Now, as a Dominican monk, I'm not sure this is exactly what St. Thomas meant, but, at the risk of disappointing many of my Facebook friends, who feel closer to me than Wade and LeBron during a Heat playoff win, to me, there is no greater friendship than that of a husband and wife; not only on an intimate physical level, where they become conduits of God’s love by serving as co-creators of life as parents, but also on a spiritual level, where their two souls are sealed by God in the Sacrament of Marriage.
In fact, as the most important human relationship I can have on earth, my wife is, and has to be, my best friend, confidant and partner in life (not to mention my lover and, in my case, psychologist, accountant and memory for all those things I can’t ever remember!).
In any case, the best example of that marital bond and friendship for me has always been my parents, who, last weekend, celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
That's a long time, I know. And, I was calculating that for my wife and I to celebrate our 50th, we would have to make it into our 80's!
As great as that accomplishment is, in their typical unassuming style, and since my brother is tied-up in a theatrical play in Oregon until October, they celebrated with little fanfare. After a special blessing and renewing their vows at their parish, my wife, the kids and I took them to dinner at night. That was about it but for them, it was more than enough.
If I were to describe my parents, I would say they love God above all else, which, in turn, has given them a zest for life and are, what I would describe as, the epitome of loving and joyful marriage.
I’m sure they would say it hasn't always been easy. But, then again, what relationship that lasts over half a century, as my grandparents on my mother’s side also lasted, can say it has?
I don’t think it’s meant to be. Doesn't the vow we take say, “In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part?” Anyone whose been married will attest that, like life itself, marriage is a journey of ups and downs, twists and turns and joys and sorrows.
As I tell my wife, I think I’m her purgatory! And, that’s the idea. Marriage is a vocation meant to help the partners and their children get to heaven. I guess you can say that, to my wife, I am like that fire that tests her iron, even when she wants to hit me with it!
Unfortunately, many couples today, actually half, including myself, as I tell my wife "in a previous life," where I wasn't exactly what you would call the poster child for living the Church's teachings on marriage, call it quits when the going gets tough. Although there are the exceptions that really try to make it work, for the most part, we’re too used to what's convenient, and, since society makes it so accessible and socially acceptable, far too many couples are not willing to make the sacrifices to endure the trying times.
My parents, on the other hand, are an amazing example of faith, love, commitment and respect for one another, love of family and endurance.
I can’t begin to imagine the disruption, stress and toll that leaving everything and everybody you know to relocate to a new country and culture, without knowing the language, having a source for income and very little family, would take on a marriage, as my parents had to do when they left Cuba to give our family a chance to live in freedom.
Yet, through those difficult and lean early years, where my father had to work two jobs to send me to Catholic school and my mom, who also worked full-time, through college to become a teacher, after having been a principal of a school in Cuba, and the typical first generation immigrant struggles, I believe they grew closer together and helped shape them into the healthy and happy relationship they have today.
It's like the Darius Rucker song which says, "For every stoplight I didn't make, every chance I did or I didn't take, all the nights I went too far, all the girls that broke my heart, all the doors that I had closed, all the things I knew but I didn't know; Thank God for all I missed; cause it led me here to this."
At times, they struggled financially. From time to time, they had trouble communicating. They had different personalities; she an extrovert, he more introverted. They had different ways of handling things; he is more controlled and calculated (not to mention is a clean freak, who would occasionally throw away her homework), and she more reactive, emotional and, at one time in her life, when she was the disciplinarian of our household, a bit temperamental. But, they always complimented each other and had a clear priority in life; God and family.
As Jerry Maguire famously coined in his speech to Dorothy Boyd at the end of the movie, “You complete me.”
And, that is the purpose of marriage; complementing and completing one another, according to God's plan, who's first command was to be fruitful and multiply.
Hence, family was always most important to my parents, which if you think about it, is the truest and most profound expression of marital love, where we are completed in the image and likeness of God, and two bodies become one and then become three like a reflection of the Holy Trinity; the perfection of love and of family.
At any rate, coming from a family, where his parents were divorced at a time when divorce was considered taboo, my dad always made sure his wife and children were first in his life.
In fact, when I was about three or four years old (before my brother entered the picture), my dad was forced to spend several weeks a month working in the sugarcane plantations, as part of the Cuban Revolution’s communal labor mandate.
While he was away, I slept with my mother in their bed but when my dad would get home, I am told I would say to him, “Dad what are you doing here? This is mommy and my bed!”
He would always wait for me to fall asleep before taking me to my bed. (My brother came shortly afterwards, so, I guess it all worked out!)
I guess as they say, “the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree,” because now it's my five-year-old son, who thinks his bed is ours and every night for the past several months, sometime in the early morning hours, he climbs over my wife and into bed between us.
My parents are now in their 70’s and both retired, but as they tell me, between their volunteer work at their parish and picking up and taking care of my kids after school, they are working harder than when they worked full-time jobs, and even spending 24-hours-a-day 7-days a week together, they look happier than they have ever been.
It’s funny because a co-worker recently told me that if she knew how hard it was to be married, she probably would have waited a little longer before tying the knot with her husband.
As I thought about her comment, I realized that I wish the opposite. Granted, I met and married my wife in my 30’s, but I wish I would have met her a lot sooner so that, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about friendship being the source of one’s greatest pleasures, we could have experienced them a little longer and one day we could also celebrate our “Golden Anniversary” (without needing a walking cane, heavy medication or cataract surgery to look into each other's eyes!). But, then again, this brings me back to the Darius Rucker song; what was meant to be was meant to be.
At the end of the day, I think the obvious "secret" to my parents success is love; love of God, love of family and love for one another.
For me, the best description of love was written by St. Paul, in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians, in which he states, "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
If more people took these words to heart in their marriages, there would be more couples like my parents and, without a doubt, in my mind at least, the world would be a happier and more loving place for it. May God always bless them with health, happiness, love and an everlasting friendship...