Twenty-five years ago today Miss Mary Griffith stood with me at the altar at St. Joseph’s Church in Washington, DC to exchange vows in holy matrimony. After Communion, she joined me in praying a prayer of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Through our public vows we became husband and wife that day. We held tight to Our Lady’s hand and have never looked back.
But on a day like today we realize anew that neither of us could have imagined the abundant and tender mercies of God that were hidden in our promises that fine Saturday: among them, five spectacular children, three miscarriages at 13 weeks, seven different homes, nine different jobs (including two traumatic changes), and now, our home at Ave Maria University and the privilege we share to walk among the loveliness of our students, faculty, colleagues and friends.
Mary and I were reflecting on these many graces at noon Mass today (by the way, Irish tenor Mark Forrest – one of the greats of our time – sang, and will return to sing at 7:30pm tonight in the Oratory and trust me when I tell you that you will be making a big mistake if you don’t go and experience his gift as he sings and prays in the shadow of the Blessed Sacrament). Our hearts overflow with gratitude.
I once contemplated becoming a priest and in 1989 spent a year with the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in Tijuana where their seminary was founded. Mary actually entered the convent and lived the consecrated life with the Missionaries of Charity for one year before the superior in the Bronx discerned she wasn’t called to the religious life (O happy fault!). The fact that neither of us was called to this exalted life left us disappointed, as if we had been consigned by God to a second-class vocation. And then we found each other and discovered how utterly blind we had been!
The vocation to marriage is a high calling! It is rich with opportunities to grow, sacrifice, and as Mother Teresa urged, “love and give until it hurt.” The call to holiness the Lord placed before us is different from the lofty life of a priest or nun, but no less demanding and rewarding.
Thomas Merton, the celebrated 20th century Trappist contemplative, once wrote that “the spiritual life, first of all, is a life.” He was challenging all of us to immerse ourselves in the world and all of its joys and imperfections, and not spiritualize ourselves or daily circumstances. Life is indeed beauty. As the Little Flower said, paraphrasing Romans 4, “everything is grace.” That is true for moments of effortless delight like today, and also true when things get difficult, both in marriage and in life.
Fortunately, the crosses the Lord places before us are weighed with wisdom by a loving Father who alone knows what each of us can handle. What is important is our steadfast faithfulness and our conviction to never quit and give up on His mercy and grace. If we get up when we fall beneath the burdens and disappointments life offers, if we carry on with conviction and embrace the words of Jesus, “Take heart, I have overcome the world!” we arrive at moments where there is a penetrating clarity that indeed we are in the will of God, for better or worse, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, until death do us part.
If you see my beloved Mary congratulate her on surviving 25 years with me! She has earned her “get out of purgatory free” card!
She and I are so very grateful to all of you for your encouragement and acceptance of us. We have felt so welcomed by you from the day we arrived on campus (next week will be the 6th anniversary of the announcement of my appointment as Ave Maria University’s president). May we all discover in our individual vocations our good fortune to be together as members of one Body in Christ, in the glow of Our Lady’s love.