For Better or For Worse – Until Death Do Us Part
The other day I was folding the huge pile of my family’s laundry. I offered this mundane ordinary household task to our Lord out of love for Him when I asked Jesus, “What would You desire for me to me write in order to witness another of Your many precious blessings to all those who may not know of Your merciful and boundless love?” I added lightheartedly, “Well, let’s think on this together!'” And then I turned around to pick up another piece of clothing from the floor to fold when my eye caught sight of the bedroom wall where a large framed portrait of me in my wedding dress at the age of twenty-five was hanging. I beamed broadly as the Holy Spirit gave me an immediate understanding upon glancing at the portrait what Jesus would have me next share with you.
My husband and I celebrated our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary on June 8, 2012. We met in 1982 as foreign students living in London. I had come from America to do my graduate studies. My future husband, a Palestinian from a poor Muslim family from an Arab town in central Israel had come to London the year before me. He had come to London from Jerusalem where he had been working since leaving his village to what he hoped would be a new life full of many opportunities. We were both about 22 years old. I found a small studio near Marble Arch and moved into it the weekend before classes began.
That particular Sunday morning I spontaneously decided to walk across nearby Hyde Park and go alone to a museum on the other side of the park. (On Sundays I did not go to church. Although I had been baptized as a toddler in my mother’s Norwegian Lutheran church and sent to Sunday school until the time of my confirmation at age 13, I had never formed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As a teen-ager and later as a college student and then a graduate student I lived a very worldly life far from God.)
As I walked back across Hyde Park I arrived at Speaker’s Corner and there I saw a large group of people gathered around one man who was standing on a soap box speaking to the crowd about foreign affairs. In particular he was discussing the Israeli – Lebanese – Palestinian war which had broken out during that summer of 1982 and a terrible massacre of men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon that had occurred. I stopped and listened for a while to a conversation he was having with one young American student about this subject.
Although I had left the Lord years ago by my life choices, He had not abandoned me! As compassion moved within my heart – all love and goodness has its origin in God – I felt the suffering of all these peoples caught up in a brutal war – their struggle, their pain, their yearning for justice, for acceptance, for dignity, for security, for peace, for hope, for life.
I could not hold back any longer. I felt compelled to lift my hand to indicate to the speaker that I too had something to share with those gathered there. I spoke words arising and flowing from God’s love and mercy even though I did not realize this as His presence at that time. In the back of that crowd was a young man who approached me from behind when the session had come to an end and the crowd was dispersing. He was “attracted” to me because of the words of understanding and compassion that I had spoken. The young man wanted to get to know me. Yet, in truth, it is the Lord he really heard – the Spirit of love and goodness – the One all our hearts innately desire to know.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us.
This is how we know that we remain in Him and He in us, that He has given us of His Spirit…
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him… We love because He first loved us… for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1st John 4)
And so began the journey of our lives together. We fell in love and thinking that was valid enough reason, we moved into my little studio at Marble Arch “knowing” each other but not “knowing” God. At that time we were spiritually ignorant of the truth that every human being is called to live a life of godliness in reflection of the glorious image of their Holy Creator.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
2 Peter 1:4
By which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the Divine Nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
Both of us having long before turned from the spiritual truths taught to us in our youth and following the ways of the world our consciences became dim over the years. We came to believe that it was acceptable to have sexual relations before marriage and to cohabitate. Our minds had been re-fashioned according to the pervading ungodly modern secular world view and we had lost the sense of sin.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…( Ephesians 2:1-22)
At Easter-time 1983 during the University break we decided to make a romantic trip to Rome. Neither of us had ever visited the Eternal City before.
One night we went out dancing and drank way too much wine. We woke up the next day close to dinner time, completely disoriented to the time and place. We regretted our foolish behavior, but not out of shame that our actions offended our holy and loving Heavenly Father, but rather because we both had headaches and felt sick.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
One afternoon we went to the Trevi Fountain where we threw three coins into the waters vowing to each other that we would get married and one day return back to Rome to throw three coins in the fountain again after having been married. Even though we were far from God at that time, in His long-suffering and merciful love He would never forsake us. He would continue to call us patiently and perseveringly to eventually draw us back to Himself.
Some time later we went to St Peter’s, not out of any religious motivation, but as tourists. The exact time we happened to walk into St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II was processing across the courtyard. What a “coincidence” that we had arrived at that exact moment to see the Holy Father at very close proximity completely in the open. We took an entire roll of film.
We were excited to see, not the Vicar of Christ, nor the visible Head of Christ’s Universal Church, nor the Supreme Pontiff of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church or the beloved Holy Father to more than a billion Christians, but for both of us at that time, simply a “famous personality” for whom we had no particular sentiment.
But one day, many, many years later after having being pursued in long-suffering, passionate, merciful love by the Heavenly Bridegroom, I would turn my whole being back to the Jesus of my childhood to receive His total forgiveness for my multitude of sins and so enter into the joyful intimacy of “knowing” Him – who is the Divine Lover of my soul. I can clearly see the tender Hand of the steadfast God gently holding and guiding my (and my husband’s life) throughout all these years and I understand that there is no such thing as “coincidence.”
We completed our studies in London and together moved to America. In 1985 after cohabiting for three years, we were married in the protestant church of my childhood for sake of “tradition.” I still recall the good efforts of the dedicated pastor who tried so hard to share the truth of the Gospel with us, but we still did not have “ears to hear.”
Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God…
And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow His seed. And as He sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!…”
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved…. (Luke 8)
Nonetheless, the good pastor performed the rite of “holy matrimony” before the living God and Lord of Heaven whom we did not yet know or recognize at that time of our lives. Yet, we entered into our marriage with full knowledge of our actions and complete sincerity towards each other intending our solemn vow to be binding “until death do us part.”
Like most married couples, we experienced times of joy and passion, times of hardships and dryness, times of closeness and alienation and lack of communication, times of triumphs and grave moral failures towards each other. Careers began, children were born, illness struck, vows were broken and forgiveness was offered… Over three decades we had experienced nearly everything possible – good and bad – in a marriage. Without the grace of God, we could not have made it.
About 15 years into our marriage I began to follow Christ after He sought me, a lost sheep, and found me, carrying me as His little lamb and gently leading me into His Holy Catholic Church. The years after my conversion were extremely challenging years with my husband who remained an avowed atheist. The hard words of Jesus were fulfilled in our case:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.
For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’” Matthew 10:35-36
After coming into the Catholic Church I began to pray for a miracle. I prayed alone secretly to Jesus that by our 25th wedding anniversary which would take place in June of 2010, the Lord would bring about a change of heart in my husband, and would bless me by giving us the extraordinary gift of a renewal of our 25th wedding vows in the Catholic Church. While I prayed for this dream to come true, in all honesty I could never imagine it as a reality, even with all the faith I had. How little faith we really have! How little we trust our all- powerful Lord! I hoped for it, but I did not believe it would come to pass. It would be an unimaginable miracle!
One morning my husband woke having had a powerful dream. He dreamed that we were renewing our wedding vows. I was astounded and began to wonder what Jesus may be doing. My husband until that moment did not know about my secret prayer that I had been praying since coming into the Catholic Church in 2004. Only the Lord knew this! After his dream, I told him of my secret prayer of all these years. Because of the suffering in our marriage and the work of forgiveness, his heart had been softened and he was able to receive this!! He told me he would be willing to renew our marriage vows in Church!
This was the first part of my prayer being answered by our Lord Jesus – that He brought about a softening and change of my husband’s heart through our sufferings and through the mercy and forgiveness that only God (Jesus) makes possible.
The Lord used our suffering to move us to Israel a few months later. After my husband’s mysterious dream and my revealing my secret prayer to him – as I could now share spiritual things with him in conversations for the first time – I could openly begin to try to make an arrangement to renew our 25th wedding vows in the Catholic Church. So I wrote a letter to a close friend in Rome asking him for his help to set up something thing special for us for this occasion. At one point he contacted me and told me that he was working on something extraordinary! He was trying to set things up so that we could come to Rome and join a small group to receive a papal blessing from Pope Benedict XVI our marriage. How exciting!
The months passed and the summer of 2009 approached. I received a call from Claudio, my Roman friend a few days before heading home to America to visit my parents that summer. He told me very sadly that he had tried everything to set up this blessed event during the entire year, but that his “inside” contact, had just been moved from their official post and all his hard efforts to “make it happen” had come to naught. He had come to a “dead end.” He expressed how terribly sorry he was to disappoint me. Oh well, I guess it not supposed to happen, I thought.
I left for the USA and arrived in New Jersey. The very next day I went to the local Catholic Church in my parents’ town for a daily mass. A short, stocky Italian-American monsignor had celebrated Mass that day. I did not know him. He must have recognized that I was a visitor and not one of his regular daily mass attendees. He came over to me and greeted me warmly. We spoke a few minutes, and he mentioned Rome and Italy. I responded casually that I had been planning to make a trip next year with my husband after 28 years since our first and only trip together of 1982 as young students. I shared with him that we would make a type of pilgrimage back to the Trevi Fountain to throw three coins in it to fulfill the vow we made before we married. I shared about our fateful “coincidental” encounter with Pope John Paul II in front of St Peter’s during that long-ago trip years and years before I would return to the Jesus of my childhood or could ever imagine He would bring me into His Church.
I told him nothing of my recently dashed hopes concerning Claudio’s failure to set up a renewal of our 25th wedding vows in Rome nor the secret prayer I had made for years after coming into the Catholic faith for that purpose, nor all the suffering in my marriage, nor the conversions of hearts that the Lord worked which brought things to this point.
Suddenly, the Monsignor said to me, I can make arrangements for you and your husband to celebrate your 25th renewal of wedding vows at St Peter’s with a private mass. I was astounded! I couldn’t believe this was happening! My joy was uncontainable! I then shared with the Monsignor the entire sequence of events. Now, I would wait to see if he would indeed follow up with his offer. He did. He sent me emails throughout the year apprising me of all his efforts. He identified a priest in Rome who would be the one to say the private mass for us and who renew our vows at St Peter’s Basilica. The priest began communications with me from Rome to Israel. We had at first made plans to have the mass exactly on our wedding anniversary date of June 8.
As June 8, 2010 approached, we realized that travelling to Rome during that week would be difficult as our two daughters would still be in school. So we agreed with the priest to set the mass up during Easter week when they would be out of school for the Easter holiday. We travelled to Rome during Easter week 2010. Early one morning we met the priest at St Peter’s Basilica. The sun was just coming up over the horizon behind the great Basilica. I entered the sacred space with immense joy in my heart as I reflected on all that the good Lord did to bring us to this place and this point in our lives. What gratitude and adoration I felt. He had accomplished the seemingly impossible. He had brought us together through His Spirit, given us two beautiful daughters as the fruit of our love, guided us and protected us all through the years, waited for us, called us, sustained us in our trials, sufferings, agonies, transformed us, blessed us…….and here we were at His doing. Praise you Lord for your unfathomable love!
The priest vested for the mass. He led us to one of the altars inside the great Basilica that had been assigned to him that morning for our private mass. We approached the niche which was the altar of St Thomas. Above the altar was a massive oil painting of St Thomas putting his fingers into the side of the Risen Christ after His Resurrection. I thought to myself in that instance, “how appropriate ” as my husband ( although now with a new heart towards me and respectful of my life of faith) did not yet outwardly believe or profess faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord, God and Savior.
A moment before the priest would begin the private mass for my family of four, an unknown woman approached me and leaning towards my ear, she whispered, “Do you doubt?” I was surprised that she should come up to us in the way she did, being that this was a private mass, and further, I was taken aback by her question. My first reaction was to think she was speaking about my husband’s unbelief. And so I responded to her quietly and quickly, “No, I do not have any doubts, but my husband does.” She then said to me, “May I join you in this mass? I will pray for your marriage and family.” Of course, I gladly accepted that she join us.
The priest celebrated a beautiful mass during which my husband and I renewed our wedding vows and received a special blessing on our marriage and love in the presence of the Lord and our children and the mysterious woman. At the end of the mass, the woman said, “Let us sing a song to the Lord in thanksgiving!” She began to sing a hymn, one of my favorites, of which I knew all the words, “How Great Thou Art,” and I joined her in loud voice expressing all my love and gratitude to our great God who does all things well!
In these past two years I have pondered often on this extraordinary “intruder” to our private mass, and this remarkable stranger’s words to me, “Do you doubt?” I do not yet fully comprehend this mysterious encounter. I have come to believe that it is much deeper than I at first understood. I believe that the questioned posed to me is less about my husband than myself. Do I believe all that Lord has done? Do I truly believe he will bring my husband to a good confession of Faith? Do I trust the Lord fully on my own faith journey?
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he (Thomas) said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see My hands, and bring your hand and put it into My side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name. (John 20: 25-31)
Two months after the private mass at St Peter’s in Rome during Easter, and few days before our actual 25th anniversary date of June 8, 2010, my dear friend Marianne and a priest friend Father Avitus from Tanzania who was visiting us in Israel were all together at En Kerem, the place of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. As we were walking up the hill towards the shrine church, from a distance we saw four other priests dressed in black at the top of the hill where the Magnificat plaques in all languages were hanging in the courtyard outside of the Church of the Visitation.
One of the priests called down to me and inquired as to whether I spoke Spanish. I told him I did. We approached the four priests and we introduced ourselves briefly. Father Barry who had asked if I spoke Spanish never followed up on why he had asked me that. In other words, I did not translate anything for him. There was no evident need to ask for any help in Spanish as the Magnifact plaques were written in every language including English which the priests were all speaking together.
Still to this day, I think back on the absurdity of his question! However, it served to bring us into conversation with them. Father Barry, a total stranger, then asked an extraordinary question to me. He asked, “When is your wedding anniversary.” I told him it was coming up on the next Tuesday, June 8, 2010, which was three days from that day. Bewildered, I asked him why he asked me this question. He responded, “I knew to ask.” He then told me that on that Tuesday coming up, June 8, the date of our 25th wedding anniversary, he would be in Rome and he would lift up my me and husband and our marriage to the Lord at the great Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. Incredible!
It seems to me that this miraculous encounter with Father Barry was purposed by the Lord so that he could perfectly complete the good work that He had begun… from the first moment when his Spirit inspired my husband towards me in 1982, through all the years of our marriage, through inspiring my secret prayer for the renewal of our marriage vows in the Catholic Church, not only as it had been carried out in St Peter’s at the private Mass celebrated for this purpose during Easter, but to correct our alteration of the date to the exact day of our 25th wedding anniversary, June 8, 2010. Thus, in my heart I believe that Our Lord mystically con-validated our marriage in Rome on June 8, 2010 in this extraordinary way! Do I doubt? When I recall all this, how can I doubt? Jesus I trust in you!
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?” …. For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)