When ‘Yes’ Meant ‘No’
Let me tell you an unfinished story about God’s Providence. Like any laborious anticipation of new life, it is an agony in bearing hope of joy into the world.
I had been on a weekend retreat at a certain Priory of a certain Province of the Order of Preachers. In the courtyard, a quadrangle between the four halls that all conclude at the intervening of the Chapel, stands a statue of Saint Dominic pointing outward, pointing beyond the walls of the Priory. I had arrived for inquiry as to discernment of God’s vocation, a testing of the spiritual fruits of my prayer with the community to discover if this might be a life our Good God was calling me to follow.
The second evening, after the evening meal, those of us on the retreat along with the men of the Priory convened for some small talk in a side of the complex that is a bit like an opened garden area; a fire pit was lit, a younger priest listened over here with a tobacco pipe, an older priest talked over there with some light banter.
I introduced myself to one of the older priests. He shared his name. Surprised to recognize the name at this Priory, I mentioned that he had married my parents–my mother had mentioned his name to me the evening before the retreat when I informed her I would be going.
With raised eyebrows and a bit of focus to his look, he inquired as to my name and then told me my shoulders were too broad to be like those of my father’s. Although he had presided at their nuptial rite some forty years earlier, I did not presume then to doubt that he might have recollection of my father. I dare not presume even now to ask why he would not have recalled the gravity of yoke the span of my mother’s father’s shoulders could pull. He asked, by name, how my parents were fairing. And without any other consideration but the frank and honest truth, I threw the liberation of sterilizing salt that is the light of truth directly into the gangrenous wound he had not yet known was his, too. Without yet an understanding of how it would impact him, I stated it with the frankness of the simple facts–the proclamation of truth, as is every soul’s due:
“Their marriage was annulled.”
He and the younger priests standing by went silent, all breath evacuated from the garden area, though the fire remained lit behind them. I stood, unmoving and unembarrassed as he gave no response.
I, myself, had already been resigned long before to the reality of living as an open and bleeding wound with none so much as to attempt to assist with the insufficiency of a bandage. I had long since been raised and lived with the wounded reality of a mother and father always at odds, rarely in the same room if it could be helped–making decisions of which none would hear though which pertained to all who needed to know.
As I have come to understand, the discovery to a priest, especially a Dominican, that a Sacrament for which he had responsibility was not supposed to have occurred is not much different to his heart than the affliction of telling a parent their child had passed and long before that child came to have children of their own.
In this moment before this gentle priest, his wince and shudder, not visible, could be known by the silence. I stood in the silence with him, standing as the child of a marriage not meant to be–standing as a cross our Good God uses to stitch together a bleeding and open laceration between souls–standing like the surgeon’s stitch of my maternal grandfather’s sutures.
It was a marriage of which my father had always thought, until the arrival of the divorce papers, was her ‘yes’ to him with no knowledge that the ‘I do’ was from her father alone. The same could be said of this priest, also a father of mine by spiritual means and prayers.
The salt of tears still flow to console and cleanse the wounds of my mother’s having been compelled into a marriage, compelled by her father and against her free will. They flow from her eyes, from my father’s eyes, and my brothers’s and sister’s, too, and from this heart in my chest that our Good God, who gave it to me, has accepted back from me as His own.
Our Good God. He felt our wounds, too. He felt them for all of my family and for me…and from all of my family and from myself most of all. Wounds of our family–a family who, were it not for a collision of many errors by many souls over many generations, were not to have been…but here we are, sweet though the fruit of our first parents may appear, bitter though it will be.
O felix culpa! Sweet, happy fault, turning my stomach bitter unto fasting from flesh! Oh, sting of salt and pierce of stitch and senseless scar of what might have been cut off and burnt! Oh, vigil of mercy, evening the scale of justice that it may be fixed no more for cheating!
O eviternity! That our Good God had each of us in mind even before He saw Satan cast down like lightning, and even before He cast out Eve with Adam, and even before we opened His heart again with the piercing of a lance, and even before each of us were all a fabric stitched together within our Mother’s womb. Oh, that our Good God had our Second Eve in mind.