We seek to commemorate the important events and milestones in our lives. St. Therese would often compose poems or plays to honor one of the Carmelite nuns on the anniversary of her taking of the veil or Solemn Profession. Well, Maria and I were married on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1998, in Steubenville, OH and yesterday was our 15th Wedding Anniversary.
The idea came effortlessly. We would take the day off and drive down to Cape May, New Jersey, which is a quaint, beach town at the end of the peninsula at the southernmost point in the state. We departed in the morning and made the two hour drive south over the Commodore Barry Bridge into NJ and past fields bedecked with the light snowfall from the night before. I had a cup of coffee in my hand and the woman I loved next to me. Could it get any better than that?
The drive seemed to fly by like the fifteen happy years of our marriage and we reminisced about fun memories of our journey together. The sun shone brightly as we arrived at the Cape May Lighthouse and walked out onto the deserted beach. It was an unseasonably warm day for mid-February and we were able to walk and talk together on the beach for quite some time as we watched sea birds plunge into the waves for fish and the sunlight dancing on the water.
Maria and I left the beach with seashells and three Om rocks. Let me explain. We gathered the conchs and other shells ourselves. The Om rocks were given to us by a man with a bicycle who had painted the rocks himself and insisted that we take the rocks as a gift. He explained that the rocks owned us and that we did not own them and that they would be around long after we were gone. He was a nice, but perhaps misguided man who seemed to want to both “pay it forward” by giving gifts and to evangelize us to his worldview.
Following our beach excursion, we drove to downtown Cape May. Our first stop had to be Our Lady Star of the Sea, the Catholic Church in the heart of the town. We prayed in the church for a short time giving God thanks for the beautiful day. I also prayed by a statue of St. Therese near one of the side doors of the church. I asked Little Therese to bless my ministry and to help me teach people her message of love and humility.
The name of the church reminded me of the Vespers hymn Ave Maris Stella, which is Latin for Hail Star of the Sea. This hymn has been popular since the Middle Ages and some say that St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th Century monk and Doctor of the Church, composed it. It is a beautiful song and the first stanza goes as follows:
Ave, maris stella Hail, star of the sea
Dei mater alma Nurturing Mother of God
atque semper virgo And ever Virgin
felix coeli porta Happy gate of Heaven.
Holy Mother Mary is truly the star that will lead us to God just as the Star of Bethlehem led the Wise Men to Jesus 2,000 years ago.
Upon our departure from the church a cafe called Tisha’s beckoned to us and we enjoyed a delicious lunch of crabcakes and salad. We strolled the town square for a while and had the place mainly to ourselves on this weekday in the off-season.
Cape May became a resort town during the late Nineteenth Century so the streets feature countless Victorian houses, many of which have been turned into Bed and Breakfasts. I love Victorian architecture and enjoyed seeing the myriad of different designs. Many of the houses featured historic plaques stating the years that they were constructed. St. Therese lived her entire life during the Victorian Era and I tried to remember a key event from Therese’s life that corresponded to each year. For instance, 1884 reminded me of the year she made her First Communion and 1894 represented the year that Therese discovered her Little Way.
Maria suggested that we travel up to Brigantine Island where her family spent Summers when she was growing up. We hopped onto the Garden State Parkway and made the half hour drive up the coast. Along the way we kept seeing flashing public notification messages telling drivers to be on the alert for a black car of a certain make and model. We were driving a black car of the exact same make and model! We didn’t panic, though. The police wanted a car with NJ license plates and we had PA plates. It seemed we were in the clear.
The only way to get onto Brigantine Island (except by boat) is to drive past the glitzy billboards and casinos of Atlantic City and to take a bridge across the Absecon Inlet. We drove by the condominium where Maria and her family vacationed when she was young and then took one more look at the majestic Atlantic Ocean. The sun was dipping low in the sky so we drove over to the north side of the island so we could see the sunset over the bay. The bright orange-yellow sun was hanging just above the horizon as we found a perfect spot by a pier. The colors changed to a deep red-orange as the orb finally descended out of sight. It was our cue to call it a day and depart for home.
I am so grateful to God for giving me a wife like Maria. She is such a fun and easy person to go through life with and she never ceases to encourage me in all that I do, especially my ministry of spreading the message of the Little Way of St. Therese. She has a great sense of humor and is the exact same person at home as she is in public – warm, friendly, and loving. She has a beautiful smile that I never get tired of seeing. She is my best friend and the love of my life. Maria, Happy 15th Anniversary. I love you.