When Yes Meant No
Let me tell you an unfinished story about God’s Providence. Like any laborious anticipation of new life, it is an agony in hope of joy.
I had been on a weekend retreat at a certain Priory of a certain Province of the Order of Preachers. In the courtyard, a quadrangle between the four halls that all conclude at the intervening of the Chapel, stands a statue of Saint Dominic pointing outward, pointing beyond the walls of the Priory. I had arrived for discernment of a vocation, a testing of the spiritual fruits of my prayer with the community to discover if this might be a life our Good God was calling me to follow.
The second evening, after the evening meal, those of us on the retreat along with the men of the Priory convened for some small talk in a side of the complex that is a bit like an opened garden area; a fire pit was lit, a younger priest listened over here with a tobacco pipe, an older priest talked over there with some light banter.
I introduced myself to one of the older priests. He shared his name. Surprised to recognize the name at this Priory, I mentioned that he had married my parents–my mother had mentioned his name to me the evening before the retreat when I informed her I would be going.
With raised eyebrows and a bit of focus to his look, he asked my name and then told me my shoulders were too broad to be like those of my father’s, having presided at their nuptial rite some forty years earlier. He asked, by name, how my parents were fairing. And without any other consideration but the truth, I threw the sterilizing salt directly into the wound he had not yet known was his, too. Without yet an understanding of how it would impact him, I stated it with the frankness of the simple facts.
“Their marriage was annulled.”
He and the younger priests standing by went silent, all breath evacuated from the garden area. I stood, unmoving and unembarassed as he gave no response.
I, myself, had already been resigned long before to the reality of living as an open bleeding wound with none to assist with a bandage. Ihad long since been raised and lived with the wounded reality of a mother and father always at odds, rarely in the same room if it could be helped.
As I have come to understand, the discovery to a priest, especially a Dominican, that a Sacrament for which he had responsibility was not supposed to have occured is not much different to the heart than the affliction of telling a parent their child had passed and long before that child had children of their own.
In this moment before this gentle priest, his wince and shudder, not visible, could be known by the silemce. I stood in the silence with him, standing as the child of a marriage not meant to be–standing as a cross our Good God uses to stitch together a bleeding and open laceration between souls.
It was a marriage of which my father had always thought, until the arrival of the divorce papers, was her yes to him with no knowledge that the ‘I do’ was from her father alone. The same could be said of this priest, also a father of mine by spiritual means and prayers.
The salt of tears still flow to console and cleanse the woundedness of my mother’s having been compelled into a marriage, compelled by her father and against her free will. They flow from her eyes, from my father’s eyes, and my brother’s and sister’s, too, and from this heart in my chest that our Good God, who gave it to me, has accepted back from me as His own.
Our Good God. He felt the wound, too. He felt it for me and for all of my family and from me and from all of my family, who, were it not for a collision of many errors by many souls, were not to have been…but here we are, bitter though the fruit may, at times, feel.
Our Good God had us all in mind even before He saw Satan cast down like lightning, before He cast out Adam and Eve, before we opened His heart again by piercing Him with a lance, before each of us were the fabrics stitched together in our Mother’s womb.