Nuestros corazones están abiertos.*
Our hearts are open.
My husband, José, whispers in my ear. It is 8 PM Mass in a hot church in January, Santiago, Chile, his home city. The church is pale peach, with lots of gold speckles and a large mosaic above the altar. Mary and Joseph turn their eyes upward to their son, who appears to be mid-ascension. The church is crawling with babies, parents, and well-dressed elders. The young families exit and enter the building, accommodating the behavior of their children. A father follows his roaming toddler out the door; they may or may not return. No one seems to mind.
Nada aquí es un misterio.
Nothing here is a mystery.
I do not speak Spanish, but I can follow the Mass by the rhythms and intonations that are carved in my heart and soul. The standing, sitting, kneeling, are a comfort to me even if I don’t have the exact translation in my mind. It is enough. I don’t need the words all the time, except at the homily, the part where the priest gives insight into the gospel. Priests here don’t seem to worry about sermon length; maybe it just seems longer because I don’t understand what is being said. This priest, this day, has kind of a droney sound, not a lot of energy. And the heat doesn’t help either. I could disappear into the sleepy murmur of Spanish, distract myself with the movements of the congregation.
José translates the homily into my ear, summing up the basic meaning. I lean into his head, his stubbly beard, his familiar warmth. A woman turns around, annoyed by my husband’s low tones.
“Estoy traduciendo para mi esposa!”
I am translating the homily for my wife!
My husband is the one with the faith and I am the one with the religion; that’s what I always say. I love and need Catholicism, the faith of my parents and siblings, but I am usually consumed by doubt and fear. My husband is a bright light, always sees the glass half full. He constantly assures me things will be okay. José resets me, tells me to focus on the good and not the bad. The light instead of the darkness.
My husband is an atheist.
Eres nuestro única devoción.
You are our one devotion.
In 2010, I met José at the Y. I was almost 41 and he was almost 48. On one of our first dates, I told Jose about the Rosary, a long repetitive prayer where one contemplates the mysteries of Christ’s birth, life, miracles, suffering, and death. I have this whole method of saying it; well, it’s actually St. Ignatius Loyola’s method, where I imagine myself in the scenes of Christ’s life. I never felt safe telling someone these things before, but I fearlessly told José that night: “The Rosary has it all: birth, death, suffering, glory, betrayal, love, friendship, blood, struggle. All of life can be contemplated in 20 minutes.” I allowed myself to get worked up as I spoke, blushing and talking faster, nervously.
José stared at me with loving eyes, unchanging eyes, looking deeply into my face. “I’ve never heard anyone speak like this before,” he said.
He has attended Mass with my elderly parents and me from the earliest days, participating in the ways he can. Following the Mass, he sits and stands with the congregation, but he doesn’t kneel. He loves to sing, so he sings. He steps aside as we file out for Communion. Sometimes, he reaches out for my hand during the Our Father.
Solo tu eres perfecto.
Only you are perfect.
Our wedding was a week after Easter; the altar crowded with lillies. José sang Ave Maria; he was the only one of us who knew the words were actually the Hail Mary in Latin. He took me to Rome, Assisi, and Venice for our honeymoon. He got me an audience with the Pope.
At 20 weeks pregnant, we were told our son was missing part of his brain. My first impulse was to go see the priest. José met me at church after work. Bestowing the sacrament of healing, Father Ryan rubbed oils into my hands while I unloaded a gallon of tears. José stood against the wall, speechless, moved by this powerful ritual.
When our son, Pedro, turned out to be fine, José called it a miracle; I think it was just good luck.
Solo tu eres digno.
Only you are deserving.
There are times during the liturgical year, when we are asked to repeat our baptismal vows.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God?”
You are supposed to answer I do. José is silent.
I say I do, but my faith is shaky. I’m in it for the ideas, the sacraments, the story, the Rosary, the Mass, the Eucharist, Jesus, Mary, even if it’s all fiction.
José is in it for me, and I don’t know which is better, or more real.
*The italicized words in Spanish are a slightly modified translation of a song by Jesse Reeves called “Here For You.”