Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 16, 2009

A Letter To A Friend

Dear Dr. A.,

Thank you for sending me the article by Patrick and Claudette McDonald from the March 9, 2009 “America”. I like the title, “The Word Between Us”, since it comports with my own, and Mariellen’s, understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage. Only, in our case if we would have written a like article I think a more appropriate title would have had to be, “The Word With Us”. We haven’t been a couple since the day we met. We have been a Triple.

Let me tell you a story…part of which you may already know, and part of which you probably know only too well.

I was 23 when Sheila and I were married. Twenty-three and totally unprepared for the responsibility of being husband and spouse. Oh, I had ideas, but no real understanding of how to do it. What is more, I had very little understanding…though I was widely and occasionally deeply read in the matter…very little understanding of love.

And so, I went to “school” over the next thirty four years, three months eleven days, eleven hours and 47 minutes, learning and failing and starting all over again. She, God love her, had spent a lot more time than I thinking about the matter, and was my constant guide, fellow student and tutor, never failing in her faith that I would, eventually, understand the course material, and matriculate with good grades.

Our last five or six years together, especially our last two, were the comprehensives, and my “defense”, before she graduated and I entered my Post-Doc period if you will…where I will be until some day, not too soon and not tooooo long, I will join a faculty somewhere in Elysium.

I like to say that I learned what love is while watching my wife die and simply being a witness and servant to that event. It was the way I described myself to Fr. Tim, the man who officiated at my second Marriage to Mariellen when he asked me over coffee in a small restaurant in Newark, OH, one morning, “Tell me Peter, how would you describe your relationship with Mariellen?” Father Tim Hayes was our SD for a while, and confessor; a very able priest, a graduate of the NAC in Rome and adjunct prof at the Josephinum in Columbus. (They should make a film about the kind of man and priest he is.)

I answered, “I am a witness and servant.” He looked a little surprised. “Those are the words we use in the church to describe a Deacon,” he said. I had no idea.

Anyway, I thought of that moment while reading the article you sent me from “America”, the Catholic magazine, as it calls itself. (Are you trying to tell me in your oblique but direct way that there is something, every once in a while, in America worth reading?) The Mc Donald’s speak about their use of Lectio Divina as a kind of therapeutic tool to enrich the lives of married couples.

While I never practiced Lectio with a spouse, I am certainly familiar with the practice of that ancient form of prayer through reading scripture. I was “exposed” if you will by a nice lady, Sr. Mary Anne O’Laughlin, S.N.D., recently dead, who ran a thing called Joseph House here in Manchester, NH. She was a close friend of my close friend Judy (Berra) Ressler, a good and holy woman who used to cut my hair (and pray the rosary with me while doing it) and is a relative of the famous Yankee catcher. Judy and I often went, with some of our other friends, to Joseph House for monthly Days of Recollection which included Lectio, Adoration and some of the best times I’ve had. (I never told my boss, but worked later on those days than my normal 2 or 3pm to make up)

Sr. Mary Anne was closely connected to Spencer Abbey, Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating who were quite active back in the 80’s promoting the use of Lectio and Centering Prayer among the laity. She was, for quite a while, a member of the board of the group which advised, assisted and helped develop Frs. Keating and Pennington’s programs and methods.

All this is by way of letting you know of my familiarity with the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, and some of the modern uses to which it has been put.

Somewhere along the line from the mid-70’s to the present I read The Philokalia (and still do occasionally) becoming convinced that those men had a more complete and better understanding of the spirit and mind of man than any groups of “scientists” and practitioners of that combination of necromancy and astrology we call psychology today could ever hope to have. And, relying on their judgment I began to understand a lot about myself, why I was the way I was and what would help me to become the kind of person I wanted to be…happy, in the scriptural sense of that word; the beatitudinal sense. If you haven’t read them…the five volumes, I recommend them to you. One quickly realizes the truth that The Fall is a complete explanation of all that is wrong, and the one most ignored as we wander around like hogs, our snouts in the dirt looking for morsels and nuggets and calling them “discoveries and truths” or “paths to happiness and personal fulfillment”.

Of course this took quite some time, and the process is not yet complete.

The whole point of Lectio, and the whole point of the writings catalogued in The Philokalia, and the whole point of everything written since Christ rose and Ascended is to bring us to happiness…in the beatitudinal sense; to purge us of the things which keep us from enjoying what God created us to enjoy, which is everything He created, and Him, too. And the reason for that, I have come to know with the certainty I know that the sun shines in day and I have feet at the end of my legs is that He is delighted in out delight of the gifts He gives us. God is, not to put too fine a point on it, in love with us. He dotes on us.

I have an abiding vision in my ever more dim brain of Sheila one day, on her hands and knees on our kitchen floor crawling behind our first grand child, Mary, laughing and exploring and playing with her as she opened herself to freedom and delight. God is with us in exactly the same way I thought then and think now.

As I come to realize that truth more and more, I come to understand that He wishes, like me, a grandfather…or like I was and am still, a doting parent, or a joy filled spouse, or an interested friend (thank you) to be involved in absolutely everything we do, and all that we are, and He furthermore wishes to help us do it and enjoy it even more than we could possibly ever think we are able to do so.

The great fault is that we remain, most often, at the level of 2 year old children, loudly insisting, “ME DO IT! MY DO IT MY WAY!”. Of course, God allows us, ever ready to “kiss the boo-boo” that inevitably results from that course while He waits for us to learn the lesson. Doing it my way always ends up in some form of disaster.

I’ll not go through the article you sent me point by point. But, I would like to suggest my own way of looking at things. Somewhere in the article the authors mention that Lectio may, eventually, lead to a growing together, a sharing of souls, among the married couples they urge to practice it. I believe they miss a great opportunity to speak to the point that THIS is exactly God’s purpose for the Sacrament, and the graces He affords a married couple. But, this is not limited to the couple, themselves. Gifts are best enjoyed when they are shared, and the best gifts are meant to be shared as widely as possible.

This would be the point of an article written by Mariellen and me: That marriages are made to grow, that the growing includes God, must include God, and that the growth is to be consciously and intentionally undertaken. Think of the form of a baseball diamond as a graph of a marriage; no x/y axis, just opening to infinity. It was our understanding of the way we met and married, and is our understanding of the form of our marriage.

This kind of relationship extends through the couple to absolutely everyone and everything around them. This I believe, and not on faith alone. I have seen and experienced evidences of this truth. “That all may be one…”, is not a polite nostrum, a comforting bromide for pleasant reflection after a nice meal. It is the way things are supposed to be. It is, literally, what Christ was telling us His father wanted for us, and it is, literally, the best news possible.

The world, especially our culture…Western Enlightenment, does not see this, too busy chewing on the poisonous fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and bent on following the dicta of infancy, “MY DO IT MYSELF!”.

Joyfully,
Peter

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