Several years ago I requested to be taken by my parents to a Catholic bookstore for my birthday. Because I am cool like that. The bookstore was nearly an hour from our house so it was kind of an event. We went to Mass and ate kolaches and bought books. One of those books was Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed.
I did not read that book.
I meant to read it, obviously, but you maybe know how that can go. I ended up clearing off my small bookshelf at some point and The Betrothed ended up in the pile of books to be given away.
About six or so months ago, I told Alex I had been seeing quotes from The Betrothed everywhere (Anthony Esolen seems like a big fan) and had decided to give it another go.
“We pray to Thee also for the poor wretch who has brought us to this pass. We should be unworthy of Thy mercy, if we did not heartily beg it for him also, knowing how sorely he needs it…Have pity on him, O Lord; touch his heart, return him to Thy friendship, and grant him all the good things that we wish for ourselves.” – AM, The Betrothed
“Oh, you will love it,” my sweet husband said. “You should definitely read it.”
So I go it from the library.
I did not love it.
I did not love the first chapter. Or the second. Or the third.
“Aaaaaalehhhhhx,” I moaned. “What in the actual world?!?”
Alex: “What do you mean you don’t like it? I thought you would love Fra Cristophoro!”
Alex: “You haven’t even gotten to Fra Cristophoro? Well, you have to keep reading then.”
In the fourth chapter, which incidentally began on page seventy-freaking-five, you meet Fra Cristophoro. Finally.
Then I was interested.
“One of the strangest faculties of the Christian religion, and one of the hardest to understand, is her power of giving direction and consolation to everyone who has recourse to her, in no matter what circumstances, at no matter what time…She is like a great road, which a man may find after wandering in the most tangled labyrinth, amid the most dangerous precipices, and once he has taken one stride along it, he can walk on safely and gladly, and be sure of a happy end to his journey.” – AM, The Betrothed
I got bogged down again when there was a lot of story without Fra Cristophoro.
“Aaaaaalehhhhhx,” I moaned.
Alex: “You have to keep going until you get to the Cardinal. You’ll love him.”
He was right. And after a few conversations of this nature, Alex ended up talking me through the whole book. All seven hundred and twenty pages.
“How have you failed to reflect that there is One Who will infallibly give you courage when you ask Him for it? Do you believe that all the millions of martyrs who died for our faith had natural courage, or that they had no natural concern for their lives? All those young people…all those old men…all those maidens, wives, mothers…? Yet they all had courage, for courage was necessary, and they had faith.” – AM, The Betrothed
Alex: “Did you love it? Was it so wonderful?”
Me: “It was wonderful. But I don’t know if I loved it.”
Now, after a few weeks to mull it over, I have decided that I do love it. I have even decided that I would recommend it. I have further decided that since you may possibly (probably) need somebody to talk you through it like Alex did to me, I hereby volunteer myself.
“You must pray again for the divine grace that you prayed for in the beginning, to help you to be a holy wife. You must have faith that He will grant you that grace in even fuller measure. Love each other as fellow-travelers on that road, remembering that you must part some day, and hoping to be reunited later for all time.” -AM, The Betrothed
It wasn’t always “fun” to read. But it was often achingly beautiful. It took me a while to get into it, but it stuck with me long after I put it down. I’ve found myself mulling it over as I did dishes, ran errands, drifted off to sleep. And I found that it drove home to my heart a truth I’ve known in my head my whole life: nothing is more extreme than God’s provision. Nothing is so terrible or evil or unthinkable that God in His wisdom and mercy cannot build a new road for us over the ruins of human interference. God not only makes all things new, He makes them beautiful. And if you need that truth to echo a little louder in yourheart, nothing can repeat the message for you quite like The Betrothed.