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That attention is love

In the very year of our engagement, Lady Bird was released.
Toward the end of this magnanimous film
the titular character meets with her English teacher, Sister Sarah Joan,
to discuss a short story she wrote for class.
That wise nun comments how clearly
Lady Bird’s love for Sacramento comes through,
much to Lady Bird’s—and the viewer’s—surprise.
Up till now we have seen Lady Bird straining
at the borders of her hometown
and dreaming of going to college
where there is, as she puts it, “culture”—
somewhere like New York City,
or at least, she says naively, Connecticut.
Unwilling to call what she feels for Sacramento love,
Lady Bird demurs, saying,
“I guess I pay attention.” Sister Sarah Joan, sage-like, responds,
“Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing?
Love and attention?”

Jacqueline,
whom I now have the great and singular joy to call my wife,
is someone who pays attention.
How else to explain her acute focus,
an enviable ability to block out all distractions and interruptions?
How else to explain her fascination with
and appreciation for art in all its forms,
her own deeply-felt artistic expression in song and in dance?
Indeed it is by this very attention
that Jacqueline sees the world insightfully and perceptively,
that she recognizes with clarity the virtues and vices and motivations
of those whom she encounters in life and in literature.
I recall our earliest conversations at St. Bonaventure,
where we sat in Hickey Dining Hall
long after our plates had been emptied and our stomachs filled,
as we canvassed literature, film, television, and, most of all, music.
Though I did not realize it at the time,
what drew me to her,
besides her evident beauty—
and the prospect of dating a third-generation SBU legacy—
was her keen sense of the world, borne out of a piercing eye.
It was breathtaking,
enlightening,
challenging,
delighting.

In what can only be called a miracle of divine grace,
Jacqueline has turned her attentive gaze to me.
To be beheld by Jacqueline is thrilling.
She is a source of comfort,
sharing in my hopes and joys, my griefs and anxieties.
She provides refuge from the lonely, isolating, solitary world I inhabit
of dusty books and long-forgotten names.
Under her eyes, I am not anonymous;
I am seen.
But to be beheld by Jacqueline can be frightening indeed.
Jacqueline sees right through all my pretenses,
through the false self by which I delude
(or attempt to delude)
the world and myself.
She knows when I complain about my colleagues
I really give voice to my own insecurities.
She knows my impatience with others
only masks my own frustration with myself.
I cannot but read myself into
the lover of the Song of Songs;
in the eyes of his beloved, he delights:
“How beautiful you are, my love, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves!” (1:15).
But from those very eyes, he shrinks:
“Turn your eyes away from me, for they disturb me” (6:5).
Jacqueline sees me, and so I delight.
Yet it is precisely because she sees me that I cower,
for she misses nothing—
not my shame, nor my sin.

Jacqueline,
in other words,
sees me not only as I am now—
sinful indeed and a poor excuse for a Christian—
but also as I could be; rather, as I should be.
Her probing stare exhorts me to be who I am created to be—
poor in spirit and meek,
hungering and thirsting for justice,
clean of heart and peacemaking.
Sometimes she does this outright,
gently and charitably chiding me when I deserve it—
but most times it is her modeling of Christian discipleship,
her lived embodiment of those beatitudes
that points me away from sin and darkness
and toward righteousness and light.
Saint Francis of Assisi is attributed as saying,
“Preach the Gospel always;
when necessary, use words.”
Though he surely uttered no such thing,
Jacqueline lives that proverb ceaselessly.

Indulge me still further.
Marriage,
as a sacrament in the Catholic sense,
is shaped and normed by the cross.
In all sacraments, no less marriage,
we die on the cross with Christ,
and with him leave behind an empty tomb.
In our sacramental dying and rising
is anticipated our physical dying and rising.
Every time a sinner submits to baptism’s watery grave,
every time the one bloody sacrifice is celebrated
with the unbloody words hoc est corpus meum,
every time two persons die to their selves
and consent to the union in which they rise together as one,
Death’s claim over us is broken.
This is God’s wisdom, foolishness to the world,
that by Death itself God should bring life.
Rightly does the Apostle Paul—and do we—
rejoice with words mocking:
“Where, O Death, is your sting?”

Put otherwise,
the process of dying and rising in the sacraments
is nothing other than the process of entering into eternal life,
wherein the last enemy Death finally is defeated.
To be married in this life is to be made ready
for the wedding-feast in the life to come,
where we all shall be wedded to the Lamb whose victory the cross is.
In my marital, sacramental life with Jacqueline,
and under the clear, precise, charitable, demanding gaze
by which Jacqueline attends to me,
I work out the salvation Christ has wrought.
I am not saved except for her love,
that is to say her attention,
a love and attention that reform me
not in in her image or in mine,
but in the image of the LORD.
This is God’s providential plan for me;
these are the means by which God,
in His mercy,
has ordained that I shall be saved.
It could not be otherwise.
Without Jacqueline I turn my face from His face,
to my own peril;
with her, I shall look upon the face of the LORD as a friend,
in life eternal.
I know not why God has entrusted her to my care—
for I, as Jacqueline’s spouse, must do the same for her—
but thanks be that God has seen fit to entrust me to hers.