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Widowhood: Dating for Eternity

May 30, AD 2012 21 Comments

Widows have always been a group of people that tug on my heartstrings. What is more tragic than a young husband or wife with small children who becomes a widow? Even an elderly person who wistfully talks about their deceased spouse seems condemned to a particularly cruel and fruitless existence. Elderly couples are endearing, but elderly widows seem painfully solitary.

One day, when commenting on this with my boyfriend, he replied, “No, widowhood is an interesting stage of life. They return to the dating period, only this time they are dating for eternity.” He got this interesting piece of information from a book he’s reading about marriage.

“In this way, the conjugal union is placed between two phases of “dating”: an initial phase (which we spoke about before) and a final phase, when you are alone again (due to the death of the companion) and in which you still feel indissolubly united to the one that accompanied you during your life.” (Translated from Do Casamento: Breve Catequese sobre o Matrimónio [Brief Catechesis on Marriage] by Antonio Sicari, p. 31)

How often I confuse the end goal of life with signs here on Earth! Catholic end times theology differs from other religions like Jehovah’s Witnesses, in which heaven will be on this world, in what seems to be a prolongation of earthly pleasures. Or Mormonism, which proudly promises that earthly marriages continue into heaven. In Catholic theology, when Jesus says “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30), he means heaven is totally different from earth. Heaven is total communion with God and with one another, and marriage and celibacy point to that as two sides of the same coin. Marriage as a sign of what God’s love is like, communion between persons and fruitfulness, and celibacy as a sign that this isn’t the end: there is a heavenly wedding worth skipping the earthly wedding for, in order to start living it now. “Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.” (CCC 1619)

What a funny place widows take in all this. They aren’t married anymore: Catholic wedding vows make it clear that death does you part. They also aren’t religious or consecrated, although some might choose to become so. “There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows. And the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. … This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.” (St. Ambrose, quoted in CCC 2349)

I think widows’ solitude, just like celibates, reminds us that earthly marriage is just one side of the coin: we’re all individually destined for total communion with God. Their dependence and loneliness reminds us of the importance of community. Jewish tradition and Jesus were both very clear that widows are to be taken care of . How loving and present are we in the lives of widows close to us? In our increasingly disconnected and individualistic cultures, widows are a subject to be considered. Also, their sadness and grief reminds us that this life isn’t supposed to be heaven yet. One day, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain…” (Rev 21:4), but until then redemption and love must endure the cross and suffering. Finally, it’s especially their waiting and their longing that constitutes a great sign for us: we’re all waiting and longing. Heaven starts here but it’s definitely not here. Widows point us to what we should all be doing: waiting and dating for eternity.

 

 

 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Julie-Rodriguez-1-e1319489646953.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Julie Rodrigues is a 25-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon, is currently teaching English and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.[/author_info] [/author]

Filed in: Relationships, Spirituality • Tags: ,

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

  • Christopher Beevers

    Hi Mark, hope that this e-mail finds you well. If some of your readers who are widows, etc. and would like to find a worthwhile friendship with a Christian there is a person in England who provides each month scores of other Christians to contact. This person charges $20(£10) per month and as I have communicated with him via e-mail I have formed the opinion that he desires the satisfaction of the work rather than the income involved. If there is interest in the web site or the e-mail of this person then I would be most pleased to oblige and send the same, chris.

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  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    Your boyfriend reads books about marriage? I’ve been with my husband for 29 years and I think he may have touched 2 of them in the last 10 years and only with great coersion

  • Mrs M

    Very beautiful to have thought and written about this. And from the reply by the nurse, I may suggest she is in a sort of widow-state if her husband doesn’t read much about marriage. That can still be rectified: pray often, pray together and keep trying. We are all unfinished. Back to the article. Again, beautiful and I am saving this for meditation. So rich in so few words. As our marriage of 26 years moves on, it also echoes back. Illnesses and setbacks give a glimpse of widowhood and do remind me that it is like courting in backwards motion now. More united, but the slipping away from this life to the eternal. I am giving the gift of my spouse I was able to bring closer to God: It is almost as though God says in our trinity of love: I have him more now, you are passing him even greater to me, start letting go. If either one of us goes first, it is still within our vocation that we have found our path home and that work won’t stop after death. Please continue blogging. Well pleased.

  • Mrs. Y

    Nicely written… as a younger widow (I was 40 years old when my husband died, am now age 55), I have felt much of what you have written — the loneliness, not having a real place in society. Did you ever notice when filling in a form, say at a doctor’s office, that hardly ever is there a space for “widowed” in the marital status line? I think, too, that when people see me, as a widow, they are reminded that it could happen to them, and it scares them. In the Bible, we are exhorted to take care of our widows and orphans. When the spouse first dies, there is of course an overflowing of charity and care. As time goes on and years go by, that charity seems to fade into the busy-ness of life, and I think people just forget. I, myself, have learned how to do much by myself, mostly out of necessity but somewhat for a sense of accomplishment. I am not seeking to marry again, as I am currently in formation to become a consecrated widow. My new state in life is, as you say, a pathway to the eternal marriage… I can’t wait! Thanks again for this article. I pray that it is read and taken to heart by many.

  • Bernice Nordhus

    Thanks for the article. I read with interest when you spoke of the heavenly marriage and wondered if our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have a recollection of it if our government continues to destroy marriage between one man and one woman.

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    Yes, being married to a person whose attitude about mariage is reticent on a good day and resentful on a bad day is its own sort of loss. A thriving marriage with a person who treasured having me in his life was one of my greatest hopes in life. We often simply dont get what we want.

    As far as praying together…Im 47 and never once in my whole life has either of my parents or my spouse offered to pray with me. If it were to happen now, I would be glad, but would likely fall over myself with awkwardness in not knowing how. When I read Rome Sweet Home and Kimberly Hahn started out her part telling of how much her parents and husband valued her, I could barely make it through those paragraphs for the knives sticking in my heart.

    In Mass this morning, I was reflecting on all this (especially on the idea that marriage is an exemplar for our realtionship with God) and what came to me is that when something is really important, we like also to think it is strong. In reality, marriage can be tenuous and our salvation can also be. Perhaps there is wisdom in admitting to onesself that marriage is fragile as our salvation and both need to be tended with constancy and respect for how important and fragile they are.

    Mrs Y, yes, you are right and I see the same with the families I care for. Someone who has suffered the thing they fear reminds them it is possible and even though they may want their sympathy to translate into kindness, often it is their fear that translates into the opposite.

  • The Big BC

    In the Diocese of Tyler, a group of women religious has recently been formed that consists entirely of widows called “The Daughters of Divine Hope”.

  • Kathleen Lanphear

    I buried my dear husband today. It is a beautiful view of this in between time for a couple. As a new widow in the Church, I see this time as a beautiful opportunity.
    For 34 years, 55 days, I belonged to my husband. Now I belong only to the Lord. During
    this time, I have been given a gift of total freedom to commit my hands and heart to
    good works, both corporal and spiritual. As a widow, my time is more free. This means
    that God has given me the gift of being able to plant a spiritual crop of goodness with
    these days before I join my husband in heaven. Thank you for this great article. It
    was a blessing to me on the day of my husband’s funeral mass. God bless you.

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    Mrs Lanphear, please accept my (our) condolences for the loss of your dear husband. Thank you for exampling hope and faith in the midst of such a huge transition. May Mr Lanphear pray for you daily in your new vocation (do you know yet what works of mercy you will apply yourself to?). We pray that his purgation be perfect in Gods time and brief in our time. Blessings to you.

  • Patricia Burton

    What about the women like myself who have been deserted by their husbands at a young age and left to raise children alone ? , we too in a sense are widows only I sometimes think it is harder as it is very difficult to heal from rejection. With death their is no rejection by the spouse.

  • ann

    Thank you for the article – I appreciate you venturing into the topic which seems to be overlooked – partially due to the delicate nature, and partially because our society avoids talking about death as much as possible.
    My husband died almost 18 months ago in Afghanistan, and the immense love of others is the only way I am able to keep going. Being relatively young (29), there is also the unfortunate feeling that people expect you to eventually “heal” by finding someone new. When I tell someone that I do not want another man – that I would rather save that part of me for heaven, I am often met with a look of confusion and sometimes an argument. I understand Mt 20:33, and I recognize the “till death due us part” clause of the marriage vows, but I also wonder: if God intended for the union of husband and wife to no longer exist after death, then that would mean that God had not intended Adam and Eve to remain together for all eternity. I have trouble believing God had intended to separate Adam from Eve at some point. Also, the martial bond is stronger than that of any family member (the husband leaves his mother and father for his wife and the two become one), yet we don’t say “we have no parents/family in heaven.” Although the context of human existence may change, I don’t believe that the love we develop on earth is completely without existence in Heaven. I know I pray(ed) better with my husband by my side. With that, I believe the only way my worship of the Lord will be more perfect/complete in Heaven is if it in union with my husband again. I am not bold enough to tell God how to run His paradise, but I find it difficult to believe that the most profound of human relationships is meaningless after death.
    BTW – I understand there is a lot of pain with rejection, Patricia – but please do not compare it to the pain of loosing a spouse. Would you really rather your husband had died than leave you? Also, the rejection is due to the sin/weakness of another human, as opposed to the decision of God. There are an amazing number of stories of miracles on the battlefield. Yet, God decided it was time to take my husband from me. I can’t exactly call Him up and ask Him to reconsider or to send us to a counselor. There is a chance your husband will see the error of his ways. The only hope I have to see my husband again is through death. Please do not compare the two.

    • annisa

      can u contact me pls…i need to talk to u

  • Dorothy

    Dear Patricia Burton

    You are a widow indeed while the circumstances differ. Like widows divorcees do get forgotten. Nonetheless like widows/ers, divorcees can also look to the Lord to fill the void the spouse has left. Do not dwell on the rejection as it leads to depression just as grieving without letting go leads to depression. There is a thin line between sadness and depression. Allow God to fill the void as only He knows and understands what each of us are experiencing. Ask God to help you forgive your ex – and forgive unconditionally. Then trust in the Lord to provide for your needs and consult Him in everything. Trust Him to find you the right spouse if it is His will… resign yourself to being a single parent, focusing on your children, knowing that God is there right beside you, walking with you, experiencing all that you are going through – just waiting for you to reach out to Him to accept all that He wishes to offer you in your time of loss. It really works as I am speaking from experience. I am alone as a widow but not lonely. I was 46 when my husband entered eternal life. I will be 55 in a couple of months. It was bitter sweet at first now it is all sweetness. In gratitude I have dedicated my life to the Lord learning to do His will in all things – which in itself is very exciting – better than any thriller the world can provide.

  • Dorothy

    Ann – you are right in belief and statement: “Although the context of human existence may change, I don’t believe that the love we develop on earth is completely without existence in Heaven.”

    Check out from one of our Church Fathers: St. John Chrysostom’s letter to a young widow: http://mb-soft.com/believe/txug/chryso06.htm

  • ann

    thank you Dorothy! 🙂

  • Kathleen Marshall

    As a widow of now 18 yrs. I am so grateful for this article! I entered religious life as a Sister for 11 years and just recently returned to the secular life for various reasons the most important were for my children and grandchildren. I am discerning Consecrated Widowhood and have been researching the past history and current interest for myself and to write about it. There is a great desire for the Order of Widows to be approved in Canon Law. If any widows are interested in contacting me, please do so! I am in Steubenville, Ohio, USA at Consecrated.Widow@yahoo.com. Thank you! Kathleen Marshall

  • Tom

    Patrica, makes a good point. So when raising our children after abandoment,God makes up for the difference, we cannot fill ourself.
    None the less from time to time, it would be nice to have someone to go fishing etc. with. Just for the joy of it and leave the hidden agendas at home.
    Tom

  • Kathleen Lanphear

    Dear Perinatal Loss Nurse,
    Thank you for your comment. God is so good. Even in the sudden unexpected death of my husband, there were extraordinary graces. Frankly, almost miraculous graces. My husband recieved complete absolution and an apostolic blessing which carries a plenary indulgence about 5 minutes before he died. Father said he could not cannonize my husband from the pulpit at his funeral mass, but he was as sure as he had ever been that my Jerry was in heaven with the Lord. Almost immediately after passing, an outpouring of healing began to be showered down. I work, organize and sheepdog several orthodox catholic programs in our large parish. I do not yet know what the Lord would have me do for him, but I am praying that he makes use of me during this time of my life. For my part, I have NO DOUBT that my Jerry is in heaven at this instant. Too many needs known only to my husband have been miraculously answered. Although this was devastatingly hard to live through, whatever God sends is BEST. Trust Jesus.

  • Julie Rodrigues

    What beautiful comments and life experiences. Thank you all so much for sharing, especially Mrs. Y, both Kathleens, Ann and Dorothy. I will have you in my prayers today.

  • DENISE M. SHARAR

    BEING A WIDOW IS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME A HERMIT AND PRAY MORE. THERE IS A LOT TO PRAY ABOUT IN THE AGE WE LIVE IN. I PREFER PRAYER AND MEDITATION OVER JUDGING AND CONDEMNING. PRAYER AND MEDITATION IS MUCH MORE FRUITFUL AND LEADS US CLOSER TO GOD.