Sunday, September 20, 2009

Betrothed at Birth

I have an arranged marriage. As long I can remember, Janet was my betrothed actually, but that was just a detail. We didn't take vows until the appropriate time, but regardless, the decision had been made for us by our parents when we were only a few weeks old. It never occurred to me that I shouldn't already know who my wife would be; it was just a part of everyday life. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and came to know each other as well as.... married people, more or less. But when I became a young adult I rebelled against my parents' plans: went out with other women, paid no attention to my betrothed, wanted to make up my own mind, shop around. As it turned out, I chose to marry Janet, and that was the right decision. In retrospect, I never really doubted the betrothal, but isn't it important to decide on your own? On one hand I envy people who chose to marry whomever they wanted without the nudging of their parents' preconceived presumptions; but on the other hand, my parents chose wisely. If I had exercised my own autonomous judgment, would I have done so well? I don't know. But I think of the thrill other people must have had, picking freely from a sea of potential mates. But then again, because we were betrothed, we had a much earlier start on our marriage's foundations. We'd been part of each others' lives, imaginations, visions of the future since were were tots. How could you compensate for that in a marriage between two people who'd first met only a couple of years before the wedding?

I am kidding marriage was not arranged.

Our church has a lot of converts, including my wife. I, on the other hand, am a Cradle Catholic. I didn't experience the great sea change of conversion, the drama, the turmoil, the Sturm und Drang....the awful autonomous choice. At best you might say I'm a revert, returning with an adult's commitment to the faith chosen for me as a baby by my parents. Sometimes, like today, I was talking to a couple who came into the Church this past Easter. How exciting: they're like people in the New Testament, hearing the Good News, making the leap of I'm like the kids who were baptized as part of their households: whoop-de-doo.

And yet...I grew up in the Church. I'm soaked in the culture, have a Catholic imagination. The Church is in my bones, like marrow. How wonderful is that? The Pope, saints, Body & Blood, holydays, Confession, Latin, incense, Sacraments, Calvary with a crucifix, Bible stories learned from statues & stained glass windows, Easter and Holy Week bigger than Christmas, Good Friday veneration of the cross, getting whacked by nuns, Jesus in his little house, Hail Marys, praying to my dead (sorry, sleeping in Christ) relatives, apostolic succession, celibacy, all as normal and familiar as breathing. Based on my experience with languages, it's like the difference between one's mother tongue and an acquired one.

I am not going to digress on language.

So I was trying to explain to these adult converts today about why a Cradle Cat'lic might envy them their journey, and used the marriage analogy above; which also reminded me of why I shouldn't be so envious of their journey, but rather be thankful for my own.