Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Two Shall Be One

Rich, my husband, professed himself a Roman Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2005. I was heart sick for us and furious with the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence we would not share communion unless I converted as well. Hoping for some agreement, I accepted the offer of receiving a blessing, but resented it because I thought it to be a humiliation instead. What seemed equitable from a Catholic standpoint seemed to me unfair and divisive. I could not receive communion, but like a preschooler, I could receive a blessing.

I was resolved. I would not leave my husband’s side. He’d been drawn into the Roman Catholic Church and I would be there with him. If I was denied Communion, somehow, I would deal with it.

In late July of 2005, the loving hand of Christ reached out to my aching heart. When I accepted Jesus’ invitation to open my blinded eyes, the Holy Spirit instructed me that Jesus was indeed present at the Mass. Christ’s loving favor revealed anew His centrality to my salvation and my dependency upon Him. With this instruction came Christ’s gift of welcome to receive a spiritual communion from Him in place of the actual elements of bread and wine. Later that year I began to understand the privilege Christ had given me to ask for and receive a blessing. I found in what had seemed at first a humiliation, a valuable lesson in humility.

My pain diminished. But Rich’s pain did not. He endured the grief of our forced disconnection at Communion, suffering in quiet resolve to be faithful to his calling.

In 2006, Pope Benedict called marriages like ours “laboratories of unity.” He enjoined us all to observe how Christian unity might be fleshed out in inter-churched families. Surely, Pope Benedict has seen into the heart of this laboratory, rife with the past sins of our forefathers.

In our own laboratory, we needed to clear out the failed experiments of the past, such as our favorite points of theological argument, and the well-rehearsed history lessons of Christians on both sides of the theological aisle who fought, and killed others to prove their doctrinal correctness. Unless these failures were dumped into the incinerator, our laboratory would be contaminated with putrefying fraternal carnage and the decaying remnants of hurtful words, unrighteous anger, theological pride, and unforgiving attitudes.

We learned the love of Christ nullifies these contaminants.

By fall 2006, we had lived almost two years in our “laboratory of unity.” Jesus was still the center of our home and we were in love with Him and united in our resolve to remain, as we had always been – one in Christ.

Rich and I may have taken our place in unity’s laboratory in spring 2005, but our original experiment began in 1975 when our pastor pronounced, “Whom God has joined together let no man put asunder.” When he introduced Rich and me as a married couple, he declared us “one in Christ.” We stood before the congregation as one-flesh, a dual oneness, and a biblical view of marriage.

God saw us as one. Yet we needed to mature into His vision for us in our daily life as husband and wife. And so, God took two people, committed to Him and to each other, and worked through our divergent cultural backgrounds. Rich was from New York; I was from the rural Midwest. He was of Jewish background; I was mainline Protestant. His cultural heritage hearkened to Jewish and Italian; mine, to Scotch/Irish, French, and Norwegian.

Our differences loomed immediately. But, as a friend commented after we married, our common bond was our total commitment to Jesus as our savior.

After thirty years of iron sharpening iron, clinging together and to Christ, the Holy Spirit led us though poverty, parenthood, prosperity, sickness, loss, and multiple moves across the globe. Jesus took the sinfulness of our lives and the clash of our wills – and by His grace continued to turn us toward His will.

Rich and I learned to cherish our marriage covenant, and we worked hard to reach agreement in each major issue of our life as a couple. This facilitated our growth as a one-flesh couple. But when Rich joined the Catholic Church and I did not, our conundrum in 2005 was how to reach an accord. Our accord would need to include very different theological points of view, while still preserving the richness and emotional supportive elements of our oneness.

The Catholic/Non-Catholic maelstrom had eased considerably by the fall of 2006. At this time, Rich shared with me his desire to serve our church congregation as a Eucharistic minister.

Neither of us realized the sword this simple act of ministry would send into our marriage. Once Rich had been instructed in his duties as a Eucharistic minister, it dawned on him that he would need to refuse to give me the body and blood of Christ. The realization broke open the wound he had thought was healed. The joy of being one flesh again had strengthened Rich in his commitment to follow Jesus in his Catholic faith. It had brought peace and spiritual growth to me as well. But now, the immutable nature of our oneness seemed in danger of being despoiled.

Rich pondered with me this new challenge. How would we mitigate this sorrow and remain strong and maturing in our relationship as husband and wife? Our priority was to set aside our angst. We remembered some Protestant churches do not offer Communion to non-members. The Roman Catholic Church was not the only Christian body that practiced “closed communion.” No doubt we would have been divided by the same rule if one of us were a member of such a Protestant community while the other was not.

To diminish the potential for new divisiveness, we agreed that I would never be in a line to receive from Rich’s ministrations. Should I find myself in line to receive a blessing from Rich, I would move to a different part of the church, or if this was not possible, I would remain in my pew. Meanwhile, Rich would try to place himself in a part of the sanctuary that was far away from me.

The unintended consequence of the rules surrounding the Eucharistic celebration has been a furnace burning off some of the dross that clung to our oneness. In our laboratory, externally applied dictates forcing us to be separate, strengthened our resolve and purpose to live for Christ. What looked at first like another point of difference has only added strength to our life together.

Shared pain binds us deeper and stronger than easy harmony.