Teresa Tomeo is a well-known Catholic radio and TV personality. She and her husband, Deacon Dominick Pastore, have been speaking together for some time about marriage. Now they have co-authored a book, Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings Out the Best in Marriage, published by Ave Maria Press. Catholic Digest spoke to them about their reversion to the Catholic faith, works of mercy in the Church, and how they keep their marriage strong.
This is the first book the two of you have written together. What made you think the time was right for this to happen?
Teresa: In the three years since Dom has been ordained, we’ve been doing more speaking events as a couple. We weren’t thinking of writing a book together, but our wonderful editor, Heidi Hess Saxton, approached us with the idea. She thought that the works of mercy applied well to our marriage journey and that our experiences could help others.
Dom: I would never have thought about writing a book, but Heidi’s proposal sounded so right that we couldn’t say no. We realized it was something we truly wanted and needed to do.
Why is it a good idea to look at marriage in terms of the works of mercy?
Dom: Lots of us practice the works of mercy in our everyday lives, but probably not so much in the context of our marriages. Consciously doing so, consciously seeing one’s spouse as the first person to whom we should minister in this way will be, we hope, a life-giving experience for couples.
Teresa: We tend to put these works of mercy into a “missionary box”: things we do as Christians in the world. I used to see them very literally—feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned. But in looking at our own lives, we could see that we were hungry, thirsty, and imprisoned in our own ways, and we could apply these works to healing and enriching our relationship.
Before the two of you returned to an active faith life, your marriage was in trouble. Both of you were more invested in career goals than in your marriage. Even after your “conversions,” old habits were hard to overcome. For couples in this same situation of starting afresh, could you describe the key attitudes that most helped to heal your marriage?
Teresa: First put Christ first. “If a man abides in me he bears much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing”(John 15:5). Our marriage is a perfect example of this verse. We tried it on our own and almost lost everything. Praying together is important—it can take many ways, shapes, and forms. Next, couples, especially those who have children at home, need to take time for themselves. Couples often have no problem dedicating time and money to kid’s activities, but they never bother to attend a Marriage Encounter, a couple’s retreat, or even have a weekend away by themselves. And they wonder why they’re drifting apart! The best thing parents can do for their kids—after raising them in the faith—is to keep their marriage strong.
Dom: Forgiveness is crucial—I can’t emphasize it enough. Without forgiveness we are forever keeping score of who did what to whom; who was right and who was wrong, etc. Self-knowledge is also important. I’m not perfect—I’m a sinful, fallen person, and I must remember this as I interact with my spouse. And as Teresa says, Jesus has to be the third party in your marriage.
Each chapter of Intimate Graces takes one work of mercy and shows how spouses can do these works for one another. Tell us which work of mercy has been an area of growth for you as a husband or wife.
Dom: My greatest challenge is “clothing the naked”—if you ever see my wife’s closet, you’ll see that I’ll never have the chance to do this one. (That’s a joke!) Actually, my challenge is “embracing marriage as an ongoing path of discovery,” which is our subtitle under “Instruct the Ignorant.” I’m the type who likes a plan, a road map for everything I do. Being open to grace and trusting God’s providence on the journey of marriage is difficult for me at times.
Teresa: For me, “ransom the captive”(an alternate form of “visit the imprisoned”) has the most meaning. Through the grace God gave him, Dominick saved me from myself in more ways than one. He helped me see that the career I’d sacrificed so much for was not all it was cracked up to be and that my talents could be used in many other ways. He also ransomed me from my own regrets. I had taken my marriage for granted for so long. When I came back to the Church, the remorse and guilt over what I had done were almost overwhelming—I thought I didn’t deserve a good husband and a good marriage. But my husband saw me through the eyes of Christ, a divinely conceived creature, and that made all the difference.
Teresa, your return to the faith came shortly after Dominick’s. Suppose only one spouse has a relationship with Christ and not the other—what advice do you have for him or her?
Dom: It’s a frustrating situation. Continue to pray and to serve, knowing that God sees what we do and will honor that. If your spouse had a protracted illness, you would just keep on caring for him or her. It’s a similar situation here—there’s a healing process that needs to happen as Jesus works on your spouse’s heart. Look for “no pressure” activities you can experience together. Holidays such as July 4 or Memorial Day events often have a religious aspect to them. These things can open a door for deeper conversation. Another idea is to seek counsel of another person whom you both trust and can relate.
Teresa: Just keep loving God and your spouse like crazy! The more Christlike you become, the more your spouse (eventually) will want what you have. Pray for your spouse and don’t force faith issues or activities on him or her. Pushing too hard will often move your spouse in the opposite direction. The timing is God’s, not yours. You’re not alone. Join a prayer group or Bible study where you can share your faith enthusiasm freely.
Dominick was ordained a deacon in 2012. Can you share how this impacted your marriage?
Teresa: Every time I see Dom on the altar, it’s a testimony to the miracle of God’s love. If someone had told us back in the day that Dominick would be a deacon and I’d be in full-time ministry, we would have laughed out loud. God has a sense of humor. The diaconate formation was beautiful, challenging, and interesting. We made many friends in the process. Since ordination, life hasn’t changed drastically. I’ve switched parishes so I could attend Mass with Dom each week. His schedule is a little busier, but other than that it has been a complete joy. In the future, we hope to do more as a deacon couple in marriage ministry.
Dom: One Saturday night, shortly after I began my first parish assignment, I realized I had to get to the store for some things before it closed. I looked like a train wreck because I’d been doing yard work all day, but I figured it was late—no one would see me. Wouldn’t you know it, at the checkout I heard: “Hi, Deacon! See you tomorrow at Mass!” That incident taught me that, as a deacon, I need to hold myself to a higher standard so that Christ can shine through me no matter what I am doing. And that especially applies to my marriage. Since ordination I think our marriage has grown deeper. We’re even more appreciative of the gift God has given us in each other.
Describe your ideal date night or day off together.
Dom: I’m sure Teresa will say something about Italy.
Teresa: Italy! It’s our favorite place on earth, and we go at least once a year.
Dom: But if we just mean a day or an evening, then something simple and low-key, probably near the water (Lake Michigan).
Teresa: If we can’t go to Italy, we do the next best thing: eat at an Italian restaurant, or stay home with a bottle of wine with the music of Andrea Boccelli or Chris Botti in the background. Or we go out on the water when it’s warm.
Dom: After having nearly thrown away our marriage, we now value just being together and talking about how God is working in our lives.
Teresa: God is with us on date nights. Inevitably we talk about the faith: it’s a far stretch from where we were years ago but such a beautiful place to be.