We are happy to welcome Paula Huston as a guest writer for Together for Life Online. Paula is the author of the popular Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit (2011) as well as The Holy Way (2003) and many other books. In 2000 she co-edited Signatures of Grace: Catholic Writers on the Sacraments, to which she also contributed a deeply personal reflection on marriage, divorce, annulment, and grace. We are happy to share “Matrimony” as well as Paula’s brief note below, which can serve as both a foreword and afterword to her original essay.
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“Matrimony” by Paula Huston
“Matrimony” was written in 1998, during a time when I was pretty sure I’d be spending the rest of my life as a solo Catholic. Though I ended the piece on a hopeful note—Julian of Norwich’s “Every kind of thing will be well”—still, I could not imagine how things would ever change. What could possibly nudge my recalcitrant husband in the direction of faith, much less toward a Church he’d been raised to see as heretical?
Little did I know that a dear friend, not given to broadcasting her intercessory enterprises, had taken Mike on as a prayer project. Where I saw his stubbornness, she saw a soul wounded; where I was fixated on achieving marital harmony, she discerned the need for healing in his relationship with God. Thanks to her intercession, Mike finally stopped resisting and started seeking.
The miracle occurred a year after I wrote this essay, the same week that two young men opened fire at Columbine High School. The nation came to a shocked halt. Journalists cast about for reasons, none of which could possibly explain such evil. And Mike, a longtime high school teacher, came to me and said, “I’d like to come to Mass with you this week. I need to be with people who are trying to be good.”
That first Sunday at Mass, Mike was surprised by the number of fellow faculty and students in the congregation, people he’d never suspected were Catholic. Before he could fully take that revelation in, he’d been swept up by Sr. Regina, an Irish nun who’d been teaching in our local parochial school for nearly forty years. She spotted him, she zeroed in, she hugged him in her loving, Gaelic way. Every time he came to Mass from then on, Sr. Regina was there to help ease his way into this strange new world of Catholicism.
A few years later, Mike, age fifty-eight, entered the Church. Tearfully, I gazed at him, a Reformed Presbyterian turned agnostic turned catechumen, standing there on the altar steps during Easter Vigil among a colorful flock of Hispanic eighth-graders. Though there were practices he still could not embrace (as an independent Scotsman, bending the knee was simply impossible for a while), slowly he began to let go of childhood prejudices and misperceptions.
Five years later, Sr. Regina, at age seventy-one, headed back to Ireland. About the same time, the dear friend who had so assiduously prayed for Mike’s return to faith was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not tragedies on the scale of Columbine, true—yet these bittersweet heartaches, we’d learned by then, were the very stuff of life. And without a shared faith, they would have been much harder for either of us to gracefully accept.
The vision at the end of “Matrimony” has thus come true, though not in a way I could have ever foreseen. But this, I’ve come to understand, is how sacramental grace works its healing miracles: invisibly, mysteriously, and with seemingly infinite patience.