Last Thursday Michael and I meet with Fr. Sylvester for our first real Pre-Cana counseling session. Fr. Sylvester is a young priest; his love for the Faith, for the priesthood, radiates on his smiling face. He's witty and fun to talk to, but there's no denying that behind his charm and congenial manner, there's a no-nonsense vein running through him. He's dead serious about marriage and we better be too—after all, this is a one-shot deal, right?
While Michael was taking the FOCCUS test, a pre-marital questionnaire to assess our compatibility, Fr. Sylvester interviewed me. The first order of business: place my hand on the bible and swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth as God as my witness. This really was serious.
Fr. Sylvester: "Are you free to marry?"
Me: Good, an easy question. I felt confident. I reply, "Yes. I have never been married." No husbands hiding in the closet.
Fr. Sylvester: "Will you accept children into the marriage?"
Me: Enthusiastically I say, "Yes." (Lots!—I think to myself—If my biological buzzer doesn't beat me to the church.)
Fr. Sylvester: "Do you have any reservations about this marriage?"
Me: I hesitate. "Well..." my shaky voice says.
Now the difficult questions begin. If I spill out all of my worries, maybe he'll refuse to marry us? Besides, my concerns seem to blow with the wind—sometimes they're calm, and other times there's a tornado of ugly looking worries twisting and turning in my brain, raising all kinds of blinding bits of dust. Michael says I worry too much, that I'm high strung—that everything will be okay. "We're meant to be together," is always his response. He has a calming effect on me.
Now the difficult questions begin. But if I spill out all of my worries, maybe he'll refuse to marry us?
Fr. Sylvester: "Kristen, in the 'free,' 'total,' 'faithful,' 'fruitful' that's needed for a good marriage, I see that you may be lacking in the 'total' area," he says pointedly, but with kindness.
Prior to our getting engaged, Michael and I met with Father on three other occasions to talk about some of the obstacles in our relationship. He's tried to help (primarily me) discern God's will, regarding marriage.
Me: "Father, you know my concerns—reservations?" I proceed to tick off the most troublesome: "I have reservations that Michael is not Catholic. I feel fear that maybe the marriage will not work out." I let out a sigh "I am 35 years old. It's scary to think about taking such a big step. I think it is easier for twenty-somethings to get married. Don't you?"
Fr. Sylvester: "Perhaps, but I don't usually see this much hesitancy."
Me: "Yes, I have reservations. But I love Michael. For the last two years we have spent almost every waking minute together outside of work. Sophia (my seven-year-old daughter) and I are attached to Michael. I know that the 'total' doesn't seem to be there, but once I make the commitment, I'll be true to my word," I say firmly. Father seems satisfied with my answer.
Fr. Sylvester: "Okay. Let's move on. Are you getting married out of fear? Are you afraid Michael is your one and only chance to get married?"
Me: How do I answer a question like that! For goodness sake I am under oath. My mind races. "No." I wonder... did I lie?
Fr. Sylvester: "You hesitated again."
Me: "These are serious questions... I think I have a few good years left in me. After all, Michael is not the only guy that has ever wanted to marry me."
Fr. Sylvester: "Really?"
On the hour drive home I wondered again if I lied under oath... Was I really getting married out of fear? I can certainly feel my fertility slipping away from me—while my baby hunger continues to grow. Was I getting married mostly because I wanted children? Of course, I am, partly. What's wrong with that anyway? It's normal. After all, God put Michael in our lives. He gave me the natural desire to want to have babies, to desire companionship and intimacy. I like the idea of having a Michael Jr.—a baby boy that looks just like him. I imagine holding baby Mikey in my arms: I can almost smell the wonderful scent of his fat satiny cheeks, feel him nuzzled against my milk heavy breast.
I was tired of being abstinent. Holding hands and friendly kisses were not going to cut it much longer.
I started to think about the other reasons I wanted to marry Michael—high on the list was sex. I find Michael to be incredibly attractive. I am constantly drinking in his chiseled features, his blue-green eyes (the color of a Husky dog), his broad shoulders. I'm tired of being abstinent. I couldn't go on dating him another two years without physical intimacy. I'd shoot myself. Holding hands and friendly kisses were not going to cut it much longer. Surprisingly, being chaste is easier for him than it is for me.
I also enjoy being with Michael. Our companionship is priceless. We feel comfortable around each other. He never gets angry with me. Granted, we're not kindred spirits, but if I wait for my 'soul mate' to come along, will I be throwing away the best man who has ever entered my—our— lives?
Sophia—she's another big reason I want to marry Michael. I can see that she loves him and he loves her. Having Sophia in the mix clouds things considerably.
Michael and I are attached at the heart, but my mind sometimes whispers to me in the quiet of the morning that this relationship has too many problems. I've pretty much stopped praying about our relationship—I just worry. I prayed and prayed in the beginning. I asked God to take Michael away, if it wasn't His will that we be together. Sophia and I prayed a 30-day Novena asking the Blessed Virgin to intercede to help me know if Michael was the one. I asked friends and strangers to pray for us. I never got a clear cut answer—or maybe I didn't listen. I took the peaceful silence to mean, "yes".
I worry that I've never met his family. Michael has an estranged relationship with his mom, his only living parent. He doesn't even plan to invite her to the wedding. He is afraid that she will try to run his life, our marriage. His desire to get away from his family propelled him to move thousands of miles away from his childhood home—otherwise we would have never meet. Eligible bachelors don't usually move to rural Pennsylvania.
I feel a gaping hole in our relationship, which faith could fill. I desire more than anything to share my Catholic spirituality with Michael, but he prefers to keep religion private—though he respects my love of the Church. I feel lonely when he doesn't come to Mass with us. I stopped asking long ago—though sometimes he surprises me and offers to go with us. Sometimes I feel resentful. I fume about his sleeping in because he spent the night refereeing and is sleeping late instead of praying with us.
My mother’s words sometimes echo in my head, “Kristen, don’t ever get married. Marriage is hell."
My mind and my heart aren't in full communication—communion. I see the problems, but I'm entangled in his love, his strong comforting embrace, his love of my daughter.
I wonder—am I supposed to be 100% sure that Michael is the man I should marry? Can anyone be 100% sure? What about divorced couples? Weren't they 100% sure—without a doubt?
I also question whether I fear commitment. It's scary and wonderful to think about sharing my life with one man. But if I find that my worries were real, will I be strong enough to endure the rough patches? Will he? After all, Michael's dad walked out on his mom and two brothers when Michael was a toddler.
My parents stayed together, but it wasn't a match made in heaven; their marriage difficulties (particularly when I was a child) have left an ugly scar on my memories. I fear the pain marriage can cause wife and husband. My mother's vehement words sometimes echo in my head—"Kristen, don't ever get married. Marriage is hell"—as if I were eleven-years-old again.
I used to take my mother's side, but now I see that my parents were poorly matched; there was no finger to point, no blame to cast on one more than the other. They make due, but I want more than to just make due. I want to be drunk with love and happiness.
I'm both excited and a little anxious for our next meeting with Father. When I call him to set up the appointment to go over the FOCCUS test results, I ask jokingly, "Did we fail the test?"
"No," Father replies. "No you didn't."
(To be continued.)