Archive for July, 2013


Narrow Road

Our original intention was not to climb the mountain, rather it was to take the Gondola up and walk down the 3 mile, 3,000 foot elevation change. The $52.00 price tag changed our minds and so did the perky young attendant, “Oh, I climbed the mountain yesterday and it only took an hour and a half.” To this we replied, “We’re old, how long do you think it would take us?” Suffice it to say, we were like the little train who thought we could, and thus began our assent to the top of Mt. Vail.

According to Junior, the first leg of the trip was the most difficult.  We were not only cheap, but cheap suckers as we nodded our heads in tandem at this ridiculous proposal? Save a dime, but perhaps risk making the evening news; “Deluded Phoenix Woman Airlifted Off Mountain.”

Commencing our hike at a daunting 8,300 foot elevation was like starting the journey with only one lung. I took about forty steps and felt like I was gasping for air out of a straw.   I gazed longingly down the mountain at the gelato shop, and with a begrudging snort advanced onward.

Only 2,975 more feet to climb to the top of the 10,300 foot summit… I wondered how many people had heart attacks along the way and when I would start seeing the memorials.

I’m not going to lie; the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. As the minutes turned to hours I found myself wanting to quit and turn back about every fifteen feet. You do the math. It was just so hard.

Ahh, and here is where I had an epiphany as I prodded myself, step by step, painful breath by painful breath. The “narrow path” is arduous and grueling.

It’s funny how God teaches us as we journey in this thing called life. The path that traversed across this mountain was surrounded by beauty to be sure, but it was also treacherous if you didn’t pay attention. There were stones to trip over, fine dust as slippery as ice, and roots that caught your feet just when you thought you were clear. Every time we finished a path that seemed to touch the sky, we assumed it would get easier. We were wrong.

Life is like that too.

We encountered a variety of folk on the path as we meandered upward. Most smiled and walked by us like we were standing still. Those were the people who were conditioned through practice and perseverance. In the spiritual work, one might liken them to the saints. They were tested and tried in the fire of love through adversity. It wasn’t like the path was any easier for them than it was for us, but because they were in proper shape they traversed it more effortlessly.

We also ran into two women who had chosen the path we had initially rejected, by taking the easy ride up and walking down. One of the women was completely covered in fine dust because the steep incline and unexpected turns caused her to lose her footing, tumbling over the roots, and face-planting into the dirt. Life can be like that slippery slope too, we can think there is an easier route, one that isn’t so difficult and demanding, and yet we can easily lose control and crash.

There are no easy paths or lives devoid of pain or trial or adversity. God the Father tells St. Catherine of Siena, “…for no one can pass through this life without a cross…”

Jesus further reminds us in Matthew chapter seven, “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” The paths that lead up this mountain were narrow and there was only enough room for one to pass at a time.

“Those that find it are few.”

These words should wake us up from our relativistic banter that suggests we are all ‘good enough” to make it to heaven and God is just a good guy who really wouldn’t send anyone to hell. In The Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena it reads, “Thus, no one has any excuse, because both reproof and truth are constantly given to them. Therefore if they do not amend while they still have time, they will be condemned by the second condemnation…”

None of this is meant to cause us to despair, but rather to seek to reorient our lives if they have drifted off course. Even God “wishes nothing but our good” but there is this little caveat we must recall; free-will. Everything is a choice, and even those in hell chose it freely. It is only at the end of the narrow road you find heaven, total bliss, eternal communion with God and happiness beyond your wildest imagination.

Like our hike, life can leave us exhausted, breathless, and almost defeated.  But I urge you; press onward because the reward is far greater than any mountain top.

In my previous article (Marriage Changes People) I outlined a hypothetical and all too common scenario observed among young couples today. Decisions made early in their relationship can have an impact on their future marriage. How can we effectively help our young couples achieve happy, faithful, lifelong marriages?

 

This quote by Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen bears deeper reflection, “The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of the sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love.” He goes on to write, “What some people love is not a person but the experience of being in love…they only love being loved, which is the highest form of egotism.”

 

Many today believe erroneously that the intensity of the sexual urge to merge is equal to love and the greatest indicator of the health of a relationship. The good Bishop reminds us that “sex is what we have in common with animals and love is what we have in common with God.” Porn teaches us that sex is easy and requires little effort at all. In fact it seems to resemble the self-seeking activity of animals rather than the altruistic act of human love. Loving someone rightly for their own sake, is a whole different thing altogether and something that takes the determination of a selfless heart, the discipline of a skilled athlete, and perseverance superior to any Ironman competition.

 

People spend countless months in trivial, temporal pursuits with dogged determination to participate in a race, competition, or game. They hone their skills, deprive their body, sharpen their mind and exhaust themselves in pursuit of some elusive plastic trophy, title, or ribbon and when it comes to their marriage they give up before they even break a sweat?

 

Why is that?

 

I would suggest that these activities in of themselves can become distractions that divert our hearts and minds from the real prize of priceless value-love. Working out in the gym is easy, working out a relationship with another takes real fortitude, effort, and a little word we don’t like to hear-sacrifice. Oh we are ok with sacrifice when it comes to sports, but when it requires that I die to my own selfish will and place another consistently first, we give up. I like to use the analogy of a bike rider. If we are coasting we are either going downhill or on a level surface.  No one wants to be coasting downhill towards inevitable disaster, they apply the brakes and change course. Marriage takes work and tireless effort, it is like pumping up a hill and the good news is we are on a tandem bike. We don’t have to go it alone or do all the work. In fact when we are both doing our part, we are making great strides and having a grand adventure together.

 

What is love?

 

Love is not give and take as the culture suggests, but simply-give.  Marriage is not fifty-fifty either as I have heard mindlessly spewed. If that were true no one would ever make it to the goal. Think full coverage, one hundred, one hundred. Love is limitless, never fails, gives up, or quits.

 

Our married love is modeled after God’s Trinitarian love. Giving and receiving in fullness, no half measures. We are to show the world through our imperfect but authentic attempts that God’s love is real, and can transform even the hardest hearts and the most impossible situations.

 

Listen to the words of the vows, “in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, in good times and bad, I will love and honor you all the days of my life.” Those are not words for the faint-hearted. Marriage is serious business and why the Catholic Church takes it seriously. One man, one woman for life and from that union can come a village. Love expands itself; it is fruitful and life-giving just as it is imaged from Love Itself.

 

The world will change when we get love right and it needs to start first and foremost in our marriages and families-the “first school of love.” I am grateful to be part of a diocese that gets this and has made the changes necessary to educate, and assist couples seeking to live lifelong, happy, faithful, successful marriages. We are seeing progress and transformation as we help those aspiring towards the Sacrament of Matrimony.

 

I encourage all those desiring marriage to start first with respecting each other enough to save sex for marriage, where it belongs and bears the greatest fruit. You don’t have to become another statistic, or suffer the agony of defeat. “Happily ever after” is possible and I can say that after thirty-three years of pedaling on all kinds of hills with my husband!

 

Pray, seek and prepare together. Good marriages are made in heaven and place God at the heart and head of everything. It is in them that you will find more consolation, solace, mutual trust and maximum joy than you ever thought possible. The effort we all put into our marriages will produce countless rewards that don’t require dusting. The world needs our witness and together we can all make a huge difference.

 

 

 

 

“Marriage changes people, she’s different now” stated the young man speaking about his new wife.  “We lived together for two years, then suddenly”, claims the new husband, “the ring popped on and she changed?”

Is she really different, I wonder? Did the marriage really change her?

Many engaged couples I meet are already sexually active and living together. It is in fact a rare occurrence when I interview a couple that is not in this category or had a prior marriage…or three.

These beautiful young souls do not think they are harming their future marriage with their current conduct. To the contrary, they believe they are helping it. Oftentimes I have to explain the Church’s teaching to help them comprehend what is at stake. Some nod their heads as the “lights go on,” others sadly, respectfully disagree. They believe their relationship is different, and not doomed to befall a sad fate. I only hope and pray they are correct.

I present to you dear reader, a common scenario, albeit oversimplified. For the purposes of distinguishing our hypothetical couple, I will refer to them as Sean and Allie.

Sean meets Allie. Allie thinks to herself… this could finally be the one.

Sean and Allie date and sooner or later have sex because that is the expectation in our over sexualized culture. Allie is likely already on chemical contraceptives courtesy of mom from her high school days.

Sean is satisfied in the relationship. His basic needs are met; Allie makes him happy and doesn’t demand too much. Both are captivated with the other.

Allie yearns for a little more emotional intimacy, but doesn’t want to complain or refuse sex for fear of a fight or worse, a break up.

Their sexual relationship actually thwarts the growth of their communication and authentic knowledge of the other, giving only the illusion of intimacy.

Neither truly gets to know the other in reality because their hearts and minds are clouded by the natural pleasure chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin). The relationship is based mainly on a purely erotic level.

Allie tends to sentimentalize Sean’s attributes and disregard his shortcomings with the always popular, “I can change him” attitude.

Their sex life continues, as well as the false understanding of what real love demands, masked and driven by their feelings and emotions.

The next [il]logical and expected decision is to cohabit… after all they are a “cute couple, get along pretty well, and the sex is great.” They believe that trying the other out for compatibility is the best way to ensure they are “marriage material”…if marriage is even part of the equation. Allie might believe this is the natural course of events, Sean may not be thinking this at all. Neither has any idea what their compatibility is, sans sex.

Their bodies, hearts, friends and money are vested in this relationship-and soon no doubt, a pet will join the liaison.

Neither mentions any real issues that might upset the other. Allie in particular will not say anything to risk the relationship, despite the fact that there are certain things beginning to concern her about Sean. She may even be feeling a little used at this point.

Both may be feeling from outside sources the pressure to marry. Allie’s dream of her perfect wedding invades her thoughts regularly. Sean may or may not have this dream.

Allie and Sean have been together for a few years now and may have some unspoken reservations in the back of their minds about the relationship; but it is better than being alone.

If marriage is on the horizon- they may consider a church if it fits their belief system, the prep period isn’t too long, too hard, too costly or just too inconvenient. Anyway who needs some self-righteous church person telling them what to do when they really are more “spiritual than religious?”

Sean and Allie take the plunge and tie the knot. Sean feels Allie might be overspending and possibly feels cut out of the planning which is predominately filled by her friends and mother.

They marry and both are happy…for a while.

Allie may think that she got what she wanted and now feels a little more comfortable in bringing up those little issues that have weighed on her mind for some time now. Sean is no more receptive to this now than he would have been before. Allie pushes onward. Sean wonders what has changed all of a sudden.

Allie may be getting tired of sex on demand- after all she is contracepting so there is no valid “excuses” in Sean’s mind. If she rejects his advances too frequently, this affirms in him that she has in fact “changed.” Allie wonders why Sean is distant and isn’t attentive to her emotional needs like she hoped he would be by now. She wants to be loved for more than her body.

Sean may or may not wonder what’s happening with Allie chalking it up to “moodiness.” Allie is frustrated wondering why she didn’t notice all those things that bothered her about Sean sooner.

Each wonders why the other seems to have changed so suddenly.

They may be reminded erroneously by their friends that marriage ruins people and is impossible.

Should they have married?

Neither understands the other, or what happened? Everything appeared fine when they lived together.

Neither Sean nor Allie is happy anymore, and life is supposed to be about personal happiness.

For the first time they consider divorce.

Both think they have fallen out of love when they never understood the demands of real love.

The marriage ends.

Both are unhappy, but think they are better off and eventually repeat the same foolish cycle this time hoping for different results.

This little scenario is not meant to depress us. Rather it is an all too real look at what is happening all over, at a shocking rate. The newest spike in the divorce rate is eighteen months. The marriage I referred to at the start of this article ended right about that time. I have known still others that lasted less than a year. All of them shared the same components outlined above in chilling detail.

So what is the answer?

Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen writes, “The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of the sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love.” This statement strikes at the heart of the problem.

In my next article (Marriage is a Marathon Not a Sprint) I will reflect further but also share more optimistic news.