When my wife and I met ten years ago, I was living in a schoolbus, writing a book, and trying to live a quasi-monastic life of radical discipleship. She was working as a nurse and enjoyed spending time with her family. We were different in many ways but had both experienced serious conversions around the same time, in different cities, and felt God calling us to pray for our future spouse, even though we didn’t know who they were yet. When we met on a Catholic dating site, and after a few email exchanges, we decide to meet.
On our first date in a downtown coffee shop, I felt immediately comfortable with her. She exuded kindness and had a radiant smile. We talked about faith, coming to Christ, and our backgrounds. I was surprised she even wanted to meet me, given my eccentric lifestyle at the time, and I had a self-consciousness about being what I felt was “damaged goods,” but rather than be deterred she seemed attracted by this kind of unconventionality.
After ten years of marriage, we joke today about what attracted us to one another. “You didn’t have a job, a car, or any real prospects,” she said. “But you loved God and that’s what mattered to me. I knew you were the one after our first date.” When she asks me about why I married her, I jokingly tell her, “You were normal.”
The grace to be normal
Or course, there’s more to it than that. But her level-headed sensibilities, her simple faith, and what I perceived to be a sense of stability in her life and in character would prove to be one of the most compelling features of that initial attraction. I guess opposites do attract after all.
My wife has become my rock in stormy times, and I too have been afforded the opportunity to be hers. When her mom died a few years ago, and when we lost three children to miscarriage, she would say, “I don’t know what I would do without you.” This is the blessing of marriage, strengthened through sacramental grace, and companionship. Of course, knowing our respective weaknesses, the true Rock we both build our houses on is the Lord God. In Him, we have placed our trust.
There is a tendency today, an almost totalitarian and herd-mentality, for the fringe to be elevated above the norm. Kids in school who have two married parents often keep it to themselves for feeling ostracized or accused of “privilege” in an environment in which many of their peers come from divorced and/or broken homes. Gender and sexual identity has become all the rage, so that terms like “hetero-normative” are invented and used pejoratively.
We can thank the reactionary movements of Anti-Foundationalism and Post-Modernism for the floor giving way beneath our feet. I think a large part of the rampant anxiety college students face today stems from an underlying sense of not being able to answer the question, “What is truth?” with any kind of faith or certainty. But the pendulum is beginning to swing back as well. Thomism, once disdained for its Scholastic approach to theology, is enjoying a renewal. Academic organizations like the Thomistic Institute are bringing the sound marriage of faith and reason to college campuses overrun with identity politics. In an age where the goal posts are always changing and the ground always shifting beneath one’s feet, what was once seen as stodgy and overly-scholastic is opening the eyes of many college students to the idea of unchanging realities and objective moral truth.
The eternal attraction of truth
Traditionalism, too–though it may be seen as a minority “faction” within the church–is attracting many young people to an ancient and unchanging experience of liturgy. The years of liturgical experimentation and license have not produced the kind of fruit promised, and it is the orthodox religious orders, those who make demands and hold to a renewed vision of the unchanging truths of the Faith, that seem to be experiencing growth in numbers.
G.K. Chesteron once said that “the most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” Marriage, for all its honeymoon periods and quests to reignite the initial flame of attraction and passion, is for the most part ordinary life lived out together in seemingly mundane circumstances. Marriage is as much nuts and bolts and the hundred practical decisions of every day as it is the wild, flickering flame of passion. But it is mundane, the ordinary, that is the stuff of life, the currency which gives it value. The steadiest heat comes from coals, not flames.
Likewise in matters of faith, the dramatic highs and lows of the spiritual life are sometimes unconsciously elevated over the ordinary acts of obedience and putting one foot in front of the other on the road to Calvary, day after day. We recount tales of radical Augustinian metanoias as the pinnacle of intentional discipleship, but sometimes underplay the seemingly inconsequential and ordinary way of living the Faith and the virtues–daily prayer, regular Mass attendance, living the virtues, washing the dishes, folding the laundry, earning a living.
Mountains and valleys
When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain and was transfigured before them in the company of Elijah and Moses, Peter’s first reaction was to retain the moment and set up tents. But we are not meant to live perpetually on top of mountains. For most of us, the work is on the ground, and it can be quite ordinary and seemingly mundane.
But there is something beautiful in the ordinary, the mundane, the “normal”. God sets our hearts on what is true and beautiful in accordance with our nature. In a paradoxical way, we must buck the trend, break away from the herd, and take the narrow way in order to follow Jesus. In the eyes of the world, that sometimes seems unconventional and radical. But to shun the ordinary, everyday work of living out the faith concretely in order to chase what is new and exciting goes counter to the meaning of love and responsibility. A life well lived is made up of those ordinary moments. What’s old is new. What’s timeless is timely. And what’s normal, is beautiful.