By MISSY FECAS FILLION, Special Contributor | Published February 10, 2005
I read an article recently that said you should have a vision for your marriage. Companies do it; why shouldn’t couples? I smiled when I read it and was grateful that we already had one. Grateful to the late Msgr. Robert Kelly for giving it to us.
We met with three priests during our six-month engagement. One from our parish in Atlanta for the five sessions of premarital counseling. One who would perform the ceremony in Charleston. And one who meant a lot to our family over the years but was unable to marry us. He was the high school rector and at times parish priest to us from my oldest brother down to me 22 years later. He came to my father’s bedside every day for months before he died and consoled us when my mother passed away. He always made us feel God’s love through his own.
Father Kelly was the quintessential priest who everyone loved. Thousands of people across South Carolina mourned his passing last fall. I will miss the personal touch he had with everyone he knew. He had the ability to make every person feel as if he or she were the most important thing to him at that moment in time. He could immerse himself in your life and make you feel special—a rare quality when it is real.
In the business world something called faked sincerity helps to boost sales and increase morale in the employees. Father Kelly had the “real deal.”
I will miss hearing him say, “We have visitors from Atlanta,” when he would see us in the pew before Mass. I will miss hearing him say, “There goes Missy,” from the pulpit as I carried a wailing baby out of the small church, and then, “Here she comes again,” as I attempted to return.
Most of all I will miss hearing him say, “The Body of Christ, Missy.”
The personal touch deepens profound moments for me. It was one of those profound moments that became our mission.
In 1996, my husband-to-be and I rode out to the small parish in Folly Beach, S.C., to meet with Father Kelly so he could give us his marriage talk. He’d gotten good at it. I know there are hundreds just like us who wanted him for weddings and other life events.
I don’t remember everything Father Kelly said that day. I do remember loving his beach house and how much the picture of him holding an umbrella over Mother Teresa’s head meant to him.
But the thing I remember the most is the vision he gave us about our job in marriage. It’s a very simple statement. Its complexity lies in its implications and applications. It’s not to buy a big house, car or portfolio. It’s not great vacations, sticking to a budget or even having children, though all that is important to us. It is our job as husband and wife to get each other into heaven. That’s it, plain and simple. It means that nothing that we do here on earth matters if it’s not ultimately going to help us get into heaven.
And if that’s not enough, then it’s our job to do the same for our children, family and friends.
This isn’t a pretty hearts and flowers Valentine sentiment. It’s deep and meaningful, sure, and in some ways romantic. But it frankly terrifies me. What responsibility. What seriousness. This God that we love demands everything from us and our marriage. It’s not about being happy and in love, though of course He wants that for us. But the purpose of our marriage is to draw each other to God and to make sure we help each other stay there forever. It’s about always keeping our beloveds and eternity in our minds above ourselves and our petty wants and needs. And every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.
We’ve been married eight years. Getting each other into heaven is the statement we come back to time and again. Three priests, premarital counseling, Engaged Encounter, numerous conversations with friends and family. This was the most important advice. This is what we remember (other than one of my brothers telling my husband Kevin to “run”!) We even joke about it during arguments, as in, “This attitude is not helping me get into heaven, is it?”
Do we understand everything it means, and are we always faithful to it? No. Do we know it is the truth of our life together? Yes.
Thank you Father Kelly. I’ll always miss you.
Missy Fecas Fillion lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She welcomes e-mails at Kfillion@netzero.com.