Trying to Do What I Promised

Article by Dr. Tom Neal

October 19, 2015

Share

Over the years, I have made it a practice to write journal reflections on marriage around the date of our anniversary. Insights I’d gained during that year. It’s a great gift to look back to see how my thinking has evolved. The priest who prepared us for marriage told us, “Everything you need to know about a happy marriage is in the Nuptial Mass.” Because of that comment, I took up the habit of prayerfully reflecting on various texts and symbols from that Mass. Today I will share with you a selection of my reflections written over the last several weeks as I prepared to celebrate our anniversary.

WedPhoto

20 years — 7305 days — ago, at around 10:45 a.m., Patricia and I joined hands.

I said, “I promise.”

She said, “I promise.”

In the play, A Man for All Seasons, St. Thomas More says: “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”

How can I justly extol the gift of a nuptial promise? It is freedom’s noblest act, the oblation of liberty for love.

It safeguards every good in our marriage. Without it, all would crumble. It is a key that unlocks our trust; a safe-space for the exchanging of unprotected hearts; a bond that builds an impregnable fortress; a playground for our children; a sanctuary for our joy; an altar on which we offer our one-flesh sacrifice; a confessional in which we reconcile without fear; a cultivated garden for every imaginable virtue; a cornerstone for civilization.

“I promise to be true to you.”

True. No lies. Honesty. Fidelity. Integrity. Consistency.

Only you. You first. All else comes after you. All loves find their place in service to our love. You are my first way of loving God above all things, and by it I will be judged. I love God best through you and with you. You are the perfection of my vocation to my love neighbor as myself, caritas in extremis. “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:28).

I am loved by God best through you. I can no longer see His Face apart from yours. “He who does not love his [wife] whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

You afford me the chance to be forgiven 70 times 7 times, and to forgive, because you’re always there. You know me terrifyingly well, I can’t run away. I know you. Through you, Christ’s power enters my weakness and his grace super-abounds.

You and I, my bride, are co-celebrants of a timeless covenant, a real-time Sacrament, a reconciling liturgy, and a grace-giving icon of the earthy, daily, untidy, holy love of God.

“…in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

I say “yes” to all of you — all that you were, are or will become. My promise of love embraces joy and sorrow, rejection and acceptance, failure and triumph, riches and poverty. I will choose to love you again on every waking, and kiss you before falling off to sleep. I will ask of God, who has loved you from all eternity, to place in me His love for you.

I promise to show you honor, in small ways and great, to uphold your dignity and to defend your honor. I will never speak ill of you to others or betray our sacred trust.

I willed these things then. I will them now. I will them to the end. So help me God.

“What God has joined man must not divide.”

Our love, our bond, our unity, our capacity to create life is no possession. Tout est grâce, “All is grace,” and all that is freely received is to be freely given. We are poor stewards, keepers of an unbreakable covenant not of our making that God has so generously entrusted to our safe-keeping for the life of the world. We are an overflowing chalice that holds His Blood-shed, we are a paten on which His Body-broken rests. We are earthen vessels of His promise. In confessing ourselves to be a Sacrament, we renounce all claim to authorship, to power over who we have become, and ask God to write our love story as He wills.

Our prayer, my love, is always to be a grateful act of humbly receiving anew from God each day who we are, seeking His mercy for our failure to be who we are, begging all the while for the grace to become what we have received. May we, O God, become a credible sign to our children and the world that you are faithful, loving, merciful, longsuffering and the lover of mankind.

Every day unfolds God’s laboring to join us, to weave our lives together in unimaginably intricate ways. Through suffering, joy, worshipping, parenting, pleasure, working, dancing, crying, arguing, singing, failing, moving, drinking, trusting, praying, laughing, whispering, repenting, reconciling, walking, yelling, eating, sleeping. Then one day, dying. “Consciousness of self at new and previously unexperienced levels is now discovered and understood by each primarily through the mediation of the other. Their personhood, in all its potentialities, is being realized day by day in their nuptial consubstantiality and oneness with God” (Paul Evdokimov).

My grandfather wrote a long letter to my wife and me before our wedding day, and these words remain for me the most powerful:

From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules;  there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine.” Only “us,” “ours.”  I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends…And for over 69 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity.

Someone said to me the other day: “Wow, twenty years. Congrats! How would you sum it all up?”

I said, “Trying to do what I promised.”

Keep us forever faithful, O Lord, for without your grace we fall away into nothingness. Amen.

From the Crowning Service of the Eastern Rite of Matrimony:

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Holy Celebrant of mystical and pure marriage, Maker of the laws that govern earthly bodies, Guardian of incorruption, Kindly protector of the means of life: do You Yourself now, O Master, Who in the beginning created man, and appointed him as the king of creation, and said, “It is not good for man to be alone upon the earth; let us make a helpmate for him‑” then, taking one of his ribs, made woman, whom when Adam saw, he said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, for she was taken out of her man.

For this cause shall a man forsake his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, and two shall be one flesh‑” and “whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” And now, O Master, Lord our God, send down Your heavenly Grace upon these Your servants, Thomas and Patricia, and grant unto this woman to be in all things subject unto the man, and to this Your servant to be at the head of the woman that they live according to Your Will.

(+) Bless them. O Lord our God, as you blessed Abraham and Sara. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Isaac and Rebecca. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as you blessed Jacob and all the Prophets. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Joseph and Asenath. (+) Bless them O Lord our God, as You blessed Moses and Zipporah Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Joakim and Anna. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Zacharias and Elizabeth. Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved Noah in the Ark.

Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved Jonah in the jaw of the sea beast. Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved the holy Three Children from the fire, when You sent down upon them the dew of the Heavens. And may that joy come upon them which the blessed Helen had when she found the Precious Cross. Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Enoch, Shem, and Elias.

Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Your holy Forty Martyrs, sending down upon them the crowns from the Heavens. Remember them, O Lord our God, and the parents who have reared them, for the prayers of parents confirm the foundation of houses. Remember, O Lord our God, the wedding company that here have come together, to be present at this rejoicing.

Remember, O Lord our God, Your servant Thomas and Your servant Patricia,and bless them. Give to them concord of soul and body. Exalt them as the cedars of Lebanon, and as well‑cultured vine; bestow on them a rich store of sustenance, so that having a sufficiency of all things for themselves, they may abound in every good work that is good and acceptable before You. Let them behold their children’s children as newly planted olive trees round about their table; and, being accepted before You, let them shine as stars in the Heavens, in You, our Lord, to Whom are due all Glory, honor, and worship as to Your eternal Father, and Your All‑Holy, Good, and Life‑creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.