Weekend Ponderings: A Girl Named Sara and 9/11

Last night I saw the WE program “9-11 Millionaire Widows.”  It describes the lives of several families of 9-11 victims, 3000 of whom received nearly $7 billion in compensation since their loved ones were killed in the Twin Towers attack.

Ironically, the image WE used on their website is not, technically, of a widow. Lisa Goldberg was a “partner” to Martin McWilliams, a fireman who was crushed in the North Tower when their daughter Sara was an infant. The couple was not married, McWilliams left no will — and his parents contested her right to accept the money on their granddaughter’s behalf. Granted, Lisa was the mother of their grandchild — but at the end of the day, she was not their son’s wife. In their eyes — and, as it turned out, in the eyes of the court — she had no legal standing.

Like many who sought compensation for their loses, Lisa claims it’s “not about the money.” “My existence with this man has been deleted. That’s the hardest thing that I have to live with, besides him really being gone.”

And yet, as I heard her speak, I couldn’t help but wonder: If they were so much in love, why on earth did they not get married? While marrying ONLY for the sake of an unplanned pregnancy is not always the best course, being in love AND having a child would seem to be a very good reason indeed. (Ironically, several articles about the show refer to McWilliams as Goldberg’s “husband,” and yet McWilliams’ mother indicates the couple were not even engaged at the time of her son’s death.) 

A “baby daddy” or “baby mamma” is not the same as a husband or a wife. If you’re going to create a family, for heaven’s sake … commit to it! On the other hand, if a couple brings a child into the world, but doesn’t have the confidence or commitment to formalize their union and create a real family, how can they expect the rest of society to “recognize” what does not in fact exist: a life-long, exclusive union between husband and wife? 

The marriage bond is the foundation on which every human society is built and sustained, and it provides the security every child needs.  In this scenario, it wasn’t the government or the legal system who let that little girl down . . . it was her parents.

Saturday’s Gospel speaks to this point. In the Book of Luke (6:43-49), Jesus says:

“…I will show you what someone is like who comes to me,
listens to my words, and acts on them.
That one is like a man building a house,
who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock;
when the flood came, the river burst against that house
but could not shake it because it had been well built.
But the one who listens and does not act
is like a person who built a house on the ground
without a foundation.
When the river burst against it,
it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.”

What kind of foundation are you building on today? Has it been ordered according to God’s plan for the family — or your own preferences or opinions? If something happened to you today, if your “river burst,” would you leave behind a legacy of life . . . or self-indulgence?

Next week at CatholicExchange.com (9/15), I’ve posted an article about an upcoming movie called “Lost and Found Family.” Be sure to check it out!

The Gas Grill of Love: Heidi Bratton at CatholicExchange.com

11891-Two-Entwined-Golden-Wedding-Rings-Clipart-PictureIn her recent article entitled “How Serious Is Your Marriage,” my friend Heidi Bratton observes:

I think we’re a bunch of suburban cowboys living in a gas grill world. We want the flames of love, ignited with just one sparkling courtship and wedding, to keep leaping high while we go off and grab a beer.  But marriage is not even remotely like a gas grill.  Marriage, by its very nature, requires a long-term, personal investment, and not even on eBay will we find a bottomless tank of pressurized love to keep our marriage sizzling in our physical or emotional absence.

Click here to check out the whole article . . . wonderful food for thought!

Worship in the Shadowlands


July 25, 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most eloquent and (in some circles) controversial of encyclicals, Humanae Vitae. Penned by Pope Paul VI shortly after the convocation of the Second Vatican Council, this letter examined the Church’s ongoing teaching on the purpose of marriage within the natural order of God’s design. Specifically, it upheld the dignity of both men and women, especially within the vocation of marriage, and elevated marital love to nothing less than a sacred act.

This week I will reflect upon several of my favorite passages from this important document, which you may read in its entirety by clicking here. And so we begin …

“Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife.” Humane Vitae #13

The other day as I was watching Shadowlands, the love story of C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy Davidson, I was struck by the hospital scene in which Lewis marries Joy, who was fast losing her battle with cancer.

Sitting together on the bed, Joy promises to “love, honor, and obey…” and Lewis vows, “With this ring, I thee wed; with my body, I thee worship…”

Perhaps at no other time have I been so struck by the fact that the sacrament of matrimony in a very real way mirrors — was always intended to reflect, in fact — the union of love that is the very nature of God, as well as the love of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

At that moment in the movie, the meaning of “worship” is distilled with uncommon clarity. “With my body, I thee worship” does not mean, “I will give myself to you because it feels good.” It does not even mean, “I will make you feel as good as can, for as long as I can.”

No, it goes much deeper than that. At the moment he professed his vows, Lewis must have understood that chances were excellent that (due to his wife’s rapidly deteriorating health) they would never consummate their union. Rather, he was consigning himself to a lifetime of suffering alongside his wife, taking her burden as his own. He would take her into his home. Raise her son. And when the time came, he would entrust her back to God having loved her courageously, knowing from the start that it would likely hurt like hell.

And yet, he chose to love … knowing that love is the only thing in this world stronger than death, stronger than hell itself. And in making that choice, C.S. Lewis discovered what it was to be fully human, and learned through experience what up to that time he had known only in theory: the endlessly compassionate and inscrutible love of God. It is a love that does not spare us suffering, but walks alongside us all the way.

What is worship?

For many Christians, this image of worship as sacrificial self-giving too often stops at the church door. Too often “worship” is comprised of songs I like, people I want to be with (most of whom are a lot like me), and the particular spin on the Scriptures that makes me feel good (or at least doesn’t demand too much from me). To worship is to go away “feeling fed.” And if I don’t “experience God” in one church, I’ll either move on to the next church or stop going altogether.

And so they walk away from the sacraments because they don’t “feel” anything, feeding their passions rather than their souls. And the angels weep.

We see it in marriages, too. “With my body, I thee worship” is taken to mean “I’ll make you feel good as long as you appeal to me, and as long as it makes me feel good, too.” No wonder the divorce rates are so high! Women can no longer bring themselves to “submit” … and men have forgotten what it is to “worship.”

I do not say these things lightly. Right now I am struggling to know how to help a friend whose husband is clearly mentally ill. He is hurting her, and hurting their children as well. She was never far from my thoughts as I watched Shadowlands, and saw with fresh clarity the pain that is the “shadow” of love. She is suffering … just as my friend MJ’s grieving husband is suffering. Love does not always feel good … and yet, we are called to love nevertheless. Called to give. Called to hope.

We are called to worship.