side of overlooks. As I handed out lunches in the car ahead of one of our many stops, I took those precious rings off to put on hand lotion. I laid them in my lap as I fussed with wrappers, trash bags, drinks, and a dozen other distractions. We made several stops throughout the rest of the day, taking in the beauty of creation as a family.
It wasn’t until we got home that I realized my rings weren’t on my hand. I turned to St. Anthony, begging him for His help. Let them still be in the car. Let my husband find them.
Worry turned to panic which turned to despair as my husband walked in from his fourth search of the car. He had taken all the seats out, lifted every carpet, pulled back every piece of Velcro, even vacuumed and then sifted through the filthy contents. There was nothing.
My beloved rings, gone. The legacy from my grandparents’ marriage, entrusted to me, carelessly lost. And my only direct link to Cuba, severed. I was sobbing.
As I cried into my husband’s shoulder, I desperately called out in my mind St. Mother Teresa’s prayer, “Mary, mother of God, please be a mother to me now.” I needed to be consoled, assured it would be okay, though I would surely never see those rings again.
And then my husband was inspired. If the rings weren’t in the car, they might be on the ground near one of the places we had parked. Though it was nearing 11pm and he had already driven close to 6 hours that day, he grabbed a flashlight and began the 110-mile drive back up to Conway while I waited and slept fitfully between prayers.
And then, the text message.
A little after 2am I looked at my phone through bleary eyes to see a photo of two perfect rings encrusted in grit, the carved crosses packed with dirt. After a long search, he had found them pressed hard into the ground and inexplicably unnoticed by any of the hundreds of people who would have walked by.
It was a miracle. And then I remembered why it was that Our Lord turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana: Because His mother asked Him to.
I imagined Mary with Jesus at the Wedding at Cana, as she had interceded for the couple telling Him “They have no wine,” and in response Our Lord, His grace perfecting nature, turned a good, water, into an even greater good, wine, the sign of His eternal covenant. (Cf John 2:3)
He listened to His mother, whom He made my mother at His Passion. Then I imagined Mary interceding for me by gently saying to Jesus, “She’s lost her rings” and in response Jesus filled my husband’s heart with actual grace.
Do whatever He tells you…..Fill those jars with water….get in the car and drive.
And somehow he found the same spot where they lay unseen on the ground for 12 hours at the busiest overlook on the busiest Saturday of the year. He has kept the good wine until now.
I know that my Blessed Mother helped us through her intercession. In the re-discovery of my rings, we re-discovered how Jesus makes our love ever-new, taking our fallen nature and perfecting it, so that in marriage we can glimpse in this life what it is like to live in the eternally loving communion of the Blessed Trinity. Through her intercession, Mary helped me to see the centrality of her Son to our married life.
And my husband’s journey to find the rings was not unlike the marriage journey. Where did he get the energy to embark on a 100+ mile drive in the dead of night, with no realistic hope of finding those rings? And at the moment my husband slipped them on my finger almost 20 years ago, did the two of us alone have any real hope of finding what we sought: loving and honoring each other as long as we both shall live? Our wedding vows were the same leap of faith, a drive in the dark and dig through the dirt hoping to find something precious and beautiful and everlasting, that we can only find with God’s help.
Yes, marriage is hard. It is harder than finding two diamond rings in the dirt 100 miles away. It is not just hard, it’s impossible—without God’s grace. Now, every time I look at my grandmother’s rings on my left hand, I will remember my family’s miracle of the wedding at Conway, and thank our Blessed Mother for always pointing us to Her Son Jesus Christ.
image: Conway Valley New Hampshire by Albert Bierstadt