She looked up at me. Messy pigtails, marvelously intelligent brown eyes, a precocious wisp of a petite three-year-old: my boyfriend’s niece.
Surrounded as I was by games and chatter, everyone thronging together for a day of fun on a Catholic family of sixteen’s farm, I stood still and looked down at her.
“Will you take me to see the pigs?” she asked, her voice as tiny and fine-tuned as the rest of her.
The fatal question had come forth. “The pigs,” I echoed, putting up a pretense of resistance – though truth be told, I didn’t mind too much. I’d been born sanguine, but that day, I was weighed down by ongoing sorrows, and hungry for a little isolation. The pigs were down the road a ways.
Her eyes pooled with longing. “Yes, the pigs.”
I took her to see the pigs.
She ran ahead of me down the winding gravel path, sunlight bouncing off her head. We passed the rabbits and turkeys and chickens. Eventually, we came to the spacious pig corral, where two massive sows, one boar, and seven or so little piglets were immersed in the operation of ingesting as much feed as possible.
She was mesmerized. She walked about, talked to them. At times we sat in the warm grass together (she perched on my lap) and focused wholly on the pigs. Her similarly aged cousin had followed us down, carrying a Styrofoam plane that continually fell apart; we helped him put it back together a hundred times.
Occasionally one of the massive, muddy pigs would sneeze or snort with annoyance, and the cousin would howl with delighted laughter while she would curl up in my lap, slightly shocked but in awe.
“He sneezed,” she whispered to me, but with a knowing smile.
We stayed with the pigs for at least half an hour. Behind my sunglasses, I was initially fighting off tears from the internal heaviness…but children and pigs have a peace about them, and God saw fit to let me share in it. It was a beautiful simplicity.
Eventually, Little Cousin thought he might have to go to the bathroom (he expressed this to us in tones of significant distress), so we took him back up the path, though she was loath to leave. I put her on my shoulders. She was tiny, after all.
“Your hair is hot,” she commented. But she was gleeful about getting the ride.
Having arrived at the main scene, we both poured something to drink, and I mingled for a while with others, watching some of the high-octane competitive games going on. But eventually she found me, just as pleading as before, pigtails and all.
“Can you take me to see the pigs?”
We went off again; she rode on my shoulders, happily munching a pumpkin-shaped sugar cookie with orange sprinkles.
“Are there crumbs in my hair?” I asked once, though there was no doubt about it. Immediately, she began patting and stroking my scalp.
“I can’t get the food out,” she announced at length.
“Don’t worry about it.”
We watched the pigs. The sun slowly fell. She tossed them some grass and practiced throwing rocks down the path (at one point she got as far as four feet). We huddled together and talked about how much we loved the piglets. I was compelled to explain nursing to her when she was afraid the sows were being bitten.
At last, we were encouraged by others to come back up to the house for good. We stayed past dark at the party. When my boyfriend was about to drive my siblings and me home, she came and wrapped her tiny arms around me in a hug. Then she looked up from under those messy pigtails.
“Thank you for taking me to see the uh…the uh…”
She grinned. “Yeah, the pigs.”
I wanted to thank her, too.
* * *
It’s been a painful summer, now turning into fall. All people go through trials, and no details are necessary for this particular story. For me and the steady, virtuous man who (beyond my belief at times) hopes to start his future family with me, we know we’re not special or unique in that we’ve been through hard times recently. My parish priest has eloquently pointed out that our culture is falsely a “victim culture”; it encourages a universal victim mentality of undeserved suffering when the only true Victim is and ever will be Our Lord.
We all, myself included, deserve suffering. Yet only the infinite goodness of God could ordain that something we deserve can still be transformed and used as sanctification and unity with Him, if we co-operate properly with it.
Getting married and starting a family are fairly normal things. They’re “how the world goes ’round,”
as we’re lovingly reminded by those who are doing it right. Yet in the times in which we live, and for those of us who understand the gravity of such times, there’s an increasingly visible extraordinariness that hangs about these simple actions of getting married and starting a family. There is tremendous weight behind them.
Even though, at the end of the day, I’m just a young woman deeply in love with her man, I still realize that what my boyfriend and I hope and plan for (marriage and family) is far, far bigger than ourselves. It isn’t merely about our own happiness. Sr. Lucia’s well known (by now) words are a clarion call: “The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue . . . however, Our Lady has already crushed its head.”
My boyfriend and I are perfectly ordinary people (although he amazes me). We want to be saints but are certainly not there yet. We try to grow in love of the Faith and in personal virtue, that interminable, wash-rinse-repeat process. We look to and support reverent liturgy and orthodoxy, and we desire a healthy, traditional family structure built on authentic masculinity and femininity, bound up in the roles of husband and wife. In addition, we’ve tried, to the best of our ability, to have a courtship along the lines of Fr. Chad Ripperger’s recommendations, in which physical affections are kept at bay and discernment of marriage is intentional.
If we’re able to do anything good, it’s only by God’s grace working in spite of our weakness. We haven’t been perfect, but we’ve been tremendously blessed.
Carrying an intensely difficult and painful cross while traversing courtship has broken us down in many ways: it’s demanded that we surrender and let Our Lord rebuild us properly in spite of ourselves. As strange as it sounds, I don’t want to imagine our courtship without a heavy suffering of some kind. Suffering is appropriate here. It stinks, it makes me feel weak and helpless, but if viewed supernaturally, it does make profound sense. We want something holy, something greater than ourselves; we want to be holy and have a holy family. Given that, I would be a little afraid if everything were dandy for us all the time. We’re not special, but we’re part of the Church, and the Church must suffer and die with Christ. In that sense, suffering is a good sign.
* * *
In these times of rampant homosexual crisis, scandal, and turmoil in the Church, the darkness is thick – yet we are each still given tiny building blocks of minutes, hours, and days. We each have the small, ordinary tasks we must be faithful in, while the chaos of sin wheels under the hand of the prince of this world.
In the end, we only have one task, as St. John Vianney reminded us in his Catechism on Salvation: “There are many Christians who do not even know why they are in the world. ‘O my God, why hast Thou sent me into the world?’ ‘To save your soul.’ ‘And why dost Thou wish me to be saved?’ ‘Because I love you.’ … Oh, what a beautiful life! How good, how great a thing it is to know, to love and serve God! We have nothing else to do in this world. All that we do besides is lost time.”
In the glorious hidden tapestry of God’s will, we have faith that He, in His perfect wisdom, is weaving our individual lives, our vocations, efforts, sufferings, and joys, into good. Good. Not a vague, sentimentalized, marshmallow “good,” but the only good – that is, the ultimate victory of Christ, in the fulness of His perfect age.
How to be faithful, how to strive toward virtue, how to let ourselves be used by God in the smallest of things for the ultimate good? These are the real questions of our evil times.
There is no way to pretend otherwise. We are all suffering – suffering under this sludge of despicable sin that has wrought, and continues to wreak, such havoc and leaves us stunned in soul. But we’re also suffering under the smaller burdens in our lives, the splinters of the Cross that are somehow no less poignant, that leave us teary behind our sunglasses while, around us, the party goes on.
All the while, St. John Vianney joyously proclaims, “Oh, what a beautiful life!”
It is. There is the daily renewed opportunity of knowing, loving, and serving God – of saving our souls. There are the sacraments, rich and abounding in grace. There are the weapons of prayer and fasting. There is the Church, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, that will not be defeated – whose wounds and weaknesses will be used by Our Lord to humiliate the Enemy all the more profoundly at the end of time.
There are faithful priests and holy nuns. There are beautiful families and laypeople, living out sacrificial love, striving towards truth and beauty.
There are young people falling in love, hoping for holy marriage in spite of their failings. There are innocent children with pigtails and cookie crumbs. And there are pigs to take them to. There are the quiet times, rare though they may be, in which we return to simplicity and ponder for the thousandth time what it means to become like a child again, in order to inherit the Kingdom of God.
Let’s not lose hope, dear ones. Let’s continue pursuing the joy that only holiness can bring.