At the start of a new year, I see people striving to read more, and I am definitely among that crowd. I recently finished a book that was gifted to me by a friend titled, “Rediscovering the Pearl of Great Price”, and it is my number-one book recommendation right now. In this book, the author Rev. Thomas L. Vandenberg shares his view of marriage from a priestly perspective. He aims to emphasize just how life-changing the sacrament of Matrimony is not only for the couple, but for others who know them as well. There are many things from this book that I desire to share with you all, some of which you will read today, and I think this book is one that everyone needs to add to their reading list. Consider this a mini book review followed by some bite-sized reflections!
Overall, the message that Vandenberg wants his audience to know is that good, holy marriages can heal our world in unexpected ways. He dives into how his priestly life has been and will always be enriched due to the love between married couples; they teach him how to better lead his flock and they can help our world deal from heavy hurt and division. He clearly explains the difference between legal marriage and the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Vendenberg rides everything on his stance that solid and strong Catholic marriages can save the world. The description of this book on Amazon ends with, “It will also make you smile.” That, I can say, is a true statement. This book made me feel seen in many ways, as he talked about how marriage seems to be taught as a “default” vocation, and that if one is truly holy, then they will become a priest or religious. This is definitely a lie I heard in my head growing up, and carried even into more recent years of my life. This book restored my hope in the sacredness and holiness of marriage.
While the boldness and sacredness of this sacrament are heard throughout, Vandenberg goes on what I would call “side rants'' about related topics or ideas relevant to the points he makes about Matrimony. While I loved his perspective on marriage, I also loved how reading this book felt like a conversation you would have if you sat down for coffee with this priest - casual, comfortable, and honest. I want to shed light on some of these nuggets, and I will pull a quote from the book for each one. I think they are good reminders and perfect things to take to prayer when we feel dry or at a loss for words in our conversations with Jesus.
“Overcoming the effects of the fall has been the struggle ever since.”
Here, our author makes a connection between the story of Humpty-Dumpty and the fall of Adam and Eve. Just like in the childhood rhyme, Adam and Eve fell off the wall and broke the perfection of creation that God willed from the very first moment. Since then, through the Old Testament and up to today, we have been trying to pick up the pieces and heal our broken world to restore some of God’s intended unity. When I first realized that the pain I feel on earth was a result of the fall, part of my heart was comforted. I finally had a clear path to placing my blame. While blame is not the virtuous option in this situation, it is a realistic part of growing through difficult situations. The fall shows us that in the beginning, perfection was intended for us, and along the way, we got off track. Overcoming the effects of this fall will be with us through our earthly lives, but the good news is that we have no reason to expect perfection from ourselves, for in our nature, we are imperfect!
“Letting go is critical to the healing process.”
This quote comes from the context of the author’s reflection on Mary Magdalene seeing the Lord after the Resurrection. She is filled with unimaginable joy, but Jesus stops her and says to this effect, “You cannot expect things to go back to how they were. We have a future together that is certain, but it will not be the same as we once had.” Oof. So many thoughts stir in my mind after reading this! Mary Magdalen is a saint that I have always felt connected to, so I loved this snippet of the book. First, I think of how so many of us are not the same once we start to know the Lord in a more personal way. We feel as if all aspects of our lives are now viewed through a different lens. Although this new life brings joy, some hard parts of the transition still may linger: old friends not understanding how you’ve changed, new values and virtues that are hard to remain consistent with. In my own experience, life before a radical relationship with Jesus can sometimes seem like an easier life. But, as Jesus tells Mary Magdalen, we cannot expect things to go back to how they were. When He says those words, He foreshadows his Ascension into heaven, which would be hard for Mary to understand since He had just risen. In these same words, we can find joy that knowing Jesus means that our future with Him looks different than it did before we spent more time with Him. The path with Christ may not be as easy as a life without Him, but it is exponentially better than anything we could imagine.
“True religion is not meant to be just in the head, an exercise of the mind. It is, above all, a matter of the heart.”
If you have been to a wedding, you have probably heard 1 Corinthians 13 as part of the liturgy; “Love is patient, love is kind…” When I think of this passage, I am most drawn to what St. Paul writes preceding this lovely passage used at weddings. Verse 2 says, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Without love we are nothing?! I appreciate how Paul uses such blunt language here, and this piece of scripture fully supports the above quote from Vandenberg. We could know all the facts and particulars of Jesus’ life, but we must know Him more in our hearts, the place where He resides!
Overall, I would recommend “Rediscovering the Pearl of Great Price” for all people, whether you are single, married, or discerning religious vocations. Fr. Vandenberg shows the reader very well that the sacrament of Matrimony is indeed a pearl of such great price, and that the true meaning of such a great sacrament should be rediscovered by all. He is so good at tying more complex ideas back to simple truths. You will definitely not lack things to pray with as you read this book!
Grace Leonard is a junior studying Secondary Education and Social Studies. She feels deeply, is passionate about music, and is inspired by the irreplaceable-ness of every human person. Click here to find her blog & musical outlets.