When we diverge from God’s plan and will for our lives, the ramifications can last for generations. Considering the recent marriage within the Catholic Church of my youngest son, it is incredible to contemplate all that had to transpire for that to happen. I am sure it is ultimately due to divine providence, but it is also due to the fact that my wife and I, although we made many mistakes over the years, ultimately cooperated with God’s will by remaining married and trying to do the right thing even though that sometimes caused pain and suffering.
It has been four years since I invited Jesus Christ into my heart for the first time and embarked on a journey toward discipleship. That conversion experience changed my life forever, and the transformations that have occurred in the last four years within my life and within my family have been profound. We saw some fruit of that at the recent wedding Mass of my son and his beautiful bride where one man and one woman were truly joined by God as one flesh. I contrast where we are now compared to four years ago when our son was still at home and where he and I would have arguments over dinner about faith and religion that usually ended badly. At the time, I was excited and overzealous about transformations Jesus was starting to enact within me, and my cradle-Catholic son was spouting what almost seemed like an atheist manifesto since his recent graduation from college.
That was a year after he met his future spouse the night of our older son’s own wedding. The meeting occurred at the post wedding-reception party at the bar of the hotel where the wedding party and families were staying. Five years later I don’t think it was a coincidence that one expression of love earlier that day led to the discovery that night of what would turn into new love, and, eventually, formation of a new family within God’s divine plan.
Raising two boys in our permissive culture was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and was even harder since I didn’t have God in my life at the time (at best I had been a “C&E” – Christmas and Easter – Catholic since high school). Jesus can help us carry our burdens, but I wasn’t interested in God or religion when I was raising my family, although I still tried to do what I thought was right and to teach the kids right from wrong. Throughout those years, my wife and I had many opportunities to call it quits and get divorced, but thanks be to God we held firm in our vow “til death do us part”. Yet I wondered how our boys would turn out since they had grown up in what was decidedly an unhappy home with two parents who argued and disagreed a lot.
It is obvious to me now that the Holy Spirit was at work in all of us long before my conversion, because the good, and loving, young men our sons turned out to be could not have been products solely of the upbringing they received from their Mom and Dad. I also believe that a lot of prayer over the last four years, as well as the intervention of our Blessed Mother, have had big roles to play in our family’s journey. I credit our Blessed Mother for bringing the peace of her spiritual spouse, the Holy Spirit, into my relationship with my wife as well as for interceding with our Lord towards our younger son’s return to faith and marriage in the Catholic Church along with the baptism of our first granddaughter in the Church last year.
It was, after all, at least partly due to the pain and suffering I experienced in my marriage that I sought Jesus and a deeper practice of my Catholic faith four years ago. If we had not persevered in that painful marriage I might not had been open to conversion or the blessings and graces that flowed to us thereafter. I now consider my wife truly a gift from God, but if she and I had veered away from God’s plan and had gotten divorced, thereby breaking our covenant of marriage, we would have altered the courses of the lives of our kids and others around us irrevocably. If that had happened I am certain we would not be where we are today, basking in the afterglow of what was arguably the most beautiful wedding we have ever experienced.
I believe the fact that my wife and I stayed together through a difficult marriage now going on 29 years shows that some couples give up on marriage much too easily. Honoring the marital covenant we made before God helped to lay the cornerstone upon which our kids, with divine assistance, could start to build their own families. I can’t imagine our two sons being in the situations they are now if my wife and I had divorced, causing our family to become broken and extended. Our older son and his wife, creating a stable and loving marriage, set the stage for their offspring to grow up in a happy and nurturing home environment. Our younger son and his new bride are off to a great start and have made some wise choices thus far and have avoided some of the errors my wife and I made like living together early on.
I know that the best thing my wife and I can do to help ourselves and our children get to heaven is to stay together and work on our own calls to holiness, creating better examples for our family and others around us. I realized late in life (but not too late!) that it really takes three to get married – a man, a woman, and Jesus Christ. My prayer for my family is that they will all know, deeply and intimately in their lives, the transcendent love of God. A love powerful enough to have created the entire universe.