By Barb Arland-Fye
“I promised at the altar, ‘in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer’ that I would stay here and I meant it,” Jeanne Porter told me, referring to her now 70-year marriage with husband John.
Jeanne left a voicemail message on my office phone about a book she wanted me to read. When I returned her call, she mentioned that she and John celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in September. I asked her to share their story, which appears in this week’s Catholic Messenger.
The word “commitment” came to mind as I reflected on their story and an earlier interview with Bishop Thomas Zinkula and Director of Parish Planning Dan Ebener. Bishop Zinkula referred to the word commitment in our discussion, using the example of the sacrament of marriage. Commitment, he said, “can be a beautiful, wonderful thing if you understand it in a healthy, holy way.”
When my Uncle Joe called for our weekly Bible study, I first asked him to reflect on what commitment looks like in his marriage to Aunt Barbara. They have been married 52 years.
“Barbara and I were raised as Catholics in a traditional Catholic setting,” Joe said. “So much of it was our upbringing, that marriage is something permanent.”
Here’s what commitment looks like: “Barbara and I have gone through serious illnesses. Being there for each other is so important,” Joe said. Being present during those tough times, in my mind, speaks to the meaning of commitment in a “healthy, holy way.”
However, there is more. As the years pass, “you get to know that other person so well. You become one in so many ways,” Joe said. Even with their separate interests — Barbara with her horses and Joe with his collections — the two appreciate the Gospel message about love. “It’s about thinking about the other person and their needs. It’s not about, ‘Am I getting enough from this relationship?’”
Commitment can look like a home-cooked meal, prepared by a kitchen rookie. I called home last week to see how my parents were doing while my mom recuperates from knee replacement surgery. My dad, who has limited cooking experience, prepared a spaghetti dinner for the two of them with mom’s guidance. Dad had enough leftover spaghetti to last for several more days. He told me he probably would not feel like eating spaghetti for another year!
In an editorial I wrote in February 2016, I described the marriage of a couple in our diocese, Marie and Norbert Hammes, who at that time had been married for 75 years. “Notice some key elements that go into Marie and Norbert’s experience of the sacrament: trust in God, strengthened through prayer; humility, self-sacrifice, forgiveness. Those elements combine to create love. That’s what young Catholics — children, teens and adults — need to witness in their daily lives if we desire for marriage as a sacrament to thrive.” That’s what commitment looks like.
Today, I would add a sense of humor to the list. My husband Steve and I have resolved more arguments with laughter. I think humor helps us see what commitment looks like.
In 2018, the Diocese of Davenport recorded 314 marriages. Four years earlier, the diocese recorded 436 marriages and a decade before that, 541 marriages. Whenever a parish in our diocese emails notice of a marriage for publication in The Catholic Messenger, I feel encouraged and say a quick prayer for the couple by name.
Oh, the stories that Jeanne and John could share with the most recently married couples in our diocese, Andrew Nguyen and Thao Thu Nguyen, and Gavin Parker and Bryton Lumberg at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville; and Colton Cason and Cassie Crall at St. Patrick Parish in Georgetown. One more way to embrace the commitment to marriage in a “healthy, holy way.”
For resources on marriage, visit the diocesan website www.davenportdiocese.org/marriage-family.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)