In my continuing attempt to chronicle Catholic identity as it is lived in time, I give you the modern Catholic love story which you see unfold at campuses like Benedictine College. I’m not saying this is the way love stories should be, or that this kind of love story is superior to others — in fact, I believe neither of those things. I’m also not making a value judgment about family size. I am merely observing and recording a phenomenon I saw in my own Catholic college days decades ago and what I see in Catholic college students today, and in the Catholic parents who drop them off …
You meet in college. You signal your love for each other by sitting nearby at Mass. Your first meal is in the cafeteria. You walk to your first date. Your first night together is at All-Night Adoration. Your first road trip is the March for Life. People who aren’t on Facebook know you are official when they see you walking holding hands.
You get a little carried away by your love, truth be told. You have enthusiastically participated in too many chastity events to fall too far, or to stay fallen if you do. If someone were to watch closely they might see you in the confessional line more often than usual — but they don’t watch closely, don’t worry.
Eventually, you decide to get married. Actually, you don’t decide to get married. You feel called to imitate the Trinity in a union of life-giving love.
You both daydream of the wedding day. She can picture the two of you meeting in front of everyone, wearing elaborate clothing. He can picture the two of you meeting all alone, wearing nothing but a scapular and a smile.
But you do not neglect the spiritual side. Not at all. In fact, you perhaps over-emphasize the spiritual side. You know not to be self-righteous but despite yourself you kind of pity the poor couples in marriage prep who don’t have the gift of the faith.
If only they knew how beautiful married love is. If only they understood the law of the gift. If only they understood the nuptial meaning of the body. If only they knew the importance of prayer.
Then you are married and everything changes.
It is a wonderful time. You are finally “starting your life.” Someone knows and cares where you are at all times, and that’s nice. It takes a while to get used to saying “my husband” or “my wife” at work. You are poor but happy. You make do with one car and you walk a lot.
It is also a painful time. Newlywed fights are vicious. When things go wrong, it isn’t a random disappointing moment — it is a crushing disillusionment: Who knew she was so selfish? Have I always been this petty? The inner life of the Trinity can’t possibly be like this.
Then come children.
At first, each child represents a huge disruption and almost unbearable change in your life. Children need all your attention, all the time. You suddenly don’t know what people are talking about when they are talking about the Big Thing in the News Right Now. And you don’t care.
Two children are twice as hard as one. Three are three times as hard as one. Four are harder; five harder still.
But at some point you turn a corner – and life is suddenly totally different.
When you bring home your first children, the new ones seem incredibly small. When you bring home your later child, the older ones seem incredibly large. You are no longer surrounded by the helpless; you are surrounded by helpers.
When you bring home your first children, you have a lot of diapers to change. When you bring home your later children, diapers have changed you a lot. You have learned to change your perspective on life. Your standards are more realistic — human-sized.
You have gone from wild, passionate love, through confusion and uncertainty, through delirium and exhaustion, to wise, understanding love. Most of the time.
Before long, you are dropping one off at college. It is a sad time; a time that doesn’t have an appropriate rite of passage. Shouldn’t there be a dinner with a funny PowerPoint or something?
But year follows year and before long you get a call from your child, whose bright, energetic voice you almost don’t recognize. You ask what has happened. “I met someone in the cafeteria,” you hear, “and we’re going on a retreat together.”
And it all starts over again ….