“So I’m over this whole engagement thing.”
This has become my customary response to friends and co-workers lately. Some folks chuckle, while others give me a puzzled look. Eventually, though, everyone recognizes the message underlying the tone: I’m just ready to be married.
Jackie and I aren’t living together before marriage for a multitude of reasons, and I have no doubt that it will make our marriage all the more fruitful and meaningful. No doubt—but it’s definitely the cross at times. When 10:30 or 11:00pm rolls around every night and I have to drive 20 minutes away in a state of grogginess (I don’t handle being tired very well), I experience frustration. It’d be so much easier to just live here in this apartment. I’m getting so tired of this night after night. This is so inconvenient.
And then I stumbled upon this passage from then-Bishop Timothy Dolan’s book, Priests for the Third Millennium:
A parish priest is willing to be inconvenienced. A retreat director once told me that putting on the Roman collar is like putting on a sign saying, “Please bother me.” A priest was in the airport in his collar waiting to board his plane when another man in sports clothes came up and introduced himself as a priest, too. “I never wear my collar when I travel because people keep bothering me, always coming up and wanting to talk.”
“I know,” the other one said; “that’s why I wear mine.” (p. 275).
I read this book a few years ago when I was in seminary and the words still haven’t lost any of their punch. Only now, I see how I could easily exchange the words “priest” with “husband” and “collar” with “ring.”
Marriage will be one big, beautiful inconvenience. Yes, certain logistical irritants we’re dealing with now will be no more in marriage. And then we’ll be given a whole new set of occasions (or as Jim and Pam from The Office call them, “opportunities”) that will test our patience with each other and will be moments of the cross. We’ll get frustrated at each other. I’ll be difficult and/or stubborn about stupid things. She’ll want to punch me in the face. And somehow we’ll love each other more through it all.
It seems illogical that anyone in their right mind would ever willingly wear a ring (or a collar or habit) that binds them forever in service to another, and yet it’s that human paradox that the most liberated folks are those most under obedience. Several of my friends from the Florida seminary have been getting ordained to the priesthood this month, and it’s been wonderful to see the joy overflowing from their communities, their families, and the guys themselves as they lay down their lives for us—the Church. Their years of seminary training are now over; these men are now on the front lines to serve and protect our souls at their own expense. Likewise, the happiest married guys I know are hardly on Facebook anymore or taking excessive time out for themselves; they’re always with or working for their families, laying down their lives in the quiet, simple ways that no one but their wives and young children will ever know.
Obedience is a nasty word to most American ears, probably because, as now-Cardinal Dolan wrote, we were founded on disobedience: “…we tend to equate liberty with license, freedom with rights unbridled by duty; that we exalt dissent over docility, and view with suspicion authority, tradition, and accepting things purely on faith” (Priests, p. 76). Add in with “obedience” the marital requisite of “forever,” and factor in human selfishness and weakness, it’s no wonder that our current culture recoils at the notion of a lifetime commitment. We are a generation that likes to “keep our options open” and not be “tied down,” and yet to live in such a way means you never commit to anything!
If we look at the ancient and original meaning of “obedience,” we can see that it stems from something more meaningful: to listen (ob: to; audiere: hear or listen). Obedience, in the real sense of the word, means to listen, to pay attention to another’s wishes, to quell our own desires perhaps for the sake of another. Jesus told the woman in the crowd, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28). Personally I think that a great deal of hurt and wounded-ness stems from our human tendency to not listen and take heed of those who have gone before us, and to not trust the Church’s teachings on difficult matters and give to the faith the benefit of the doubt. It takes humility to listen and admit our faults (and Jackie’s taught me a lot of humility).
It’s ultimately a death-to-self, but in trial and sacrifice we find meaning. God did not give us the sacraments of marriage or holy orders for lives of luxury or ease, but for life-giving service—as Pope Benedict XVI asserted, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” Love is supposed to hurt. It was “precisely at the time of greatest suffering [,] on the cross, obedient unto death, that Jesus accomplished the most” (Priests, p. 86). As our friend Colleen Nixon sings, “To live is to love is to die.”
And so I’ll keep driving night after night. 73 nights to go. You better believe it’s inconvenient, but you better believe that she’s worth it.