I have an arranged marriage. As long I can remember, Janet was my wife….my betrothed actually, but that was just a detail. We didn’t take vows until the appropriate time, but regardless, the decision had been made for us by our parents when we were only a few weeks old. It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t already know who my wife would be; it was just a part of everyday life. We grew up in the same neighborhood, and came to know each other as well as…married people, more or less. But when I became a young adult I rebelled against my parents’ plans: went out with other women, paid no attention to my betrothed, wanted to make up my own mind, shop around. As it turned out, I chose to marry Janet, and that was the right decision. In retrospect, I never really doubted the betrothal, but isn’t it important to decide on your own? On one hand I envy people who chose to marry whomever they wanted without the nudging of their parents’ preconceived presumptions; but on the other hand, my parents chose wisely. If I had exercised my own autonomous judgment, would I have done so well? I don’t know. But I think of the thrill other people must have had, picking freely from a sea of potential mates. But then again, because we were betrothed, we had a much earlier start on our marriage’s foundations. We’d been part of each others’ lives, imaginations, visions of the future since were were tots. How could you compensate for that in a marriage between two people who’d first met only a couple of years before the wedding?
I am kidding you….my marriage was not arranged.
Our parish has a lot of converts, including my wife. I, on the other hand, am a Cradle Catholic. I didn’t experience the great sea change of conversion, the drama, the turmoil, the Sturm und Drang…the awful autonomous choice. At best you might say I’m a revert, returning with an adult’s commitment to the faith chosen for me as a baby by my parents. Sometimes I talk to folks who recently became Catholic. How exciting: they’re like people in the New Testament, hearing the Good News, making the leap of faith….wow. I’m like the kids who were baptized as part of their households: whoop-de-doo.
And yet…I grew up in the Church, she’s been my Momma as far back as I can remember. I’m soaked in the culture, have a Catholic imagination. The Church is in my bones, like marrow. How wonderful is that? The Pope, saints, Body & Blood, holydays, Confession, Latin, incense, Sacraments, Calvary with a crucifix, Bible stories learned from statues & stained glass windows, Easter and Holy Week bigger than Christmas, Good Friday veneration of the cross, nuns who loved me like a son, Jesus in his little house, Hail Marys, praying to my dead (sorry, sleeping in Christ) relatives, apostolic succession, celibacy; all as normal, vivid and real as breathing.
So sometimes I tell new Catholics about why a Cradle Cat’lic might envy them; and in doing so I remember not to be envious of their journeys, but rather be thankful for my own.