Happily ever after

I tell my son he must obey the Church’s laws concerning marriage. But he will do it his own way, I guess. His eyes turn steely when I start to cry. That’s his Army training. Emotions shut him down.

All my kids heard the story of how difficult it was for their father and me. Rob and I did everything wrong. Even now, 26 years into our marriage, I joke that we could have the thing annulled in a week or less. Only the grace of the sacrament kept us together.

We started dating in May. We worked together at a store in the mall, and I invited him to my apartment for pizza and movies on my VCR. He stayed late, but he didn’t kiss me. By mid-June, we were engaged, and within a month I was pregnant. I can’t describe to our kids the confusion I felt. Before I met Rob, I was in a long-term relationship with a guy who one day promised me marriage and kids — and the next day shamed me for crowding him. Now, unwed and expecting, I faced the true test of my belief in “happily ever after.”

Only the grace of the sacrament kept us together.

Ironically, happiness is something we never wished for our children. Rob and I loudly reject the philosophy that everything is permissible “as long as they’re happy.” We wanted our kids to seek God’s will for their lives, which would certainly not bring the kind of quivering happiness the world wants for them. It’s hard to convince a child that denying pleasure will bring a deeper joy than he can ever imagine, but he might have to wait until he dies to experience it.

Rob and I married in the courthouse because the prescribed six months had not passed to be married in the Church. For three months I was denied Communion because we were not sacramentally married. A gentler priest might have explained this to me better, as I tried to explain it to my son. I might have even been convinced to live apart from Rob for those three months. Instead, I was simply told not to approach the Communion rail until our marriage was blessed.

At this time when I needed Jesus most, I wasn’t allowed to approach him. I understood this was the consequence of my sin, and I prayed fervently that my children would never feel the emptiness that comes with separation from the Eucharist. Meanwhile, Rob and I moved into a dingy, roach-infested apartment where we struggled to make ends meet, quarreled, and waited for our baby to be born.

On the first Saturday in December, in a small ceremony in front of the tabernacle, Rob and I were officially married. 

In April Kathleen was placed in my arms, and I cried against her soft head, begging her forgiveness.

Twenty-six years and three children later, Rob and I lie in bed surrounded by the blessings and joys God has surprised us with through the years. We are deeply in love. Our marriage is grounded in faith, enduring the long-reaching ripples of its rocky start. 

These days we anguish over our kids. I tell Rob about my conversation with our son. Neither my words nor my tears got through to the boy, and he packed his things to move in with his girlfriend.

“It will all work out,” Rob promises, because he lives on the graces our marriage brings.

Our marriage is grounded in faith, enduring the long-reaching ripples of its rocky start.

We are quiet in the dark bedroom, and maybe Rob is thinking about our first year together. How many nights did he lie next to me wondering if I would stay, wondering if I would ever love him the way he loved me from the minute he laid eyes on me? But no, I hear his breath grow even, and he begins to snore. He is at peace. I am here with him now, and those same sacramental graces have kept us faithful to our vows to love, honor, and cherish.

It will all work out. My prayer for my children is not mere happiness. My prayer is that when they choose someone to love, they will sleep peacefully in the arms of grace.  

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the June/July/August 2016 issue of Catholic Digest.

Caroline RockMarriageMatrimony
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