My mom and dad have two anniversaries. One anniversary celebrates the day my uncle Bob drove them to Hot Springs, Arkansas to elope. The other celebrates the day about a week later when, having learned of their civil nuptials, my grandfather ordered them to go see Father English and set themselves right with the church.
Like father, like son, I guess. Except, the kid’s a lot slower. Fifteen years slower.
Today, I will marry my beautiful bride, again. And, after almost 20 years, return to full communion with the Catholic church. Thanks to my wife.
But this is not about my parents or me. It’s about the saint I know.
Angela, my wife, began her quest in 2005. She noticed that I’d started going to mass at St. Alban Roe with my boys, all of whom were still young. I didn’t ask her to go because … she wasn’t Catholic. And proselytization isn’t really my thing. I don’t mind defending the church or Christianity. But I’m a pretty bad example of a Christian and I’m even worse of a Catholic. I figured my attempts to convert someone would only scare them away.
But Angela asked me to take the whole family to church sometime. So I did. One Sunday, we started going to St. Alban. Occasionally, we went to Latin Mass at Sisters of the Precious Blood or St. Francis de Sales Oratory.
Angela then began investigating the steps to becoming Catholic. This quest was her opportunity to show God and man all the Christian virtues and a few secular virtues as well: patience, perseverance, hope, and humility. Much faith, too.
Let’s just say there were complications. And weird ones.
I was raised Catholic. I was baptized 10 days after I was born. I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college.
But (and here’s where the “bad Catholic” part begins), I have been married before. Twice. That seemed to be a blocker, at least for me. Angela pushed me to petition the church for a declaration of invalidity, or, as most people call it, an annulment. Or two.
Angela was married before too, but she isn’t Catholic. (Those of you who know canon law probably know where this is headed.) But Angela also needed a declaration of lack of form. And she began Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the education and faith formation course prescribed for conversion into the Roman church.
As Angela dutifully attended weekly RCIA classes, my annulments arrived. No hassle. Turns out that, because the Catholic church makes you jump through a lot of hoops to form a valid marriage, Catholics who fail to follow the formula can be quickly adjudicated as never having been married. (Aka, living in sin.)
But Angela’s journey was only beginning.
The church denied her petition. And the reason kind of makes sense. The church has strict rules for Catholics wishing to enter into matrimony. Catholics are required to know the church’s teachings, so the bar is set high for us. Non-Catholic Christians have a fairly high bar, too. The church doesn’t expect non-Catholics to jump through all of its hoops, but it does expect any baptized Christian to approach marriage with appropriate seriousness and conformity to Christ’s teachings.
For the uninitiated, though, the bar for entering a valid marriage is extremely low. Primitive tribes-people in the Amazon rainforest who’ve never been exposed to the word of God can enter a valid marriage by just about any means at all. If it’s good enough for the local witch doctor, it’s good enough.
Because neither my wife nor her ex-husband had been baptized, the bar for their marriage was very low indeed. And since man cannot unbind what was bound in heaven, well, “thanks for playing, Angela.”
But Angela wasn’t done. The church allows for exception when the exception will do extraordinary good for Christ’s church on earth. Like admitting a saint to the faith.
For the next eleven years, she continued to pursue her full acceptance into the church. Her mother became Catholic in the meantime. Our son from her first marriage became Catholic while she practiced patience. She completed RCIA a second time, only to learn weeks before her scheduled initiation during the Easter Vigil mass in 2017 that her Pauline petition had been denied. Displaying humility and obedience, Angela participated in that very public mass as a catechumen, a candidate for acceptance into the church. But, at the critical moment in the ceremony when her classmates were baptized and confirmed to applause from the congregation, Angela had to walk bravely to a pew to watch and cry and applaud the others.
Imagine how lonely, how singled-out she felt. But Angela persevered.
This past Easter, my step-daughter and her husband were accepted into the church while Angela watched, again, from the pews.
Think about that. When Angela began her journey to Christ and the church, most of her original and immediate family were non-Catholic. By pushing us all to become Catholic or better Catholics, she watch has her mother, her son, her daughter, and her son-in-law drank from the sacred chalice. Like Moses spying the Promised Land only from a distant hill, Angela sat patiently, celebrating their union with the church, aching miserably to join them.
Patience, perseverance, hope, humility.
Last week, Angela texted me a photo. It was a photo of a letter. From the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
I am happy to inform you that a favorable decision has been granted by the Roman Pontiff …
Free at last. Free at last. Praise God almighty, we are free at last.
Today, Angela will be baptized, confirmed, and married in the church. For her patience, perseverance, hope, and humility, Angela gets to enter the Promised Land. And the church gets Angela.
Because of Angela’s saintly patience, perseverance, hope, and humility, I will, today at 10:30 a.m., return to full communion with the church and marry, again, the most wonderful woman I have ever known. I do so without reservation.
Me, the terrible Catholic who knows all the church’s rules, understands the justice of its rules, and systematically breaks the all for my own earthly convenience. Why should I be so blessed?
Because of Angela’s persistence and patience and saintly example, I get this great privilege of returning to good standing in the church Christ gave us. And to marry again the girl of my dreams.
God puts saints on earth to teach us how to imitate Christ. For the truly reprobate like me, he puts these saints right in our own homes.
Angela, my personal saint, I love you.