That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. Genesis 2:24
“Dad says this is your anniversary present,” said Chris as he tipped a wheelbarrow of sand into the form for the new patio. He sounded dubious. Covered in sweat and dust on a sultry afternoon in August, I was piling up 20 pound slabs of stone, while my husband of 20 years sat in a cool conference room at the college, sliding papers around a table. This do-it-yourself project did not look much like the anniversary gifts touted on TV. No pearls?
I’d been contemplating this line from Genesis since I’d heard it read at Mass the week before while Victor and I stood on either side of our oldest son, Mike, at the opening Mass for his freshman year at college — almost 19 years to the day since we discovered we were to become parents. Bound by our vows, we found ourselves bound up anew in this child. A gift on our first anniversary from God to us.
Through the years we joked with each other that we each did 75 percent of the work of being parents, as Victor paced the floors with a disconsolate Chris at 2 a.m. or I tutored Mike in algebra after dinner. Laundry, dirty dishes, play dates and college visits. Fall hikes, family dinners, water fights and choral concerts. A full measure of challenges and joys nurtured equally by each.
St. Augustine once said that miracles “have a tongue of their own … let us not only be delighted with (their) surface, but let us also seek to know (their) depth.” So, too, do these sacraments that hallow our lives have “tongues of their own” that speak to us not only when we first celebrate them, but again and again, drawing us into the depths of the mystery that is our relationship with God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins its discussion of the sacrament of marriage by reminding us that it is a “matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life.” After 20 years of marriage — after 20 years as partners in the whole of life — my labors on the patio truly felt as much a gift from Victor to me, as it was my own gift to him. Caught up in this sacramental marriage, we are mysteriously one body.
Chris’ comment made me think not only about the bond that Victor and I share, but nudged me to seek something of its depths. God dwells in me, and I in God. I have nothing to offer, but what I myself have been given. What work I do is not my work, but God’s gifts, at work in me. God offers to do not just 75 percent, but 100 percent, and calls forth the same in me, in each of us.
Where are the pearls? I have been given them. A string of days, dark and light, each built over time of many layers, knotted together. To have and to hold – and to share –from this day forward.
Lord, grant that as they begin to live this sacrament they may share with each other the gifts of your love and become one in heart and mind as witnesses to your presence in their marriage. — from the Nuptial Blessing
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a wife, mother of two, professor of chemistry, writer and member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr.