Magazine article U.S. Catholic

As Time Goes By

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

As Time Goes By

Article excerpt

June 26, 1962, was the most significant date of my young life. That was the day we celebrated my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. I was 13 years old and it was a day full of lessons I'll never forget.

Consider this: in 1908, a young man and a young woman, still in their teens and unknown to each other, leave their troubled homeland, board a ship for a perilous voyage, arrive in a strange city in a new country, meet, and fall in love. They find work, get married, establish a household, make new friends, start a family, join a parish, help others come over from Ireland, make more new friends, learn new ways, hang on to some of the old ways, raise their kids, celebrate their joys, and mourn their losses. In the whisk of a minute, 50 years go by.

In the grand scheme of events transpiring in the 20th century, the married life of these two people don't amount to a hill of beans, to quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. And yet . . .

I was an altar boy that day at the Mass celebrating their 50 years of life together. And as I looked out at the packed pews of Visitation Church that morning, I got a sense of the profound effect that can flow from saying "I do" and meaning it. Because of these two people, Thomas and Margaret McGrath, a streetcar conductor and a homemaker, hundreds had gathered to pray and pay tribute to them and also to honor the glory of life itself. In the congregation were neighbors, friends, and relatives (shirttail and otherwise). At Mass, and later at the raucous reception, the crowd was dotted with a few bigwigs and monsignori, but mostly filled with first- and second-generation immigrants inching their way to respectability. These were hardworking people who came to celebrate many small miracles: the daily application of intentions declared 50 years before. We ate and drank and told stories. We sang the old songs and the new and oh, how we danced.

And what did this 13-year-old boy think of all this? I know I couldn't have put it into words at the time, but the lessons were emblazoned on my heart: that choices do matter. That fidelity counts. That I belonged to a story that was bigger and grander than I had ever realized or could imagine. I saw that the life of two people, my grandparents, had added to the quality and goodness of the life of hundreds, possibly thousands of others. …

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