Marriages in the Catholic Church are often referred to as little churches. We have talked about this on many occasions with each other and at numerous enrichment events. This idea has been on my mind over the past month as we have had the privilege and opportunity to participate in the liturgy in numerous parish communities. We began on August 11 at our home parish, Holy Family, with most of our children and all of our grandchildren. I was reminded of what worshipping together does, especially for each of us and as a family, to keep us close. It sets aside time to put aside all other things and include God in all that we do. It puts the kids on a path that they otherwise wouldn’t take. It is always gratifying to see the grandchildren participate in Mass, whether they are singing the Alleluia with great enthusiasm, as Max does, or seeing Jessica sign along with the music. On that day as we were about to go up to receive communion Jack (6) leaned over to me and said that while I know I have to wait two more years I think I’m ready to go to communion today. I was surprised that he was thinking about it, but reassured that, even on days when I’ve seen him protest going, he is still involved and cares about what is going on. Being a little church as married couples is not unlike that. We have days when we don’t want to be involved with each other and others that we are involved with great enthusiasm and with all that we are. But it is the commitment to each other that continues to keep our marriage alive and enduring.
The second week we attended Mass with Dan and Ronda in a parish that will likely become their own. We arrived with a few minutes to spare, only to find that nearly all the seats were taken and we all had to split up to be seated. It is a growing parish with large numbers of people moving in each year. This is reflected in the large new building that is nearly completed. It is predominately a middle class community of young families. I saw many well-dressed people greeting one another. The parish is St. Francis of Assisi. In the altar area in the gym was hanging the San Damiano cross that is a replica of the one in Assisi. I was touched by the universality of the church and, as Francis struggled to figure out exactly what God wanted of him and what his future might be, I thought about how that was exactly what Dan and Rhonda were experiencing and likely many of the other families in attendance that day. That too made me think of marriage and how much of the time at all the stages of marriage we wonder what God wants of us and where life will take us. It is in living the commitment to God, Church and each other that we journey through life and often look back and see how far we have come. Doing so leads us to the graces we need to continue the journey.
The next week we were at Sacred Heart Church in Rockport, TX. Our friend, Fr. Tom, is retired there. We went to the Saturday evening Mass which was attended mostly by elderly retired folk. We were on the young side of those participating. Tom wanted to go early and we weren’t even inside the door when I knew why. So many people greeted him and each other. It was social time for all of them in addition to their weekly worship time. They all cared for each other, making sure that those with canes and walkers had adequate seats and room. They greeted each other and sang and prayed together. After Mass, they continued to talk with each other and Tom told us that he goes out to dinner with many of them each week. They catch up with what is happening, who is sick, who might need help, etc. It reminded me of the qualities in a happy, healthy marriage when we take time to assess each others needs, catch up on what is happening in our busy lives and just enjoy being together, perhaps sharing a glass of wine, a beer or cup of tea and enjoy the friendship and love that we share. Once again the Church is a model of what marriage should and can be.
During the following week we were in Santa Fe, NM. We discovered that the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis had an afternoon Mass each day and decided, as we often do on vacation, to attend. The community was warm and inviting as we arrived—a little late because we both fell asleep in the late afternoon. There was great participation in the little side chapel. The liturgy was short, the homily to the point and everyone greeted each other at the kiss of peace. At the end of Mass the priest paused and asked if anyone was a visitor. We expected there to be many but there were only a few of us and we were welcomed. The next day the group was mostly the same people, with a few of us visitors. Here, I was reminded that so much of what we do in marriage we do over and over. There is great comfort in that. On occasion the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. We have to do the ordinary things together or we will never get to experience the extraordinary.
That Saturday, on a lark to help fulfill our desire to visit all 50 states, we took a little sojourn into Colorado. We went to the small old railroad/mining town of Trinidad. It shows sign of age but also some life. The parish is Holy Trinity. We decided to go to the Saturday evening Mass. Not being exactly sure where it was and what the parking would be, we set out early. At a half hour before Mass there were already cars in the parking lot. We decided to do a little driving tour of the area and enjoy the mountain scenery. Since it was a small town it didn’t take long to see nearly everything there was to see. We arrived back at the church with 15 minutes to spare and saw that the lot was nearly full. Our first thought was that we had the time wrong or perhaps they prayed the rosary before Mass. As we walked inside we saw it nearly filled with people, many of whom try to get the same seat each week, perhaps near a fan since it was hot and there was no air-conditioning. They greeted each other as they arrived and many made room to include others. The church was beautifully maintained. They had a young non-American priest whose first language was not English. Once again I looked around and saw that we were on the younger side and that over half of those in attendance were elderly women. The town was/is a coal mining town and I wondered how many men lost their lives in coal mining. There was great participation, but as the priest gave his homily in a church with poor acoustics and his language difficulties I wondered how many people could actually understand what he was saying, and yet everyone seemed to enjoy being there and gained love and support from those who were there with them. I once again thought about the times when we don’t exactly understand what each other is experiencing and yet it is in being together that we find love and support.
The next week we were back in Chicago. Since we had not seen our children and grandchildren, who live here, for a few weeks, we decided to go to old St. Pats in the city with Michael and Stacey and Matthew. Max (6) went to the liturgy of the word with the other kids but had a huge smile on his face and gave us a big wave as they processed in. When he joined the family at the presentation of the gifts Greta (2) and he reached out to each other with a huge hug and one would have thought that they hadn’t seen each other in months, rather than a few minutes. It reminded me of how good it is for us when we are separated even for a short period of time and come back together again. Married couples so often have that opportunity to reconnect with each other, to celebrate what they have together, and to cherish the friendship and love that they have. Old St. Pats is a vibrant community of faith and service. It is wonderful model for all marriages.
This past week we were back at Holy Family. It was good to be home again to see so many people that we have known and celebrated with through the years. Fr. Terry’s homily was excellent and filled us once again with the joy of being with each other, the comfort of being in the familiar and the challenge that comes in taking the ordinary and seeing in it the chance to become more than we were yesterday. We like the new and the un-experienced and yet there is something to be said for the comfortable. Marriage is like that. There is great comfort in being with someone who I know will love me no matter what and at the same will challenge me to become more and to experience more. It was good to be home but then I know that more is yet to come and I look forward to that.
This week we are off again to Connecticut to celebrate, a little late, our granddaughter’s 13th birthday. We will attend Mass at Holy Infant on Saturday and gather with Mike’s family to remember the one year passing of his uncle. Marriage, like the Church, is filled with possibilities. We merely have to live I, then pause and reflect on our experience. None of the parishes we attended were the same, yet they all share a common thread of love and compassion and joy in being together in good times and in not so good times. That’s what marriage has been and is for us. Enjoy the love of your little Church.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time. Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.