Monday, March 25, 2013

Saint Monica and other Saintly Wives

I've posted about Saint Monica in the past, a few years ago, but I find her story (and that of Saint Rita) interesting.
Because of her name and place of birth, Monica is assumed to have been of Berber origin.[3] She was married early in life to Patritius (or Patricius), who held an official position in Tagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria). Patritius was a pagan, though like so many at that period, his religion was no more than a name; his temper was violent and he appears to have been of dissolute habits. Consequently Monica's married life was far from being a happy one, more especially as Patritius's mother seems to have been of a like disposition with himself. There was, of course, a gulf between husband and wife; her alms deeds and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. (Wikipedia)
Patritius died shortly after converting to Christianity, and Saint Monica decided not to remarry.  Saint Rita also did not remarry and entered a convent, and there are many instances of other, perhaps more happily married women such as Elizabeth Ann Seton who, once their husbands pass away, decide to enter convents or start up their own convents.

As a pre-teen (and teen) reading the Father Lovasik Lives of the Saints series, I used to wonder why they all ended up in convents.  Why didn't any of them just re-marry?  Especially the ones who didn't have happy marriages the first time around.  Here was their chance to finally find that happy-ever-after.  I could understand why those who'd had happy marriages might not want to re-marry, it made sense to me, back then, that after a happy, full life with someone, you might just not be interested in starting over with someone else, but why did they all consistently decide to remain single and almost all consistently enter convents?

That was when I still believed in happy-ever-after, the kind of fairy-tale happy-ever-after where you are so in love and so in tune with each other that life together is harmonious and you hardly ever disagree, and when you do, you never harbour hard feelings, or keep grudges, because even when you disagree you never hurt each other, even inadvertently.

That kind of happy-ever-after doesn't exist, not even in the best of marriages.

As a 40+ year old adult, I now see couples who break up and many who almost immediately start looking for a new partner, and I find myself wondering the opposite.  When one marriage (or the equivalent of marriage) has failed or even if there was a happy marriage, but a spouse has died, why do people want to try again?  When you have spent years making compromises, learning what not to do or what not to say in order to keep the peace, when you have put a huge effort into making something work, why would you want to start over again with someone new?

It has a lot to do with a person's idea of what marriage is.  People still think that marriage is the happy-ever-after, everything-will-be-easy-from-now-on thing from fairy tales and if one marriage doesn't work out easily, then you try another, and another, and another.

Romance is not love and love is not romance.  You can have both in a relationship, but it is equally possible to have one without the other.  Love is not necessarily a feeling, it is a choice.  We choose to love our children no matter their faults or our own weaknesses, but for some reason, we are not only incapable of loving our spouses despite their faults, but also incapable of loving them despite our own weaknesses.

Marriage has the inconvenience of throwing things up in your face that you would rather not know about yourself.  It is impossible to live with a person and not have them discover your imperfections, your weaknesses, your bad habits, your faults.  It is equally impossible for them to, at one time or another, not bring these things up, refer to them or make them evident to you in some way, directly or indirectly.

God seems to have a twisted sense of humour sometimes.  Why else would He "trick" us into believing marriage would be magical and beautiful and that we would live happily ever after, only to find out that we would have to work at controlling our own tempers, that we would be confronted with our own faults, that we would inevitably have to change and become better people in order to have that fairy tale happy-ever-after and that this would be an on-going, never-ending, never-easy thing to do?  The only magic in marriage comes, not from without, but from within, in our capacity to see the magic in the ordinary, in our capacity to create magic from nothing; in our ability to be innovative, creative and both forgiving of and able to find beauty in imperfection just as our creator is innovative, creative, forgiving and able to find beauty in each of us.

Marriage has the capacity to turn us either into saints or into bitter, unhappy people.  It really all depends on how willing we are to accept our own shortcomings.

But... when a person has put that much effort into a relationship and the relationship is over, why would anyone want to start over?  After the initial sadness and loneliness after the death of a spouse or the failure of a marriage, wouldn't a person just be glad to not be responsible or accountable to anyone else anymore?  Maybe that's just me though, being the introvert and dreaming of life on a desert island, surrounded with nothing but monkeys and parrots and coconut trees.

I get Pope Benedict XVI, I really do.  At some point, you just don't want the responsibility of the whole world on your shoulders anymore.  At some point, you just don't have the energy anymore, you've done your bit, and now you just want to go and hide and be contemplative.  Not that I think he was running away, he just knew that it was time for someone else to take up that cross, the weight of the world, and carry it for a bit.  I think his prayers will do us just as much good as his direction did when he was pope, and in a way, the fact that he resigned, instead of dying in office has not only given Catholics a new father for the church but also a "grandfather".  That's how I see it.  He hasn't abandoned us, like so many felt, instead his role has changed.