Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mystery and Marriage

“If you beat me at Scrabble, I will marry you.”

This I said to Karen early in our relationship.

Nine years later, she still hadn’t beaten me at Scrabble, and I still hadn’t married her.

If it sounds like I was a jerk to her, you’re right. I knew she could never beat me at Scrabble. The only person who can beat me at Scrabble is Colin O’Brien, the son that Karen and I had together, the first living product of our love, followed by Kerry O’Brien, who has red hair like her mother and who is therefore a handful. Oh, and we bucked the trend, the trend that was beginning even twenty years ago today, the day Karen and I got married. We decided to get married before having children.

Yes, we got married, and today’s our twentieth anniversary – although we had been dating for nine years prior. I was not, you see, into commitment. And I could really play Scrabble.

So the reason I’m writing this is both to mark the occasion and also to reflect a bit on the great mystery of our lives, which is who we love and who loves us back.

And if you think about it, this really is a mystery - especially in the case of Kevin and Karen O’Brien. To begin with, Karen and I are opposites. I am poetic, she is down to earth. I am an actor, she is sane. I am an intellectual, she likes Hallmark movies.

Had we joined a dating service, we would never have been matched, for we are not compatible. But then again, men and women really aren’t compatible. And as G. K. Chesterton said, “I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.”

And yet somehow it works. Despite all of my flaws, and all of hers, despite nine years of premarital game playing, despite hurdles too vast to imagine, it works. She knows me better than anyone else, and she still loves me. I know her better than anyone else, and I still love her. We would die for one another. We are really only comfortable around one another (except when we’re driving each other crazy). We both converted together and came into the Church together eleven years ago, and that has strengthened our marriage, but there was a foundation present before that, one of utter acceptance and mutual sacrifice.

Isn’t that odd?

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully … Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”

Paul is telling us not only to sow our seed generously, but also that God will increase our seed as well as our harvest, a harvest of righteousness. But as we know in the parable of the sower, the seed of God is not always received, nor does it always mature to harvest. And Our Lord tells us not to cast our pearls before swine and to shake the dust off of our feet against those who reject His Word.

So we have here both in daily life and in the economy of salvation, two great mysteries.

First is the Mystery of the Seed - or, of the potential of fruition inherent in the seed – the increase it holds in germinal form. “Increase is mine, saith the Lord.” Think about that. We all know the frustrations and joys of work and of love, but nothing would come of it, none of it would be productive without this miracle of increase God stores in the seed.

But the second great mystery – and it is a mystery that we see both on a natural level and on a supernatural level – is the mystery of reception; the other half of the mystery of the seed, which we might term the Mystery of the Soil. This is the mystery of Mary. When Mary says yes, God becomes flesh; when the seed falls in good soil, the harvest feeds us; when the Word is cultivated in our hearts, He lives in us and through us. The increase comes both from the seed and from the soil, from the instigation and the reception – from loving and being loved back.

For the flipside of reception is rejection. Mary could have said no; most of the examples in the parable of the sower are about the seed being trampled or choked or not taking root; the dogs and the swine might turn and rend us when we offer the pearls of great value, the seeds of new life.

And so I am grateful that Karen Louise Robertson was receptive, that through our love God worked His increase. The satisfaction of love is such a rich and profound thing, such a surprise. The rejection of love is such a droning pain. And a wife to love – this is satisfaction; this is enough. For from this comes all else of value in this life.

Because in your mortality the most
Of all we may inherit has been found –
Children for memory: the Faith for pride.
Good land to leave: and young Love satisfied.


Mrs. Beazly said...

Happy Anniversary! Thanks for writing this lovely reflection. My husband married me in spite of the fact that I almost always beat him at Scrabble - but now that we're married, he won't play with me anymore. Still waiting for him to convert, too....

Mrs. Pinkerton said...

Beautiful post, Kevin! Congratulations on your anniversary. My husband and I will be married 25 years this fall. We are definitely not compatible. I'm an artsy writer type, and he is...sane. (Agricultural Engineer: it hardly gets more down to earth than that.)Long ago, I realized we are called to holy marriages, not "happy" marriages. Providentially, striving for the former often leads to the latter.

The Cookie Jar said...

That was beautiful Mr. O'Brien. Congratulations to you and your lovely wife on your 20th Anniversary. And thanks to a couple of Dumb Old Housewives for linking to your site.

Benjamin. said...

Hey. I'm a Presbyterian, well, I guess.

You may remember me from before. I just came here because I was very upset as it appears the Presbyterian Church USA has made an amendment and is no longer requiring that people be living in a marriage between a man and woman or live in chastity to become ordained as a minister.

Though you seem a strict Roman Catholic I thought you might still see the weight of such a decision, and I quite frankly find the decision terrible. It seems to disregard Sexual Morality.

Anyhow, I wanted to get that out there, and make sure more people were in the know.

I'm interested in what you think, as it seems to me to be very much like some going on in the "church of whatever."

Kevin O'Brien said...

Of course I remember you, Benjamin, and I agree entirely.

You and I recognize that Christ handed down a deposit of faith and the morals arising from this faith, and that to ignore this faith or these morals is the same as ignoring Christ. Sexual morals come from God, are written in our hearts, and are spelled out in Sacred Scripture. No question.

But here's what we believe as Catholics: that the Holy Spirit guards the teaching authority of the Church (the bishops in communion with the pope) from teaching error on matters of Faith and Morals.

This means that while Catholic priests may be no more holy than Presbyterian ministers, the Catholic Church would never bend on the doctrine - the teaching that unchastity and sexual sins are wrong. We may not practice what we preach, but God prevents our leaders from changing the teaching.

The real tragedy here will be if the Presbyterian Church USA not only allows those engaged in public displays of sexual sin (such as shacking up, homosexual relationships, etc.) to be ministers but begins to teach that such sins aren't really sins and thus it's no big deal either way. This is, of course, what's implied in their ammendment, and probably spelled out elsewhere.

I realize as a Presbyterian you may not believe the Catholic Church has the doctrinal protection we claim it does, but that's the claim. Catholics, then, while battling the tendency to turn our Church into the "Church of the Whatever", believe God will prevent this from happening - that He will protect at least His teaching if not the behavior of His teachers.

So that's the key. Can the PCUSA, or any other denomination, continue to teach the true teachings of Christ? I'm afraid we're seeing Protestant churches folding right and left on matters of faith and morals.