(Printed by approval; Names changed and some details left out to protect the innocent and slightly edited for length- Joseph wrote a lot!)
A man's letter announcing an engagement:
I proposed yesterday, July 6, on my parents' wedding anniversary. Mary is a stunning beauty, 5'4'', blonde, has beautiful eyes, and a great smile. But more important is her inner beauty that I recognized from day one in her eyes. She has a deep and abiding faith, a gentle manner, incredible artistic skills and more flair and creativity in her pinky finger than I have overall...
Mary and I met last year at the young adult bible study at my parish. I remember noticing a beautiful young woman across the room. After the meeting, Mary and a friend of ours came up to me and said, "Joseph of Nazareth, where do we know you from?" I knew the other young woman, Elizabeth, but I did not know Mary. It turned out that she knew who I was because our sisters would play together occasionally about ten years earlier. My mother had mentioned that she had a son who worked at the local grocery store and, yes, even then my manly charms were to hard to resist, so Mary figured out who I was but never talked to me. It was a nice beginning to a friendship but it did not seem then that it would be anything more. At that point I was not pursuing romantic relationships because of vocational discernment. That didn't keep me from looking her up on the Bethlehem U. website the next day and finding some of her portfolio online. A few times over the summer Mary and I would hang out in larger groups but never one-on-one. We were also together in a group at World Youth Day. Our friendship developed over the course of the summer, but we also kept a little distance because of the mutual attraction and my vocational questions.
In the late summer, my sister was looking for a Confirmation sponsor. I suggested Mary as a good fit because of her deep faith and ability to package that faith in a way that could speak to the world. They hit it off right a way and Mary has been an incredible guide for my sister. Mary and I talked about how it is often easier to evangelize those outside of one's family rather than those within it and I told her how grateful I was to her for sacrificing her time and sponsoring my sister. After Confirmation, we had a big celebration. Mary and I were still just friends but I was so happy for her friendship and for her presence in my sister's life. My mother says that she saw something special between us then.
It was also during this time that I had begun praying more deeply for discernment. A young priest I know in South Bend told me to pray to know whether my fatherhood and husbandry was to be mediated or immediate and to pray with a specific time frame in mind. I still had desires to date and I knew that those desires would remain even if I was called to be a priest. Yet this desire was of a different sort from before as it was not so abstract but more concrete. I began to pray to God to show me if I could date again by the end of Christmas vacation. If nothing was shown to me, then I would be resolved to continue not dating.
Meanwhile, my friendship with Mary continued to deepen. At Thanksgiving time, she and I got together for coffee and ended up spending three hours together. I would later find out that we were meeting on the 27th day of a 54 day Novena that Mary was praying for my discernment. We stayed in touch and then at Christmas-time I came home for about a month. My family and I went to Egypt for Christmas and nothing had changed in prayer, so as we returned home I smiled to myself and assumed that God was saying that the door of dating and marriage were to remain closed.
God is however a God of surprises, a God who acts and overturns our human assumptions. A few days after returning from Egypt I was out with a few friends from World Youth Day including Mary. I had a blast hanging out with the various friends and catching up. Everything seemed pretty ordinary. That night or really early the next morning, I knelt down to pray night prayer. As I was finishing up my prayer before hitting the sack, I experienced movement in my prayer like never before. In a moment of deep clarity, I sensed that God was re-opening the door to dating and telling me to take that leap. (I later learned that the day before, Mary had finished her 54-day Rosary novena for my discernment.) The next couple of days, I prayed and talked to others about what to do. I came to the conviction to call Mary up and ask her out. We had our first date on the birthday of St. Therese, who has been quite an intercessor in our relationship and in my process of discernment.
Well, that day began a beautiful and wonderful relationship in which Mary and I grew in love and in faith. I was so content and at peace when with her. It was effortless to spend hour upon hour with her talking about some heady subject or watching some chick flick (of course it does not hurt that I generally like chick flicks). I was moved beyond myself and began to see the fruits of the relationship in other areas of my life as well. We truly worked with each other trying to pull each other toward holiness. After spending January through May away from each other, we were blessed this summer to have the opportunity to spend several months together in the same city, with a schedule that allowed us to have a more normal relationship. That was a true blessing. As I prayed, reflected, and worked with my spiritual director this summer, I also began to come to the internal conviction that I should take the "Geronimo" leap and ask Mary to marry me. I stewed over this for awhile and prayed more. Much time was spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration. Finally, late last week I woke up and decided to go take another look at some rings.
I went to Mass and offered my prayers and communion up in part for courage and conviction. Then I stopped by Adoration very briefly. After leaving Adoration, I dialed the Nazorean House and asked to talk to Joachim. I asked him if I might be able to take him out that night for a beer or for breakfast the next morning to discuss something important. He was nervous as well as he stammered and asked me when I was free that night. We decided to get together that night at Starbucks. Then I headed out with my mom to buy the ring. When I got to Starbucks, Joachim came out and suggested we go to a place that served alcohol. I had brought materials with me to pretend like I was studying in case anyone else ran into us. I also brought a copy of Lawrence v. Texas, the recent Supreme Court case to discuss with Joachim because we had been talking about it the night before. I had it in hand to start the conversation with him, just in case I chickened out, and also in the event that I was asked by anyone what we had been doing, I could truthfully reply, we were discussing that case. We ordered up Hard Mike's Lemonade and starting talking a little about the case. I was avoiding the main subject.
Finally, about 20 minutes to half an hour after getting there, I said, "Well, why don't I get to the point why I called you. I love your daughter and I want to lay my life down for her. I would like to ask for your blessing to ask Mary to marry me." He said, "Yes you have it," shook my hand and breathed a sigh of relief saying, "I was getting worried that I had misread what this was about!" He then told me about how happy Mary was when with me and shared wonderful words with me about the joys and struggles of marriage. We ordered a second round. I also asked him to keep everything a secret until Sunday when I was planning on popping the question. Anne had instructed all of Mary's siblings to keep the meeting a secret.
Sunday came along. Those of you who are married, please let me know if you were as nervous as I was. I woke up at 4 am to go to the bathroom and saw my mom. Then later after another hour of attempting to get to sleep I got up to go to the bathroom again. My mom who was up asked me if I wanted to pray. We prayed a rosary together, the Luminous Mysteries. I went back to sleep for a couple of hours and then got up to get ready to drive down to South Bend with Mary. I had told her that we were going down to Mass and to spend the day with a Professor and his wife. We were in fact going to spend the afternoon with him but we had some business to take care beforehand. After a Mass in which I was a bit nervous and praying fervently, I suggested we go to visit the Grotto. We lit two candles together and placed them next to each other in the rack and then knelt down and prayed. I suggested we sit down at a bench and pray a decade of the Rosary. We prayed the Mystery of the Wedding Feast at Cana. I then turned to Mary, who had applied for a teaching job in Rome, and said, "I don't think you should go to Rome. I don't see you as a Mediterranean girl. I think you are more of an East coast girl. I think you should marry me." Mary wasn't really sure what was going on. She certainly wanted to marry me but I hadn't gotten there yet and hadn't asked her yet.
Then I got down on my knee, pulled out a box with a ring, and asked, "Mary of Nazareth, will you marry me?" She said, "Yes," and then began to hyperventilate. I remained on my knee for a good five minutes and then we went and prayed prayers of thanksgiving at the Grotto. We then headed up to the Basilica where we had just been to Mass and found a priest who blessed the ring and our hands in the font and our future marriage. It was a fitting way to celebrate and consecrate the moment. We called our families. Finally, we headed over to the professor's for lunch. Their family knew that I was going to pop the question and so had a bouquet of flowers ready and a bridal magazine there. They had been praying for me that I didn't get cold feet as well. It turns out that Mary had been praying during the week as well that I would pop the question at the Grotto. When we originally scheduled the trip, I hadn't been certain I was going to do it there but it seems that her prayers were answered and so many of mine as well. Anyhow, we are excited. We hope to be married as soon as possible. Now it just becomes an issue of finding a church and arranging schedules.
For those of you who have never met Mary, I cannot wait for you to meet her. I don't call her the woman of my dreams. Rather, I call her the woman of my reality. Her presence in my life is an incredible blessing and I am so thankful that God put her into my life and that he led me to this point. Please pray for us as we enter into this time of engagement that we grow deeper in love and fidelity to Christ and to each other.