The woman before us was frail, lying peacefully, unalert—a shadow of the fierce, intelligent, vivacious woman she had been. Her 95 years on this earth had been lived to the fullest. The years had not been without their trials and sufferings, but they had always been lived for God. With God as her lifesource, Joan radiated light, joy, and love to all whom she encountered. The time had come for God to let his good and faithful servant go in peace.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day pilgrimage toward the joy of the Resurrection. On this day, millions of Christians around the world will hear the words, “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return,” as they are marked with the dust of ashes. Ashes are a sign of pride—we are marked for Christ; and of humility—we are dust, we cannot save ourselves, we need a Savior. More than a dismal season marked by restricted freedoms, Lent offers us the opportunity to come home to Christ. We are given the time and space to examine the parts of our heart that remain stony, and, with the help of our Lord, turn them into flesh. We are presented with a chance to walk in solidarity with Christ as he journeys to the Cross, so that we too might die to self in order to experience new life.
For many years I heard phrases such as: “religious life is a higher calling than marriage” and “those who choose religious life want to live their lives entirely for the Lord.” But I rarely heard language which edified and elevated the vocation of married life. That was until I took a course with Dr. Timothy O’Malley on the Nuptial Mystery. This vocation, which can seem so ordinary, was illuminated through Scripture and the works of many theologians. I finally was able to grasp intellectually that which I had always known to be true—that the Sacrament of Marriage is holy and sacred, an icon of Christ’s love poured out for us on the Cross.
We frequently focus on Mary’s fiat, her courage to say ‘yes’ to God, using her example as inspiration to surrender to God’s plans, even when we cannot fully comprehend them. However, we often forget to examine the fiat of the man to whom she was betrothed.
Love is often misconstrued in our culture. We use the same word to describe our fondness for coffee, our favorite book, our dearest friends and family members. In relationships, love is reduced to a feeling, often bound up in lust. For some, love only exists in fairy tales, because of the hurt, betrayal, and pain they have endured by people in their life who were supposed to love them. But true love, true charity, is self-emptying, sacrificial, unconditional.