When I was 15 years old, my parents divorced. I was just beginning high school, and found an outlet for my angst over our family’s dissolution in the fine art classes I took with Mrs. Bridge. There in the studio amidst the shards of misfired ceramic pots, the paint speckled tables and the scent of turpentine and oils, I was spilling my heart into the projects she’d assign to us. One assignment I recall was to paint a kind of fresco on a cork ceiling tile. I chose to paint an azure sky with the kind of clouds you see in one of those old Italian holy cards. From the two opposite sides of the “canvas” I had painted two hands, one male, one female, reaching out across that wide expanse of blue towards one another. On the ring fingers of each hand I had pressed in a piece of copper I’d found in the studio, the color of tarnished gold. The hands were reaching, straining, seeking desperately for a touch that would bring communion, completion, and comfort in that field of endless sky.
When I was 16 years old, in a Catholic bookstore at a shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in New Jersey, my hands fell on the first English translation of the Theology of the Body catechesis of St. John Paul II in book form, published by the Daughters of St. Paul. It was 1986. Suddenly, with just a cursory glance over some of the words and phrases, and a pondering of the vision and understanding of St. John Paul II on the way God made us man and woman, calling us to love, I was convicted, and comforted. I came to realize that this divorce now in our personal family history, with all of the pain it caused us all, and the cry it contained for healing and mercy, was a broken mirror, originally designed to reflect a Heavenly reality. I realized that marriage isn’t just a temporal state, even “until death do us part.” Marriage is cosmic. Marriage comes from that endless sky; it’s infinite. Marriage was made in Heaven, and it’s Heaven’s Eternal Love Song. Human love is simply God’s way of giving that Song flesh. Human sin and human frailty, then, is a sour note, a divergence from the original score. But this merciful Conductor beautifully takes these notes and always begins a score within a score, writing even richer symphonies from our sour notes.
Today, after many years of slowly internalizing this teaching, of trying to cooperate with His grace, and come to terms with the wounds in my own heart and in the hearts of my mother and father, I’ve come to experience a profound healing, and a comforting truth. God meets us in the midst of our earthly ache for communion and our failures to achieve it, and in those aches and pains He offers constant reminders that our longing is a sign of the Divine. As Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, “Christianity is God’s marriage proposal to the soul.”
This truth that we are all made for marriage (in the broader sense) and must give ourselves to it in countless places and faces in the visible world has taught me a lot about compassion and tenderness. I still have so far to go. How often have I personally missed the mark!
“All of history is a kind of broken marriage and God puts it back together again.”
– Dr. Peter Kreeft
This February 14th is World Marriage Day. It closes off the celebration of National Marriage Week here in the United States. I believe it’s incredibly important, now more than ever, to highlight this day, this week. Why? Because marriage is not simply a vocation for some to keep the human family expanding (though it does that), or a helpful social structure that we should safeguard for the betterment of the kids (though it is also that). We should be proclaiming this one from the rooftops because marriage, the word, the meaning of that word, is the very watermark behind the entire universe. It is the genetic code written in our DNA. It is the word completion for all of our half uttered syllables, the home our hearts long to return to. Marriage means communion, union, and there’s not a single breathing person on the planet doesn’t long for that. Marriage is also the portal through which we all find our true names.
Even though we so often seek a kind of divorce (either from another person, within ourselves or our responsibilities, or from God), the truth is we are made for marriage. And we must enter into it, choose it as our path, for we have been chosen for it already. This marriage man is made for is profoundly deeper than a mere civil union. This marriage all of us are invited to enter is the human vocation itself. And this vocation to marriage, to unity, to communion, to service, quenches our thirst, allows us the ability to see through things clearly and joyfully, to the profound connection of all things, to the very stitching in the fabric of the universe, to the heart of the Triune God Himself, Who is One in Three! Indeed, all is marriage.
“The dynamics of the relationship between God, man and woman, and their children, are the golden key to understand the world and history, with all that they contain… Are we convinced of the power of life that this plan of God bears in the love of the world? Are we able to snatch the new generations from resignation and re-conquer them to the audacity of this plan?”
– Pope Francis
BILL DONAGHY has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as MissionMoment.org. He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their four children.