There are pivotal moments in everyone's life. In my life, I have been fortunate to have multiple moments of this nature—I decided to join the Seminary straight out of high school, stayed in for four years and had many wonderful experiences in discernment. Then I decided to leave the Seminary (another huge moment in my personal life... even if some people weren't so pleased with that decision).
Just recently, another moment occurred which has changed my life, and will hopefully help influence many others' lives for the better! I am now engaged to a beautiful and very gracious woman whom I intend to marry before the end of next year... and since everyone's asking how the engagement happened, I feel like I may oblige here:
About a month before yesterday, I decided I really did want to marry my bride-to-be, and I went to ask her Father for her hand in marriage (he was happy to give his permission), and order a ring. I didn't yet have a date planned for popping the question, but I was sure I wanted to ask before Christmas, but after Thanksgiving.
God provided the perfect date, however, and this date was December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; not only did I have the day off work (working for the Church has certain perks like this!), but it is also one of the primary feasts celebrated in the Catholic Church. Plus, it's a feast of our Blessed Mother, and who could pass that up? [I've since found out that this is also her favorite Marian feast—score one for good luck!]
I decided that I would drive my then-girlfriend to work in the morning, which I did. I was also able to meet the wonderful faculty and students she assists on a daily basis (which was a very pleasant experience! I hope to return and see them again). After I dropped her off, I had a quick lunch with some of my friends and got things in order for the evening.
A Simple Flower
Not being in the best financial situation this Advent, I ruled out the possibility of getting a present or a large bouquet of flowers; rather, I bought a solitary Gerber daisy from the local florist (Gerber daisies are her favorite—gentlemen: you should find out what your partner's favorite flower is if you'd like to show her little tokens of appreciation from time to time!), and placed it on the passenger seat of the car, then headed off to pick her up from work.
In the midst of the frigid, windy rain, she entered the car and was enlivened a little by the warm pink daisy on her seat! Score one for the planning, and for pretty flowers ;-)
It's a good idea to talk first to God, then to others, about any important decision in one's life. This is a fact that I've verified through trial and error countless times. He's kinda important, eh?
I had told my girlfriend that we would go to Cannoli's, a nice family Italian restaurant in north St. Louis county, that evening... but I had other plans in mind. On the way to Cannoli's, I slyly asked if she'd like to go to the perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at St. Ferdinand Parish. Of course, who could pass up a chance to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament?
(Image taken for Spirit and Truth promotional materials, spring 2009.)
We arrived at the chapel, and individually prayed the Glorious mysteries of the Rosary (in honor of the feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception). We then spent a little time praying silently before I knelt in the back pew (she was still sitting) to pray a little more from that posture... but really, to prepare for being in the posture to propose (sly, I know...).
As an aside, don't give your girlfriend your phone and let her use it to pray using iRosary if you're about to propose; a friend sent a text message of congratulations/luck as she was praying, but luckily she wasn't looking at the phone at that time! I quickly reached over and closed the message before she had a chance to read it!
As 3:45 neared (I wanted to ask at a cool numeric time... 3-4-5, and also during the Hour of Mercy), I was getting nervous, because she was still sitting, and I didn't want to have to nudge her to get her to kneel beside me. But her guardian angel must've intervened, because she knelt beside me to finish her prayers as 3:43 went by. At about 3:45 and 5 seconds (I had to get the ring box out and open while her eyes were closed in prayer), I nudged her and asked her a simple but life-changing question: "Will you marry me?"
She was quite surprised and nervous (she understands, like me, the awesome power of the simple word she said), and after catching her breath, whispered, "yes!" I proceeded to put the ring on her finger, then after a few moments of feeling amazingly blessed in God's presence, we sat (mostly so she could try to catch up with her feelings, which had just launched in a rocket aimed at the moon, while her thoughts were stuck on the launch pad).
When we went outside, she asked, with a huge grin on her face (same as on mine), "What just happened in there?? Did we just get engaged?" I replied, "Yes! I'm so excited!" We hugged for a few moments, and fearing the cold would dampen our spirits, we went to the car. She then spent the next 10 minutes trying to decide to whom she should first deliver the good news, then we said we loved each other a few times.
God, being who He is, always likes to remind us that He should be relied upon for assistance in any situation... I had planned to hit some traffic and maybe even witness a beautiful sunset with my bride-to-be, but the damp, cold rain and cloudy skies completely obliterated that possibility, and I had an hour of time to waste before the dinner reservation time.
We decided to go to my sister's house (she lives by the Church), and say hello to my wonderful two nephews and their parents, and calm down a little over a cup of hot chocolate (thank you, sister!). This was good enough to burn up one hour of time, but I still had half an hour to burn (the reservation was for 5:30, and it was about 5:00). I couldn't arrive early, since I had invited all of her and my family to the dinner, and didn't want to arrive until they had arrived.
So I took a completely insane route to the restaurant; I basically drove around half of Florissant instead of simply driving one mile down the road to Cannoli's. Natalie, I think, was becoming aware that I was taking a rather unorthodox route to the restaurant as I turned down the 10th side street, but she was still talking to friends on the phone the whole time, so she didn't have much time to be inquisitive.
Around 5:30, we entered the restaurant and headed back; our families clapped as we entered and congratulated us on our engagement. Dinner was beautiful, as everyone except my brother (who is out of state right now) was able to share in our joy. We had a fine Italian meal, cake (which my parents bought and had decorated with 'Congratulations Natalie and Jeff') and a cannoli (how can you not, at a place named Cannoli's?). This dinner also offered the opportunity for our families to get to know one another before the hectic time of the wedding itself.
Family is a microcosm and a foundation for society—you share in each other's joy and suffering, you are always there for each other, you love each other, and you work together to make each other become closer to God and more loving as a human person. I was extremely pleased to have most of our family present after we had given God thanks and praise for all He has given us, and listened for His advice.
I am Last
I think it was Ignatius of Loyola who said "God is first, others second, I am last." Well, I try to hold to this maxim in my own life (and often fail). May this be the way that I live the rest of my married life (and the time leading up to that blessed time!).
A note to any other gentleman wishing to propose to your girlfriend: Inscribe the above words in your heart. If you want to have a lasting and faithful married life, you must always repeat these words, and try to find a woman who also repeats these words, day in and day out. Build your marriage on the foundation of love for God and love for others. Then think about your own good. Don't be selfish.
As an added bonus, if you do some 'romantical' things (like the flower, or a nice unexpected love letter), your girlfriend will be able to brag about it to everyone she sees for the next few weeks ;-)