Last Christmas Eve, my family, like many American families, watched Miracle on 34th Street. I don’t think I had ever seen the original; most of our kids had not seen any version. We thoroughly enjoyed it. I was impressed with Natalie Wood’s performance—a 7 year old actress playing a 7 year old very well. I had heard of her when I was young, but didn’t know much about her, so I Wikied her. How sad a story! And the sadness is not simply that she died young and tragically. She was a beautiful young woman, a very good actress, who made her name in movies, like 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, that played up the sexual revolution. Just the kind of thing that Hollywood would do to a talented, beautiful girl.
While it may have been just Hollywood back then, today most of society seems to expect, even kind of demand, that a girl like that would become sexually active before marriage (having an abortion if she wasn’t careful enough), probably marry two or three times, suffer depression for a good part of her life, all the while pursuing some career or other which would define her identity more than any of her relationships with men and family.
Later that night we went to Midnight Mass. My wife and I, along with our oldest daughter, sang in the choir, two of my boys served, and another two kids were in the congregation. Our choir sings beautiful music, and we do a pretty good job, even though we are just a family-based choir. About five families provide most of the voices, so it includes children from 10 to 18; that night we added some “veterans” returning from college to spend Christmas with their families. Among many caroling pieces sung before Mass were several organ and violin pieces performed by some of the young ladies. They are young ladies, now, but we have watched them grow from little girls. As I was watching them play, I thought how lovely the music was, how accomplished they had become, and how beautiful they were growing. The contrast with Natalie Wood struck me.
I don’t believe that I could convey to a secular audience the beautiful reality of the purity that I see in the many women of our Catholic community. If you don’t experience it for yourself, you might not believe it. If you only hear about it, you might find it twisted in your imagination to something ugly, snobbish, puritanical, fearful, repressed (the dominant ways Hollywood images purity). I would like to say it is nothing of the sort, though, to be honest, some of the young ladies can be harsh in their judgments of the secular world.
They cannot understand how anyone would be immodest, deliberately seductive, much less sexually active, without being very wicked and/or very foolish. But that is a minor part of their character, something time and experience of the wickedness that lies in all of us will temper. Fundamentally, they are striving successfully to develop their own capabilities for “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8), while they wonder whether they are lovable and whom they will love and who will love them and what will their own families be like.
Several of the young ladies of our community have quite grown up, and found the answers to these questions. Their weddings have been beautiful. I have been amazed at how deeply they are in love with their men, and how freely, joyfully, confidently they show it on their wedding days. They have saved themselves for this man, they have chosen him carefully, they have looked for true love, for men who, like them, strive for excellence in all things, especially in character. And when they find that man, one who loves and admires their beauty in body, soul and person, one who values their purity and practices it himself, they give themselves whole-heartedly. A beautiful thing. And we older couples can rejoice fully in their union, for we know that, though the world holds many mischances and many trials, these two have laid their “foundation on solid rock” (Luke 6:48) to weather all the storms, drawing on their faith in their God as they unite more with one another through years of shared experiences.
I love when my wife and I can attend these weddings, for it always reminds me of our wedding. I thought our wedding was beautiful, and many others commented on it at the time. I remember hearing that a young girl, about 10 or so, told her mother, “I want a wedding just like this one.” To which her mother replied, “You have to earn a wedding like this.” I pray to God that she did.
Books on the topic discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.