Day 22: Night

Date night

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Today’s theme is “night.” The day is over. You and your beloved power off your devices and go to check on the other creatures in your home one last time. Then it’s time for your nightly ritual: the washing and brushing, slipping out of the daily armor into something softer and more comforting. Maybe a cup of tea (or a glass of wine), or a nibble of something salty or sweet. There, in your private little corner of the world, you unload, unwind, reconnect.

How often are you tempted to bring the outside back in that sacred space? The teacher’s note, the unpaid bill, the forgotten item on the “to-do” list. Do yourself a favor: Just for tonight, forget about it. Just for tonight, let the world go away. Pour yourself a bath, maybe big enough for two. Find some nice lotion or massage oil, and rub your beloved’s feet. Dig out that silky nightie you know he loves, and dab on a little scent. Each Sunday is a little Easter. Let yours begin right now. And watch with delight love’s light rekindle in his eyes.

What are you still doing, reading this? Go … get ready for the night!

Happy Lent!

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Day 21: Mystery

CNMC09 006Start with the Prayer of Abandonment

Today’s word is mystery. When I first started exploring Catholicism, I learned to make friends with this word. At 30, my world was far more complex than what it seemed to be when I was younger, when I believed I had all the answers. The beauty of embracing the mystery is that it really takes a lot of the pressure off with a great cosmic shrug. To believe in mystery is to believe that, at the end of the day, God is really much smarter, bigger, and in control than we could ever be. And to be grateful for that fact.

In a certain sense, the virtue of modesty allows us to experience the mystery of God in the context of marriage. “Choicest of blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person” (Sirach 26:15). While there is a time and a place to be “naked and not ashamed,” a certain amount of mystery (especially when it comes to grooming and hygiene) is a good thing. Even in marriage (or perhaps “especially in marriage”) there is such a thing as TMI.

The Catechism teaches us that modesty “protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet” (CCC #2522).

How are you going to add a little mystery to your relationship with modesty this week?

Day 20: Mercy

RNS-INAUGURAL-MASS

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

In a papal bull of 2015, Pope Francis proclaimed 2016 a “Year of Mercy,” declaring that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”  While many of us saw this as an opportunity to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy with greater intentionality … in retrospect, it was also a wonderful opportunity to shine the light of Christ into our own marriages as well. If you’d like practical tips on how to do that, I recommend Teresa Tomeo’s book (with her husband, Deacon Dominic Pastore) Intimate Graces.

We are now exactly halfway through our “love lift.” Have you noticed any changes in the way you relate to each other? Are you growing in patience, or forgiveness, or trust?  What areas would you most like to explore in the second half of this marriage builder? (If you have any words I should consider for the next challenge, drop me a note!)

Last year we spent a great deal of time thinking about mercy, and in particular the mercy of God towards us. In his March 17, 2013 homily, Pope Francis observed:

It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! … “Oh, I am a great sinner!” “All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things!” He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

Mercy takes many forms in married life: In swallowing pride long enough to sincerely apologize for messing up (or in withholding anger at the spouse brave enough to make such an apology). In seeing a need the other person is too afraid/ashamed/exhausted (or too ____) to ask us to meet, and taking care of it without expectation of reciprocation. In refusing to reveal those outside love’s circle the sacred secrets of the other person’s heart, even in a moment of frustration. This is love in its most perfect human form.

In marriage, as within no other relationship, do we get to experience the exhilaration of mercy, of extending (or receiving) forgiveness not just for the slights of the moment, but the truly awful stuff that could derail a relationship. And we extend it, knowing that in so doing we are imitating the infinitely greater love of God, whose mercy knows no end.

Are you willing to imitate Jesus, not just in forgiving . . . but in forgetting as well?

Day 19: Memories

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABegin with the Prayer of Abandonment

Today’s theme is “Memories.” How often do you take time to make memories, in an intentional way, with the one you love?

Think back … before the laughter and music of Christmas and Thanksgiving, beyond the sweetly smelling piles of burning autumn leaves (if such a nostalgic scent isn’t outlawed where you live), past a fresh-from-the-garden bite of peach. What memories of your love come most vividly to mind?

Memory is the playground of the heart, like dreams — only better. Shared memories bind us together, shaping who we are not just as individuals, but as family. (As an adoptive parent, I take comfort in this idea – that the memories we share can bind us just as surely and permanently as markers of DNA.)

what dreams may comeIn one of my favorite movies about life after life, What Dreams May Come, the intertwined lives of the family, their memories, connected them in death. Although it would be an overstatement to say the movie reflects a Catholic understanding of the afterlife, it does call to mind the love that can be transmitted and sustained through the power of memories cherished.

What memories can you share with your beloved, to build up and sustain your love?

Third Sunday of Lent: Family Fun Day!

kisses

Don’t forget to offer the Prayer of Abandonment today!

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel (whose feast day was originally today) appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and declared that she was to become the Mother of God. Imagine!

As they were growing up, I used to keep the kids behaved during Mass by reminding them that their angels were watching over them, ready to take their prayers to the great altar of heaven. “If you are naughty, they have to stay here with you, and it makes them very sad not to be able to worship God with their angels friends. So let’s give them a good offering to take to the altar, shall we?” And in most cases, my little lambs cooperated.

As you and your family head off to Mass today, what kind of offering will you make, for your angel to take to the throne of God? Will it be light with words of thankfulness … or heavy with the cares and worries of your life? You can bring both of them to God, of course — but have a heart for your angel, and try to mix it up a bit!

How have you been doing so far with these Sunday “challenges”? What will you do with your third Family Fun Day today?

Day 16: Keepsakes

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

When my mother came to live with us, everything she owned in the world was packed into the back of our van and unloaded into the little suite we had created in the corner of our walk-out basement: a dresser, a bed, a beautiful old desk, a wooden chest, and a bookshelf full of old photo albums and treasured books. Her most cherished possession was her wedding ring, which had grown too small for her but she insisted on wearing. She and my father were no longer living as a married couple … but she cherished the memory of him. And so, the ring stays on.

As human beings, we are body-soul composites; the stuff of life conveys emotions and memories that can last a lifetime. What can you be doing today to show that you treasure your partner through the honoring of the memories of your life together — and forgiving and laying to rest the skeletons of the past?

How are you tracking your memories? Do you keep photographs and scrapbooks Collect recipes or newspaper clippings? Or do you collect memories of other more troubling kinds? Do you harbor grudges, regrets, and deep-rooted offenses that have, over time, built a wall between the two of you?

During Lent the Church prescribes going to confession to prepare ourselves for the Easter feast. If after reading this, you are reminded of some toxic “keepsakes” that need to be consigned to the dustbin, why not go as a family to receive the sacrament of reconciliation? Make a celebration of it – go out for a treat afterwards. You will be so glad you did!

Has it been a long time since you’ve been to confession? Don’t worry. The priest will be glad to help you through it.  Here is a little “cheat sheet” to help you prepare —  you can just print it out and take it with you. And know that the angels are waiting to cheer!

Day 15: Integrity

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Who is the person you trust and respect most in the world? Is it the person you married . . . and if not, why not?

Early in our marriage, I confess that it was hard to let go of some of the emotional ties of the past in order to hold fast to my new husband. Both of us had been ‘mature singles’ when we married (I was nearly 35, he was nearly 45), and both of us had our fair share of (often self-inflicted) scars from previous relationships. Until I met Craig, my father had been the only man in my life who had ever never let me go or broken ties with me, and his word was Gospel. So, when conflict erupted — nothing serious, just the normal adjustments required of two previously unfettered people learning to live together — I began quoting my father to my new husband. As you might expect, this did not end well.

My husband, for his part, had spent a lifetime working for two family businesses, and they had become accustomed to having him at their beck and call. When I protested, Craig found himself caught between warring factions, both of whom he wanted to please … and one of whom wrote his paychecks. Twenty years later, I can appreciate what a difficult position my new husband was in. At the time, I remember going to bed, alone, with some regularity. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t stand up for us, and draw firmer boundaries. After all, my dad had always clocked out right at five to make it home for dinner! (Ahem.)

Over time, I learned that just as no two individuals are alike, no two marriages are alike. Integrity, then, comes from ordering your priorities according to the needs of the family, recognizing that this requires balancing multiple needs and realities. And ultimately, it means coming together with trust and honesty, willing to sacrifice our own preferences for the needs of the other person.

It is simply not possible to cultivate an intimate marriage if one or both partners is determined to shut the other person out of part of their life in order to make decisions in a vacuum. It can be tempting, of course, to bear a grudge and withhold trust or even affection. And yet, one of the bravest — yet most essential — acts two people can make is to daily make a choice for love.

Is there a tiny part of your heart that you are holding back? How can you take a step toward love today?