I was 26 years old and got married when I learned of the arrangement between my parents.
Mom came to stay with me and my new wife, and we were trapped indoors during an ice storm. Sometime on an endless weekend, my mother spilled beans, perhaps at a candid moment fueled by alcohol.
I had never heard of the marriage of the Joseph, a union inspired by the relationship between Joseph and the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. And to this day, I am surprised that my parents have followed the same path with the blessings of the Roman Catholic Church. Their arrangement did not comply with the strict definition of Joseph’s relationship, but since they married without the intention of a single union, such an agreement is an option for Catholics seeking a higher spiritual side. It remains.
When they met, my dad was mundane 32 years old and my mother was a wonderful 19 years old. He was a doctor who completed training at Queens General Hospital, now known as the Queens Hospital Center. She was a student nurse in clinical training there. His parents were Presbyterians, but he was an agnostic. She was Catholic. They eloped, married a Lutheran minister, and gave birth to four children. Dad had a severe heart attack at the age of 46. This brush of death urged him to convert to Catholicism.
After he recovered from a heart attack, my father received religious training from our assistant pastor, Dublin-born Patrick O’Brian. I remember my mother serving lamb roasts with mint jelly every Wednesday night for ordained visitors. This was far from the typical weekday fare for a Texas home.
Shortly thereafter, my three siblings and I noticed that our parents’ double beds were being replaced by twin beds. My sister asked about this. The sharp tone of our mother’s answer hampered further discussion: “Your dad needs his rest!”
My three brothers and I undoubtedly accepted this.
What we didn’t know was that my father was married before he met my mother. His first marriage lasted about two years, and my parents couldn’t receive the sacraments of the marriage because the church refused to admit the divorce and the end of the union.
It was pointed out that my parents would have technically lived in sin without the sacraments of the priest’s marriage while my father was absorbed in Catholicism. Mortal sin. All Catholic schoolchildren knew the consequences: the unforgiving mortal sin meant eternal punishment! And what about the legitimacy of the children?
My dad repeatedly tried to invalidate his first marriage. The church refused. Before the reforms were introduced in the United States in 1968, the reasons for the abolition of Catholicism were much more stringent. As far as I know, my father’s first marriage did not meet the requirements of the church at that time.
But it provided another solution. With the bishop’s permission, Mom and Dad were able to leave the couple’s bed and replace them with a chaste cohabitation after making a solemn vow.
According to official documents that still have embossed seals and signatures of various church officials and Catholic entities, they were able to “continue to live together like brothers and sisters.” I have a letter from the parish marriage court “curia matrimonialis” dated March 5, 1962. In this letter, my parents swear to follow this arrangement. Or face the loss of access to sacraments and church blessings. Mom was 34 years old. Dad was 47 years old.
Dad, I, and my sister were confirmed by the bishop the same night at the Shrine of the True Cross Church in Dickinson, Texas.
Secrets were a top priority. “No one knows the relationship between brothers and sisters, except for O’Brien’s father, pastor, court, and confessors of the parties,” the court letter said. It mentioned avoiding “notoriety” and “scandals”. Of course, even in the 1960s, not having sex with your spouse would fall within the lower bounds of the scandal.
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This may all look like a relic of the past, but in a 2010 article in the Catholic Exchange publication, in addition to the traditional marriage, “the type of marriage that Joseph and Mary had still exists. , Sometimes referred to as the Joseph Marriage. ”According to the article, a married single person wants to live a life that shows the way to something that will come to the next life, something better and higher. So “give up on sex.
Robert Sullivan, a regular Catholic exchange writer and Nebraska lawyer, said that arrangements like Josephite were to avoid “some obstacles to marriage” and “deepen one’s faith.” I told me it could be used.
I couldn’t help wondering if the Catholic Church continued to build these arrangements for couples demanding such unions.
“Today, it is very rare for people to demand a Joseph marriage,” said Christopher West, president of theology at the Institute of Physical Education, which promotes a healthy understanding of sex in the teachings of the Catholic Church. I did. “I know a couple who learned a few years ago that they were called to marry a Joseph, and their motives were carefully evaluated by the local parish.”
“The usual way to sacredness in marriage is not to sacrifice the marriage bed, but to sanctify the marriage bed,” West added.
The theologian’s general view is that Mary and Joseph’s special physical relationship, the original Joseph marriage, continued throughout their lives.
Nine years after his father’s heart attack and the determination of a sexless couple, his first wife died. On a regular Tuesday night in 1970, Mom and Dad secretly married in our parish church. Two family friends who closed their mouths acted as witnesses. My mother said, “I remember, I went drinking afterwards.”
The twin beds in my parents’ bedroom were replaced by one big one. Once again, my sister asked about the relocation.
My mother’s unfriendly reply: “Your dad feels much better!”
Yes, he feels better, reunites with Mom, and I think their union finally realized what it was.
I told this story in May 2019 when I sent a compliment at the Mass of my mother’s funeral at the Temple of the True Cross. I’m sure it was news for most of her many friends in the church that day. The current minister was unaware of her complex marriage history, and I was a little nervous about how he would react.
But after I sat down, he took the pulpit. “We cannot explain or make excuses for what the church asked people to do more than 50 years ago,” said the priest. “But it is clear to Betty and Bill how important it was that their marriage was blessed by the church. Without judging what they experienced, we were determined and sacred of marriage. You can admire and thank them for their sacrifice to get in. “
There’s still a lot I don’t understand about bachelor unions, but what harm did it do? The herd of our four brothers may have been increased by a few more souls. But my parents didn’t feel impatient, so who do I ask? For many years as a widow, Mama recalled: It wasn’t too bad. “
Geoffrey Leavenworth is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He is the author of four books, including the novel “Island of Misery” and the volume of architecture “Historical Galveston”.