Isn’t that a beautiful young couple up there, circa 1957?
They’re still a beautiful couple 62 years later, but the joy of that day — one that was reflected for all these decades through all of the ups and downs that go with a marriage, and a live fully lived — has become a bit strained. Through years of financial struggle and toil, and holding several jobs while trying to make ends meet in a working-class neighborhood in Queens, through raising five children and — in the toughest of moments, outliving one of them — this couple never flagged or failed. She was the one who couldn’t do enough for you, whether you were family or just a neighbor, maybe even a neighbor she didn’t particularly like but who nevertheless would be gifted with soup or plates of her meatballs and pasta if she’d heard you were sick, or struggling. She’d offer to throw your kids into the mix with her own, too. She’d pray a rosary for you while she was ironing shirts at ten o’clock at night.
And he was the man who worked several jobs, at all hours, but if he saw you working on your car as he was walking home from one of those jobs, he’d stop to lend a hand. He’d always have the tool you needed. If you were working on your house, all the better, because he loved carpentry, and doing dry wall, or just hammering wherever hammers were needed, and fixing where fixing could be done, because that was always fun!
They took the gospel seriously — those adjurations of Christ to walk the extra mile, to give without thought of cost. They raised their children to be like them: Faithful, giving and forgiving, out-reaching, helpful and kind. I remember, when our brother died, how they never sat, never rested during the wake; they were too busy consoling others, upholding young adults who sobbed in their strong arms.
When I think of the phrase “Saints alive!” I think of this couple.
My younger son — the one I used to call Buster — was married recently, but neither of his grandparents were able to attend, because Mom is now very ill. There has been months of deeply painful, difficult-to-watch suffering made even worse in the midst of lockdown and isolation, and by the limited ways their children were able to help.
And now, we are in a moment of true crisis, and whether we come back from any part of it all is at this point unknowable. The fine young priest, who officiated at their wedding, alive with the Holy Spirit, unknowingly delivered a sermon that hit on everything the family was going through, from the grandmother with the unduplicatable meatballs to the fact that all happy wedding days eventually encounter the cross, and particularly so at the end.
As I have written in this piece for Word on Fire, currently my in-laws, and by extension the family, are living the truth of his words.
And it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. But we are Catholics and so we know that while it’s hard, it’s also a privilege. We know that we have, with Mom and Dad, been issued a Royal Invitation:
Along with the Theotokos,
the Woman of the Fiat,
Jesus of Nazareth
a Son of David,
the Christ, the Messiah
the Strong One of Jacob,
King of Kings and Lord of Lords,
cordially invites you to join him
for an occasion of immense and exquisite suffering,
of indeterminate length
on the Via Dolorosa of his own travels
a path of isolation and loneliness
and the misunderstanding of others
concluding at Golgotha,
and with a shared experience
of his Cross
upon which room has been made ready
exclusively for you
for the sake of the life of the world.
You can read all about it, here.