Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The two most important days of your life

Another book I am reading, that I found in the Pauline Book and Media Center, is On Becoming Beloved : Heroic Sanctity in Marriage by Patricia O'Malley Ashker. Ashker, a member of the Holy Family Institute of the Pauline Family, founded by Blessed Alberione -- has written a counter-cultural book that dares to say that the "secret to sanctity" for married persons is "putting one's spouse first, lifting them up in prayer and sacrifice, with heaven as the ultimate goal for both partners." She writes about the seriousness of the vows of marriage - a covenant made with God, entered into freely, establishing a clear path for navigating the challenges of life as a couple, united with the Creator and surrounded by His graces and helps through the Christ-instituted sacrament of matrimony.

She asks the question, at one point, "Do you know what the two most important days of your life are?" Her answer surprised me. The two most important days of your life are:
  • today
  • the day of your death
Sanctity is built moment by moment in the mundane events of daily life. Like Flannery O'Connor, Ashker sees ordinary life as the staging ground for fierce battles between good and evil. Our gift of free will can choose heroic virtue or cowardly sin (my words, not hers), both of which then ripple out into the world around us impacting the people and environment in which we live, work and play. If we choose our spouse's needs over our own, we practice within marriage the same kind of "little way" practiced and taught by St. Therese of Lisieux who chose the needs of her sister nuns -- even the annoying ones -- over her own. St. Therese, through habitual sacrifice of her own will, learned to free herself from her own likes and dislikes in order to depend on God alone, rather than the vagaries of minute by minute satisfaction and accomodation.

All of this is classic Catholic spirituality that I learned as a kid. The concept of self-sacrifice fell on hard times in the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. In particular, women were advised to drop the notion of self-sacrifice in marriage in order that it not feed an unbalanced power struggle between men and women, the kind in which entitled males felt that female subservience was their God-given right. According to Ashker, both spouses are entitled to be cherished, served, and made the focus of tender help, compassion and love. Both spouses are sworn to direct their maximum expenditure of relationship energy into the spousal relationship (my clumsy words, not hers).

That explains the first most important day of one's life. All we have is the present day in which to act. Actions, not feelings, are the building blocks of sanctity. That's a very Catholic notion - the Reformation brought about an unfortunate identification of heroic action with "vain works" which do not win us salvation. This is not the post to explain the Catholic understanding of faith and works, but suffice it to say I embrace the Church's centuries-held belief that our actions in choosing good or evil are quite meaningful -- it is only we, by freely turning away from God (an action), who can endanger the redemption Christ won for us at such a cost.

And what of the second most important day of your life -- the day that you die? The covenant of marriage, Ashker says, has as its purpose the mutual sanctification of the spouses as they journey through life headed to their eternal union with the Triune God. What is the hour of death, if not the final moment in which we are free to exercise our will as mortal beings, for good or for evil? Hopefully a lifetime of habit of choosing good will forestall any of the devil's wiles or last-minute efforts to turn us to "the Dark Side" :-) . If we are married persons, let us spend each day treating our covenanted spouse with such care and support that his or her time of death will be all the easier in choosing, finally, for the Kingdom of Light.


Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp said...

Just wrote an article for BigMag on Our Vocation to Live in Christ -yes kenosis is being understood in new ways today enlightening all people of faith

Easter A. said...

Wonderful post, Rae!