April 29, 2011

On Missing Weddings

The marriage of William and Kate this morning had me thinking about weddings. Not that I watched it. In this regard, at least, I'm a real American; many of my forebears gave their lives in the Revolution so that I wouldn't have to care about royalty, and I appreciate the opportunity to respect their memory. On the other hand, of course I wish the newlyweds well. I hope that the idea of being queen one day balances the sufferings Kate will surely have; if it's one thing I've learned from doing marriage preparation and a little bit of couples counseling, it's that men carry their relationships with their mothers into their marriages, and I can't imagine that Will doesn't have some issues around the injustices of his mother's life and especially her untimely death.

Nevertheless, as we roll into this first wave of wedding season since I've been out of the parish, the whole business makes me realize that I miss them a little bit.

Of course there are many things I don't miss at all: nagging kids for baptismal certificates, trying to inspire them to seek and work for Confirmation before the marriage, losing time because of tardy rehearsals, discovering conditions attached to annulments at the last minute, dealing by phone with priests in other dioceses who need to tell me their whole 'theology of marriage' when all I need is assurance that documents will be sent, anxiously awaiting paperwork to arrive from the chancery on the last postal day before the wedding is supposed to happen, and managing and trying to limit the creeping featurism of unity candles, flower processions to the altar of the Blessed Mother, bell-ringing, sand mixing, processions that include dogs, cheesy bonus prayers, etc.

All of that little stuff aside, I still miss weddings. In the course of three years as a parish priest, I witnessed 26 marriages, and prepared several more to be witnessed by others. Praying for these folks--and I still do--I came to see their vocations as intensely encouraging and edifying.

Is it not remarkable that in this world with all of its violence, hopelessness, meaninglessness, and disregard for life, people still insist on falling in love with each other? Love, after all, is a maximally optimistic disposition of soul, which knows the presence and company of another as intrinsically worthwhile.

Love, in practice, is a sort of faith. Once in a while I see where a couple of kids have proclaimed their love in a piece of graffiti. "So-and-so and so-and-so, together for ever," it usually goes. How is it that a couple of kids, who know nothing of what 'for ever' means, much less eternity, can make such a claim? This dissonance is exactly the point. Love is the ordinary way that our souls imitate God and come into contact with the Mystery of Creativity and Hospitality that is the Ground and Source of all existence. To be in love, then, pushes the heart to a response that imitates this eternity in the best way it can in our temporal state, and this to say, 'for ever,' even though we might hardly know what it means.

That's why the love proclaimed in marriage is to me an awe-inspiring act of faith. A man and a woman proclaim to the world that what they have found in each other is so good and so powerful that they are willing to wager it against an unknown future. Whatever the future holds, they say, couldn't possibly overwhelm the Love that they have found. That's faith, and one of the most genuine confessions of God I have been privileged to encounter with some regularity. To find God is to know, even if we know obliquely or obscurely, that we have been found by Someone for whom nothing could be greater, and this is why engaged couples can get up and proclaim perpetual fidelity against an unknown future.


Julia said...

What's a flower procession to Mary's altar?

I've never seen a wedding at my parish, but I know that after baptism, first Communion, and I think Confirmation there is a little procession to Mary's side altar with a hymn and then those who have received the sacrament consecrate themselves to Our Lady. It seems like a very good, pious, traditional practice. What's the issue with it? Or maybe you're speaking of some other type of practice.

Brother Charles said...

Julia: I don't mean to make fun of it. The pilgrimage to an altar dedicated to Our Lady and the offering of prayer and flowers can be a beautiful act of devotion for newlyweds during their nuptial Mass. I was just making fun of it in those cases in which the couple doesn't really know what they're doing, but are just told that they have to do it or are looking for an occasion to sneak in some bit of inappropriate extra-liturgical music.

To be honest, one of the most beautiful weddings I ever did included the couple, rosaries in hand, processing to Our Lady's altar and reciting together a prayer of self-offering and consecration.

Sara said...

The wedding I got was not the wedding I'd imagined for myself-- not at all... and I am grateful for this every day. (We didn't have our own Mass. We just got up and said our vows in front of the parish during an already scheduled Mass.)

I think the only part of reality that matched the fantasy was the groom (and I'm grateful for him every day too).

Eve said...

"Love is the ordinary way that our souls imitate God and come into contact with the Mystery of Creativity and Hospitality that is the Ground and Source of all existence."
What exactly do you mean by Hospitality? Treating the other with generosity and kindness?
I am touched that you keep these couples in your prayers. That is both generous and kind.

Ad abolendam said...

What kind of conditions might get attached to annulment? I tried googling this, but didn't come up with anything.

Brother Charles said...

@Eve by hospitality I mean God as the mystery of Hospitality himself, as He invites us to share in the beatific life of Himself as Blessed Trinity.

@AdA Forgive me for speaking inexactly. Conditions aren't attached to annulments per se, but sometimes to subsequent attempts at marriage. For example, judges might say that someone has to have some kind of counseling before attempting marriage again.