10 Years Later… Still Married

We often mark significant benchmarks in our lives, say an 18th or 21st birthday. A Golden Anniversary. How long it’s been since the Cubs won the World Series.

What I’m beginning to notice with the passage of time is that this is both a significant and an insignificant practice. It’s significant because for many, the commitment to sticking with something or someone is rather rare these days. My parents are the only two people I know who have celebrated a 60th anniversary. We look down on people at times who have been at the same job for what seems like eons. We knew a man who had worked at a radio station for 40 years doing the same job and many of us said that all he got at the end of the day was a gold watch. Untrue. He had the admiration of many and the friendship of all he met almost immediately.

And that brings me to its insignificance. Staying committed to something isn’t about longevity, it’s about “living with the purpose of living.” For many, that means that they’ve realized a lacked passion in their current roles in life and feel like they’ve “chosen badly” and now it’s time to start over or revise their choice of partner, or career, or home. But when passion is realized and purposefully chosen well, then the choice for commitment is as close to who you are as your own heartbeat. In fact, I think it’s what keeps your heart beating and beating well.

For myself, marriage to Marion is what keeps my heart beating well.

And because I chose wisely 10 years ago in choosing to commit my life to her, each day need not be marked by the passage of time but by the noticing of the vibrancy of life itself with and for one another.

It was Marion who knew that I would love the little dog that we pour love and care into when children were not an option for us and when it could have been easy for us to fall into depressed states. It was Marion who had us moving to Buffalo long before I could let go of Busted Halo® because she saw the commitment and love that people like Fr. Jack Ledwon and Sr. Jeremy Midura and Patty Spear had for their community and longed to share with us. It was Marion who cared for my mother when she nearly died not even a year into our marriage–the so called honeymoon period for most couples.

It’s Marion who’s kept the honeymoon going for me, 10 years later and it simply feels like it was yesterday because of the passion that we have for one another and yet, we know it’s been 10 long years because of all that commitment required of us in our journey to love one another no matter what comes our way.

Passion sometimes also leads us down wrong or hardheaded paths. And throughout these 10 years (12 really, if you count dating) I know I’ve made this wife of mine angry or hurt her feelings. But we vowed to work at this relationship because we remember the passion we have for one another. Recalling that makes the fights subside, cures hardheadedness and brings us into healing and forgiveness. When I realize the love that we both have for one another and that Marion has freely chosen (and I do mean freely–she doesn’t have to choose me, nobody is making her choose me) to love me, the coldness of my spirit is warmed by the fires of her passionate love.

My colleague John Scarano talks about the commitment that we married ministers have made to our chosen vocation, a word I use here purposely. If we have two vocations, marriage and ministry than one has to predominate. “You can be a GREAT minister, or you can be a GREAT dad or husband. But you probably can’t do BOTH.” John says.

He’s probably right. But Marion bucks his trend because her response to something like that is “You already are a great minister and a great husband. I’m going to help you continue to be a great minister so that you also have time to be a great husband.”

For 10 years Marion’s been a fixture in much of the ministry work that I do. She’s played roles that I can’t play and brought people into my ministry when I easily could have missed the person entirely. Nobody’s ever left out because Marion won’t let them be.

Fr. Tim Sullivan, a great Paulist once asked me if Marion loved sports as much as he knew that I did. I replied “Oh no! Not at all. She went to a Jets game and said she liked it because they had great music!”

His response has stayed with me for a long time. “You know, Mike, that’s interesting. Because you probably could have married some baseball loving person who wouldn’t allow you to grow as much as Marion has enabled you to.”

Amen, Father. There’s something about loving someone that enables you to love yourself just a tiny bit more than you already do. They always see the best part of you–mostly because they also know the worst part—

And they love you anyway.

That’s what we call a sacrament. And sacraments are for us, to remind ourselves each day of God’s overwhelming commitment to us, so that we might love as God does as well in freedom. And so like the eucharist which we receive over and over again…marriage invites us into a similar experience:

We give each other all of ourselves each day, over and over.

And when we do that, we experience God in our midst, inviting us to give just a bit more to one another, maybe more than we thought we could.

I never thought I could love someone this deeply, and yet the significance of being married for 10 years now tells me that I can–and I can do it well. I probably didn’t know I could love this deeply because I had think that I had not experienced this kind of love from another.

But Marion has changed all that for me, not just because she has loved me, but because her love reminds me that God loves us even more deeply. She has awakened me to be able to understand that and to love more freely in return because of it.

Indeed like the Eucharist, marriage is a daily sacrament. A commitment that one lives each day, mindful of our wounds, seeking forgiveness, re-membering each other back into community so that we can more freely experience the presence of God in our lives.

10 years? 3652 days? That’s nothing. Why? It’s simple. Each day with Marion by my side is more than enough.

For Marion has given me all of who she is and it is there that I have found gratitude and love.

And God lurking within both of us.

Happy Anniversary.

Banning Ice Cream From Brooklyn Parks

So a delighful rant is on Jezebel today that I really enjoyed. It seems a bunch of mothers in Brooklyn’s posh Park Slope are banning together to oust ice cream vendors from their local park. Now it’s not because they don’t want their kids to get fat, rather, it’s because they don’t want to say “no” to them. Imagine that.

Cassie Murdoch of Jezebel.com begins her rant with this eloquence:

Oh, good god. Yes, let’s ban the sale of ice cream within 100 yards of schools and playgrounds. You are seriously furious that someone is trying to make a living in your vicinity? Well, I live in Park Slope, and I am furious that you bring your children into the the nail salon while I am trying to enjoy the yearly manicure I splurge on in peace, and I am furious that your child regularly runs into my feet with his scooter. But I do not try to ban your child from my sight. Why? Mostly because I am too lazy to get into that kind of legal battle. But also because I am an adult whose parents taught me that the entire world does not revolve around me. They taught me that I will not always be completely happy; that I sometimes need to wait for things I want or not get them at all; and that other people have just as much of a right to do what they want in this world as I do. And you know what? I cried a lot when I was young because these lessons pissed me off. And my parents were annoyed by my crying, but they dealt with it because they knew that in the end it was better for me to cry for five minutes than to grow up to be a complete asshole. It’s called parenting, and it’s hard work, whether there’s ice cream involved or not.

And as for the point that another made about kids becoming diabetic and/or obese, Murdoch has even more advice:

First of all, if occasionally eating ice cream in the park gave you diabetes, most of us would have died before the age of ten, but also, she is aware that if her kids aren’t begging her for ice cream, they’re going to be begging her for some other thing—even if it’s something sad like the kale chips she brought to the park in her bag. It’s what kids do: they needle, they whine, they constantly try to get whatever they can. And it’s your job to deny them, again and again, until they grow up to be people who the rest of us can tolerate being around. It’s also your job to give them ice cream once in a while so they don’t hate you for depriving them of all joy in life.

Entitlement starts young these days because parents don’t have the marbles to say no to their kids. And I realize that kids can be a pain and that they whine and drive you crazy. My dog barks until I give him a treat every time I eat and I usually just give him a kong to get him out of whatever hair I have left in my head. But sometimes I ignore him as well. He’s trained to know that if he wants food he has to be submissive. Most of the time Haze the Dog is better behaved than most children I encounter and even a few entitled college students I meet as well (but only a few–most college students want limits and guidance).

There are no bad kids, there are just bad parents and worse teachers who tolerate the parents’ behavior.

Monks Don’t Vow Silence

Carl McColman over at Patheos has a great piece on how the Cistercians respect for silence has been misinterpreted over the years as a vow. Their restraint on speech comes from a different place. He compares their affinity for silence to the commitment that married couples make to one another as the result of their vows to love. And he goes very deep.

The silence of a monastic is like the intimacy and vulnerability of a marriage. It emerges from a place deep within the heart of the nun or monk. True spiritual silence is far more than the mere absence of noise; just as true love is far more than the absence of hatred or fear. Silence, embraced for spiritual reasons, opens us up to the hidden presence of God in our lives. Such hidden presence is subtle, and cannot be well expressed in words—for words, even those printed on a page or computer screen, paradoxically signify the absence of silence. The silence of God can never fully be explained but must simply be experienced—rather like love within a good marriage, which can never be fully captured by words but can only be lived into by those fortunate enough to enjoy a thriving union.

It is only out of humility that I can write these words, for as a layperson, who am I to comment on the experience of monks or nuns? But I’m taking the risk of sharing these thoughts anyway, for I believe that the silence of monastics is a reminder to all people of faith—even those of us who do not live in a cloister—to make room in our lives for at least a modicum of silence, hopefully every day. But just as monks do not reduce restraint of speech to a vowed act, it would be equally futile to try to regulate our quiet in any kind of legalistic way.

I learned something! Nice! Read the entire article to learn even more.

How to Stay Married: The Wedding is Not the Marriage

So for the past year now, Marion and I have been helping prepare couples for marriage at our parish. Many of them come to their wedding day in very good shape. They know each other well and are determined to face whatever life’s challenges are together.

But some get a wake up call. There’s usually an issue or two that the couple haven’t discussed and when they begin to look deeply at issues like: How we’ll spend money, or what we’ll do if we find out we can’t have children, or how much time will we spend with each other’s family or what we’ll do if one finds the other has been unfaithful?

Chooseperanza has a bit to say about the state of WEDDINGS in our culture today and how it’s led to making a wedding the zenith of most relationships as opposed to the start of a new and now committed one. Her honesty is refreshing and her points more than valid.

I believe that the current statistic these days is that half of marriages end in divorce. Many religious organizations are screaming about the protection of “traditional marriage.” That’s not a topic I’m going to get into here, but I will say this: If one truly wishes to improve the institution of marriage, I would suggest that they target Vegas wedding chapels, online minister certifications, and the wedding industry. Perhaps if the possibility of spur-of-the moment marriages were reduced, people would think more about their choices. One wonderful thing about religious marriages is that many churches require a period of premarital counseling before the wedding, and the couple is able to sit down with a third party who helps them talk through issues in their relationship and to really prepare them for the marriage, not just the wedding.

Amen, sistuh! I’d like to see Capitol Hill go after the wedding industry.

My other thought regards my own wedding. Our wedding day was wonderful and it was one “helluva party” as my colleague Fr. Brett Hoover, wrote to his community that night. But one of the things that many people pointed out was that we really expressed our joy that we were starting a new life together, not that we were at the apex of our love in that moment.

One of the things that I also loved to hear about our wedding was that there was a lot of family members and close friends there. Many of them married themselves. Some know that my own mother was unable to be at my wedding because of illness. My dad was caught between being elated and being sorrowful. And while I certainly didn’t want my mom to miss the wedding it now, in hindsight, served to remind me that life is not going to be all joy and no sadness.

And yet there’s nobody I’d rather live life with than Marion.

After a week in Hawaii together where we had a nice time together to just spend time with each other without the pressure of work and home repairs. Soon we will celebrate 10 years of marriage and we’ll have a small celebration to mark the occasion, but the real celebration has been each day that we have lived together in marriage–through thick and thin, success and failures. We’ve been in love from that day forward and I’d argue that it was a lot longer than that. The love we shared brought us to our wedding day where we made the commitment to love even more intentionally–without any way out of it. No matter what.

Guess what? That kind of love is freeing. We become a free gift to each other. Grace in the midst of life for each other in marriage. God imparts that grace to us as we have been loved by God and that has resulted in us being able to love one another just as God has loved us.

So today let’s pray for the couples who will be married this year that they might be able to wisely look beyond the wedding into married love.

Day 22: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: A Birthday of Fun

Today is my wife Marion’s birthday and we are still in Honolulu. I have nothing on my schedule until dinnertime and so this morning we’ll head out to the water to do some whale watching on a lovely boat in Waikiki.

We don’t get to do things like this as work and time and other obligations often get in the way of just being together and doing things in nature and enjoying each other’s company. We actually do get to spend a lot of time together and think about how we might spend more time, so I can only imagine what happens to couples who don’t think about this and grow distant.

As the whales rise to meet us this morning, may we be reminded that God takes care of us and that nature is our reminder of how precious life can be.

For myself, I am blessed by the gift of this woman’s life who I have called my wife now for nearly 10 years of marriage and nearly 12 years of togetherness. May I never take her for granted.

And no, I won’t tell you how old she is. (I ain’t that dumb!). But doesn’t she look beautiful?

Day 12: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: Appreciating Marriage

Aarti Rego-Pereira is a professor at UB now, but I remember when she was just a graduate student. When I first arrived at St. Joe’s everyone told me that I had to meet Aarti and sure enough, they were right.

Aarti was fairly recently married and I had the pleasure of meeting her husband, Clinton this Christmas. The two of them make a lovely couple. So here’s hoping that they’ll put my gift to good use.

Engaging Memories

Yesterday was the 11 year anniversary of my engagement to my bride, Marion. I was a bit busy yesterday and didn’t get to write much and so I’d like to recount a few memories of the time.

Buying the ring was pretty easy, surprisingly. My friend and best man has a friend who works in the diamond district, so she came with me and walked me through the process. We went a bought a diamond picking from a bunch of them that they laid out on a table. Apparently I have a good eye because our friend told me that I picked two pretty choices to decide from and we settled on one together. We then went to get it set and the usual person who did this for our diamond dealer gave him a hard time about setting this one. So we ventured south to another jeweler and he set them for us. And then I didn’t expect to get the ring that day, but there it was in my hands. I placed it in the box and off I went, nervous as heck, thinking I’m going to get mugged on the way back to my office.

The truth is that I was late for an interview with Paulist Today, an internal publication that the Paulists produced. They would interview new employees or people doing interesting things. I called and apologized for being late.

“I have a good excuse though, I was buying an engagement ring and it took them longer to set the diamond than I thought it would.”

“Thanks for writing my lede, came the reply by from the interviewer.”

I held that ring for two weeks before asking Marion to marry me. I didn;t want to ask on a holiday–like Christmas or Valentine’s Day. I wanted a separate day for us to remember. I think people expected me to ask on Valentine’s Day. People were calling Marion all day on Feb 14th asking what I got her for Valentine’s Day and they sounded disappointed when it wasn’t the ring.

But two days later the stage was set…

I told Marion to meet me at work and that we’d go to dinner. I said to her that she should dress up because we’re going somewhere nice. (no) But that we’d go to mass first at St. Paul’s and that my boss, Fr. Brett Hoover would be saying mass. (no)

We got there and entered church, Fr. Chuck Kullmann exited the sacristy and was dressed in his vestments to celebrate mass. Marion looked at me and said “I thought Brett was presiding.”

“I think he wasn’t feeling well before. He must’ve asked Chuck to preside instead.” (no)

So three lies. A great way to start a life together.

As mass ended we walked to the back of the church. I had first met Marion in that church and our first conversations started right by the Baptismal font (pictured)

Now unbeknownst to me, Fr Chuck was also back there. A man had stopped him and asked him if he had a minute.

As they began conversation, Fr. Chuck saw me go down on one knee….

“Oh! Hold on one minute!” he says to the guy, who was actually rather upset.

“But Father! This is important!”

“I know!” he replied, “but so is this! Look!”

Both men smiled as they witnessed us becoming an engaged couple. Fr. Chuck was our parish and a close friend of mine. So I was glad he could play a small role here. He came over and congratulated us and the wished the man away to his office for a chat.

We went back to my office and called my parents and few others. But then I had another surprise planned.

Marion was very close to her grandmother, who at the time was living in New Jersey. I knew Marion would want to tell her immediately, but the phone wouldn’t do. So I hired a car (Nyers in general don’t own their own cars in the city) to take us to New Jersey to tell Gram in person.

Once we got there we rang the bell. “WHO IS IT?” Gram practically screamed, not expecting visitors.

“Gram, it’s Marion!”

“Marion! What the heck are you doing here so late at night? (9:00PM)”

She had us come in. And Marion told her the good news.

Tears fell from everyone’s eyes and then gram said those famous words. “Sit down and have something to eat before you go. I have cake!”

I knew then I was marrying into an Italian family to be sure.

We headed back to NYC after that. By the time we arrived back it was past 10PM. Not too many restaurants were open. So we settled for the diner next-door to our church–which is actually where we first met and had a long conversation after a Holy Thursday mass. So that was actually appropriate. To tell the story more accurately, I had met Marion through my friend Patti, and then saw her at Holy Thursday mass. I tried to catch up with them after mass but I lost them in the darkened crowd. I went to the Flame Diner to make a take out order and then I was heading home to Queens. Instead I found Patti and Marion and their friend Linda sitting at the diner. Patti grabbed me and made me join them. By the end of the meal it was like Patti and Linda weren’t even at the table.

So there we were back in the flame. Our associate pastor walked in and offered congratulations–I let him in on the secret the day before. We enjoyed a late night supper and then our night was complete, a first one as an engaged couple. We married a bit more than a year later on the anniversary of our first date, April 20th.

A good day to be sure.

But do you know what day has been better?

Every day since.

I love this woman and am so blessed to be her husband. Please pray for us as we continue our married life together. We’ll be married 10 years in April and have met all the challenges that come with life and love has been more than enough for us.

As Arrupe said, “Fall in love, stay in love. And it will determine everything.”

Because the Custodian Married the Pretty Brunette

Valentine’s Day of course, makes me think of my darling wife. And I have the opportunity each day to love her and to be a good husband to her because of the now nearly 62 years that my own parents have been married to each other.

I can’t remember a time that those two were not in love. Not the gooey romantic kind per se. They have that too, but I’m talking more about the kind of love that, well…Jesus calls us to.

My mom has been sick for years, since I was about 5 the hospital visits started. That was tough for a little kid to deal with, but probably even harder for a husband to have a fairly young wife so sick. Yet, Dad made it seem easy. He rarely complained and always made sure he took care of us and worked hard when mom was well to make sure the bills were managed. A lot of overtime came his way and he often took it to make sure we were well cared for. He was a school custodian, head custodian, to be more accurate. He was proud of that title and those he worked with were proud of him. More importantly, my mother was proud of him. She beamed when he came home and have dinner ready soon. He’d fall asleep in his chair and the snoring would start at some point and my mom would just smile and wake him up.

Last year my dad broke his hip the the usual role of caregiver was reversed. My mom now visited him in the hospital and the rehab center. He’s back on his feet and doing so well. Amazingly well actually and I dot mean that in that backhanded-compliment way. “He’s doing well for an 83 year old.” No, he’s doing well for a 40 year old. He’s better than ever and most importantly–he’s back with his bride–caring for her in their old age together.

That dedication to his wife, now in his old age that really is astounding.

While miles away in Buffalo, I know that I get to love my wife in our home together because the custodian decided to marry that pretty brunette in 1950. They were good, nay great, models of married love–the kind of self-sacrificing love that marriage calls us to. Without that kind of love, one doesn’t really have a marriage–and I think that’s something that most don’t understand, eschewing marriage when things just get too tough.

What might I have to learn from them today? Well, patience for one. There are going to be tough times in my life and my marriage is something that helps me sustain myself in those tough times because I know that my all-too-patient wife has my back. Do I often have that same kind of patience for her when times are tough? Can she depend on me as my mother has been able to depend on my father? Indeed she can. And I hope she knows that. I’m sure she does but I also know that it’s nice to hear once again.

Today, people will feel any number of ways about Valentine’s Day. Some will be lonely because they are not part of a couple. Others will be frustrated because they are in a couple where there isn’t mutual dedication leading to more commitment. And others will be grateful because they have a partner dedicated to that relationship.

Still, no matter where we are, we are called to love. Not romance. Love goes beyond couple-hood and brings us into being dedicated to those we love–not in the hope that we are loved by them in return (though that is often a nice result), but rather we love because we are already loved.

By God.

God loved us enough to share in our life and through that life we are taught how to love…all the way to death and even beyond death. By that life and love we are taught to care for the vulnerable and to sacrifice our comfort for the needs of those who have little. We shift our desires from what we most want to what those in our world needs and in doing so we find God and ourselves in union together and surprisingly happy–perhaps happier than we thought we would be or even could be.

I know that’s the love that my parents share and have shared now for nearly 62 years. And I know that love too, now for nearly 10 in marriage with my Marion. And we thereby are able to share even more love with those that we are called to love. It’s taken us to Nicaragua to care for orphans. It’s sharing food with the hungry and with food banks who care for them. It’s having a listening heart for students, volunteers and friends.

Simply put, it’s embracing love and all that love calls us too, come what may.

Today, this Valentine’s Day may you share love with whomever you are called to. It might be a partner in love, but it also might be someone that you did not choose to love–but rather someone whom God calls you to love this day.

And that kind of love, is truly what can make this a Happy Valentine’s Day for all.

Rebirths on Birthdays

My friend Chris turned 30 and got depressed. We both worked in radio and while it’s a fine occupation, one can begin to wonder what difference that last show really made in people’s lives. Ask anyone who works with the public and they’ll tell you that people don’t call when you’re doing well and tell you how great things are. They instead call when they are annoyed and often Chris would be the fielder of those calls with me picking up his slack.

He was at a crossroads and for Chris, an upcoming promotion would indeed change his career, something us men define ourselves by all too often. Turning thirty was his re-birth into a greater way of life. I trailed him by a mere year or so, if memory serves. But at 30, I left my radio career behind for ministry and I never looked back. Besides a wonderful marriage and the love of a loyal dog my career has hinged on two web-ministry ventures, a semi-rebuilt Campus Ministry and a book with one on the way.

Recently, I’ve felt called to do more with spiritual direction, and specifically with those folks who are in transition at a young age–those looking for rebirth in their lives. I’ve been blessed to do this with university students, recent graduates, Catholic volunteers and a random older parishioner or two. Some days I’m challenged by them, wondering if their darkness will ever lift and why God doesn’t seem to lift their dread. Most days, grace abounds and we’re able to God working in our lives clearly and abundantly. And all days, regardless of desolation or consolation, I am simply blessed by the lives of these people. It is a privileged position that I have to sit and listen–and listen carefully. Some are asked to repeat an important line to bring it more into their consciousness, so as to witness to God’s love and life exhaling from their lips. It is there that we find grace in noticing, noticing our life and God’s love for us embedded somewhere in it–perhaps so deep within that it went unnoticed until that very moment where the lightning of grace strikes.

It seems to me that this is what a birthday should really focus on. We are not merely a year older, nor a step closer to death–two inevitabilities, we realize right off, of course. Rather, we are also entering a rebirth. An opportunity to find grace, notice it and move into life–more abundant life and to have it to the full. Where will this year take us? Where are we feeling reborn in our careers, our relationships, our life in conversation with Christ? Where will God call us and will we be willing to answer “yes” or “not now”? Who brings us into this abundant life and do we show them overflowing gratitude?

St. Ignatius would call this the search for the Magis, the greater, and a birthday for me, is an opportunity to look for just what that is in my life. The truth is that I really am becoming more generative as I age, I give back a bit more to others as a mentor now, than ever before. To do this, I also need to stay current and invest in new ventures for myself–being gutsy to try new things and open to God’s grace to witness to something new. Often it’s not for the feint of heart, finding myself amongst donated human cadavers, in the heat of Nicaragua’s summer, playing with refugee children, or simply living amidst the sacred and the secular on a state University’s campus and finding where religion is both neglected and openly welcomed.

Turns out most days, my life is quite exciting. And yet, the prospect of sitting and listening to others and noticing where they are and where they’ve been is where I find myself most joyful. Whether that’s as a ministry mentor for others like myself or a spiritual director with the young or as a writer, hoping to bring some inspiration where times are gloomy–it is all grace and peace and stillness and a great time to rejoice in what life God has given to us all.

So today, I ask for prayers for me on my 42nd birthday. That I may always be open to what God has in store for me. The number 42 is the number worn by Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Robinson, may not have been the best player in the Negro Leagues, but he was called to take on the hatred of early racism, even from his own teammates. He flew around basepads and was able to bring an entire race of people into a new and wonderful life, filled with a bit more freedom than they had before. Nobody in baseball can wear that number now (unless it was issued to them before it was retired. I believe Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera is the lone wearer of #42 now in MLB).

May we all have the grace to stand up for justice despite what may befall us for our stance or where it might lead us. May we be willing to hear God’s voice in our lives and not harden our hearts in bitterness. Rather, may we take time for quiet to hear the gentle whisper of Christ calling us to listen to our hearts, to the plight of the poor and to be fed with the gift of grace.