Three months ago, I got married. Sometimes I don’t believe that phrase: “I got married.” At the same time, it doesn’t feel weird to have someone else in my (our) apartment. I like cooking for more than one person, and I have a permanent date to events and functions. Even my signature isn’t all that different. I joke that I just turned my Z around to an S, and can still get away with an illegible scribble for the rest.
I read Love & Responsibility right after we got engaged. It’s a hard read partially for its density, but mostly because it goes against against everything society pushes. It teaches that sex is sacred; men and women have separate and distinct identities; fertility is a gift, not a punishment. Logically, I agree with all this. Practically, it’s hard to unlearn those warped societal teachings.
It’s been argued we should’ve moved in together before the wedding, and that it’s important to ensure “sexual compatibility.” This makes no sense. Cohabitation is a big disruption, in both routine and mental state. I’ve heard it said that living together, married or not, is one big, loud announcement of “We’re having sex!” Big announcements are not my style, but more than that, society has forgotten that sex is a sacred act.
Sex says a lot of things, more than even complete exposure and vulnerability. It’s a literal creation of one unit, in the coming together of two. It’s a physical expression of a verbal vow: to have and to hold, ’til death do us part. It’s an acknowledgement of readiness to parenthood. Why has it become not only acceptable, but encouraged, outside of marriage? It’s a denial of responsibility. There are other expressions of love if you want to come together with your partner. Cohabitation and premarital sex cheapen the experience, and there’s no motivation to commit or, as the old phrase goes, “make her an honest woman” (or man, as the case may be).
By choosing another person one chooses in him, in a sense, another “I,” as though one were choosing oneself in the other and the other in oneself. —Love and Responsibility
The oneness of two was God’s intention from the beginning: “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) This isn’t just a partnership. I often grapple with the difference between “friendship” and “romance.” You can have strong feelings for friends, and often mistake that platonic love for romantic. So how do you distinguish? If you look at how we’ve treated romance, this confusion isn’t that surprising. Cohabitation and hook-up culture have blurred the lines. When you can get in bed with anyone you want, whenever you want, who has any use for love?
Incompatibility in marriage is something more than simply physical incompatibility, and certainly cannot be tested in advance by pre-marital intercourse. Married couple who later consider themselves incompatible very often have at the beginning a period of perfect sexual intercourse. It turns out that the breakup occurs for another reason.
One night in the first week, after dinner, we both realized the gravity of our vows. I quietly went upstairs for my nightly routine, relieved to have a moment alone. We thought we were prepared: we’d read the books and taken the courses. We had our premarital counseling. But when it came time to be married, we freaked out. We weren’t kids playing house; we had a home. I once had a friend whose live-in boyfriend broke up with her. I watched as she packed her belongings, trying to be there when he wasn’t home. It was embarrassing. How can you commit like that without commitment? I’m not saying marriages never end, but divorce is less likely than other romantic fallouts. Do people understand what it means to move in together, to make a public announcement of intimacy? Maybe they do, or maybe we’ve stopped caring about morality and chastity.
We did it the right way. You don’t need a trial period or compatibility test when love is there. You’re already compatible by the time you’re ready to move in together and share a bed. It’s called “marriage.” It’s certainly not easy, but that’s part of the growing experience. It’s not just living in the same apartment. It’s a physical and spiritual oneness, coming together to live one life, no longer two.
I’ve had a hard time focusing on reading lately. While everyone else remembered books existed during 2020, I couldn’t get through one page without losing focus. Being the one to print the books could contribute; it’s been increasingly difficult to get the materials and labor needed to run a printing press. But I think I’ve just hit a wall, and the literal piles of books-to-read is more burdensome than exciting.
So I broke out something easy. I always liked having a daily reader, and Mother Angelica’s Life Lessons seemed easily digestible. It’s whatever you want it to be. It’s more a book of quotes than anything else, but you can read as much or as little as you want each day. Some nights I read a couple quotes and fell asleep. Other nights I went through pages, eager to hear her wisdom. This little book helped me to remember that I enjoy reading. I think of all the books I read through the conversion process, and everything I’ve absorbed since. I remember what brought me there in the first place, all that prayer and studying. This isn’t deep theology, but necessary reminders.
God wants you to be in the world, but so different from the world that you change it. Get cracking.
Intertwined in her wisdom is her humor. She’s an old, sarcastic Italian nun. She had chronic pain and wore leg braces. But she was joyful. She talks of forging ahead without a plan. She built a monastery without any startup cash, and founded EWTN without radio knowledge. But she listened to God, and answered Him. She often seems fantastical and unbelievable, but that shows how much God is in it.
I’ve had spiritual dryness for thirty-three years. But I praise God for it, because I have learned something… the terrible feelings should not make you experience guilt; in fact they purify and perfect your offering of love.
I intended to read only a few quotes a night so this could last the rest of the year, but I finished it in a couple months. I was eager to start a new book, too, so that has to mean something. (And hey, I’m revisiting this blog!) This book was a good kick in the pants, and maybe I’ll be able to get through that to-read pile. There’s some good stuff in there.
The Lord says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” If you remember this one truth, you will find peace in your daily life.
It feels like we were just here, that it’s not time yet for the self-reflection and rededication of these upcoming forty days. Everything came and went so quickly this year. It was hard to be excited for the seasons, to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection in a virtual Mass and then his birth in socially distant pews. It doesn’t feel like it happened if the family didn’t crowd around the table, or if I didn’t watch a video tutorial on how to fold a palm cross. We tried our best. I made holiday meals for two, video conferencing with the rest of the family while we ate. I put on a fancy dress for Christmas dinner, though a much smaller dinner than we’re used to. Admittedly, I read fewer books—I didn’t often have the mental capacity to read—and didn’t update this blog as often as I would’ve liked. But this year was strange for all of us. I don’t think many of us had the mental capacity for much of anything.
I know that I need Lent this year. I use it as a chance to recharge and put my priorities in order. Ascension Press has a “What should I do for Lent?” quiz, and I’m not surprised that my result was “Add a devotion!” That always made more sense to me than giving something up. (This year I learned that some people give up hot showers. Listen, I have my limits.) In a sense, it’s “giving up” my wasted time. Most days after dinner, I plop on the couch and play games until it’s time to go to bed because I’m too drained to do anything else. It’s fine to relax, but not for three hours. I have a daily examen journal that I’ll start using again. I’ll keep my rosary handy, and maybe finally memorize the Hail Holy Queen prayer. There’s plenty to do, and it’s only my own laziness that keeps me from doing it.
This is a season to get back on track. The first and easiest for me is to plan my reading, and I have a couple books lined up already:
Love & Responsibility, Pope St. John Paul II
Preparing for Easter, C.S. Lewis
EWTN’s free reflection ebook, with accompanying weekly emails!
Lent is always the same theme for me—be silent, listen to God, refocus. I always think this is the year things will change, that I’ll finally achieve that higher spiritual plane and bask in the light of God’s glory. That’s not going to happen, as long as I’m here on Earth. It’s a worthy goal, and I feel a bit of that light when I do let God speak. But things will always get muddy again; I’ll get distracted, or lose focus, or simply act like a human being. That’s why this time of refocus is good. Maybe I’m finally coming out of “quarantine.” I remember the last time I attended Mass before the shutdown, when they emptied the holy water fonts. Though it was only March, it felt like Good Friday began at that moment. Those months were like desert wandering that I never really emerged from, even after Easter. Maybe now, almost a year later, I finally am.