There is a holy dynamic to growing older that I have only vaguely begun to grasp. I have seen my three children blossom into adults. I have endured the triumphs and trials of marriage to a wonderful woman whose love and fidelity is more than I ever deserved. And I have witnessed the constancy of faith in my wife’s parents that has endured throughout the years and inspired me to become a better husband, father, and Catholic man. My journey has been building to a point where I am only now truly learning what it means to surrender to the One who is drawing his Church – his Bride – home to himself.
As believers move through the seasons of our lives, we gradually come to a place where the journeys we have taken begin to coalesce into a story that mirrors the great sacrament of our salvation that is the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. We pass from the springtime of youth, opening up to the promise and potential of a joyful life. We move through the desert days of summer that test our spirits and awaken us to the greater love that allows us to give our lives for the sake of the Kingdom. We enter the autumn of our lives where we pass the privilege of our Christian journey to the next generation even as we come into the fullness of meaning in our own. And finally, we surrender to the coming sleep of the winter of our later years, knowing that when we close our eyes to this world, we shall open them in the eternal springtime that will be ours in the next.
This is What Anniversaries Are For
In October of 2023, we celebrated the 63rd wedding anniversary of my wife’s parents, Ines and Gerald Davino. We have had many commemorations of this blessed event throughout the years, sometimes with lavish parties with a hundred guests in a grand ballroom or a close family reunion at a backyard barbeque. But this time, only our family and my wife’s siblings and their families gathered to host a traditional Italian lasagna dinner with their parents. We put out our fine china and our old traditional Italian wine glasses, sliced the Italian bread nice and thick, and lit the candles for atmosphere as our family gathered around the dining room table.
Though my in-laws certainly deserved much more fanfare and accolades, what was more than evident was that, with their family all around them, they had all they wanted or needed. This simple meal, prepared with love, brought this happy couple a joy beyond words. It spilled out in all the same old stories told for the thousandth time and the infectious laughter they brought to our hearts. We found satisfaction in in our many conversations all happening at the same time, as we were fed sumptuous food and delicious deserts. But most of all, we were moved by the gentle and humble words of my father-in-law thanking his children for all the blessings they had brought to his life.
It was in this sacred moment that the profundity of my life took hold of me in a way both familiar and new. Here I was in the autumn of my life, seeing my wife’s parents basking in the joy of the winter of theirs; and I realized that each anniversary was a way of marking not only the passage of time, but the transformation of our lives as well. The memories, both good and bad, were healed and given deeper meaning as we looked back and saw the gentle hand of God guiding us all along the path toward his Kingdom. The bittersweet nature of seeing our babies grow up to move out on their own, the times of longing when they have been absent, and the unbounded joy of coming all together once more have only reminded me that this blink-of-an-eye life is meant to point us to something more.
The Changing Colors and the Hope of Things to Come
I cannot pretend that our journey has always been an easy one. Trials and tragedies have been a part of the landscape of our life, and always will be – at least until the day we stand face-to-face with our Savior in the Kingdom to come. And I recognize that my in-laws, now in their eighties, will one day be separated from us, at least for a time. But just as the changing colors of the trees outside our home signal the coming of autumn and the colder days of winter ahead, I know that our life is destined to change and ultimately pass on into something new. From death will come new life. From the grave will come the resurrection. And though it can sometimes stir an uneasiness in my soul, it is truly a glorious blessing.
Rather than lamenting at the lateness of the hour of my life, I am learning to rejoice as I experience the fullness of the unfolding story that has been my salvation. I see mirrored in my marriage and the marriage of my in-laws, a dim reflection of a glorious reality of Christ and his Church. Each satisfying bite of my wife’s lasagna or my brother-in-law’s dessert is a reminder of the ultimate satisfaction that comes from the God who desires that we open our mouths wide that he may fill them with good things. Like the hearty Italian bread and the dry red wine that symbolize our oneness as family, I know I have been given the grace and assurance of the blessings that have come to all God’s family in the Eucharist. As each celebration with my family brings us once again to the fullness of our relationships, I see that each celebration of this sacrament brings me once more to the fullness of my salvation won for me and for the Church by Christ.
Getting Ready to Retreat to the Warmth Inside
With the autumn comes the change that leads us into the safety of our home and the glorious evenings spent around our beautiful stone hearth where wood fires will warm our bodies and calm our worries. There, beside the crackling wood, I will sit with my bride for many cozy evenings as we take comfort in the blessings that have been ours throughout the years. There I will dream of the holidays to come, which will, like our lives, pass all too quickly, but offer us new memories to round out the story of this life, now in its autumn, soon to pass into winter, and ultimately to a sweet, eternal spring.
Each anniversary of the Savior’s birth as it arrives in its proper time within the cycle of the seasons of the Church, is a beautiful testimony to the ever-changing story of salvation that is unfolding in my life. As I prepare for the coming of Advent, I come once more in touch with a certain sadness within my soul, a deep longing for forgiveness for past transgressions, and an even deeper hunger for the fulfillment of the promises that are mine in my adoption in Christ. As I put up the Christmas tree and place the beautiful decorations on its branches, I will take in all the stories that every precious ornament holds, remembering the long journey through the valleys of surrender and the mountaintops of triumph that I have experienced through the grace of God.
I will look forward to hosting Christmas dinner once again with my in-laws, and God willing, for many years to come. Once more, we will gather around the table, a glorious feast that will echo the holy feast that is to come in the Kingdom; and we will laugh and cry and share our stories, make new memories, and touch in a profound way the mystery of autumn turning to winter turning to spring. We will wrap the love we share around us like a blanket, holding on to each moment for as long as we can as it so swiftly passes by, and we are further transformed as members of the Body of Christ.
Thirty-three Years and Counting
My own journey of marriage has been a lifetime of learning, struggling, joy and pain, and victory after victory, all from the overflowing grace poured into our life by a God who loves us more than we can truly comprehend. I can only hope that I will honor my in-laws by imitating their example and becoming even a fraction of the man I have been called to be. I pray that I will truly come to see how every step and stumble along the narrow way, every act of forgiveness, every moment of laughter or tears, and every blessing poured out, has been transforming this autumn traveler as he surrenders to the story that God has been writing in his life.
Each autumn, as you witness the ever-changing cycle of rebirth unfolding before you, may you too enter into the inexpressible joy that comes in submitting your life to the One who is writing his love onto the tablet of your heart. May each anniversary you celebrate, in marriage, in the seasons, and in the milestones along the path toward heaven, break open your heart to the reality that we are part of an every unfolding story of love between a sacred Bridegroom and his holy Bride. And May you treasure every moment of grace that touches your heart, surrendering to the gentle hand of the One who is finishing your story and calling you home.