I had the priveledge of attending the marriage of Gary (one of my former Canossian volunteers who served 2 years in Malawi) to Hope (a former SOLT volunteer, who served in Central America). The wedding was without great fanfare, or large crowds, but never have I attended one so beautiful.
Why was it beautiful?
On one level, it was an experience that seemed to just fit for this young couple. I found myself watching in awe at the ‘rightness’ as they moved through the ceremony, and, on that level, can only compare it to this:
On a deeper level, without special adornment of the Church with flowers, or paid cantor (a school friend sung beautifully), the focus became the Bride and the Bridegroom, celebrating their union within the eternal beauty of the Mass. What I experienced in watching this couple who are obviously in love is best described in the words of Tertullian:
“How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church …? How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service, … undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.”
It was this desire to be one, best described in the scripture passages they chose for the occasion. First, that from the Book of Tobit, where on their wedding night, before retiring to bed, Tobias and his new bride Sarah decide to kneel down in prayer together. Tobias blesses God, and then asks:
“Now, not with lust, but with fidelity I take this kinswoman as my wife.
Send down your mercy on me and on her,
and grant that we may grow old together.
Bless us with children.” (Tobit 8:7)
For the Gospel reading, they chose part of the priestly prayer of Jesus, John 17:20-26, which speaks of the unity of Jesus and the Father, and the longing for all believers:
“that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.”
The homily by Fr. Anthony Blount, SOLT, tied these images together, of the newlyweds praying together by their marriage bed, and that of unity by reminding us of Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”
He went further to help us look at the reality of marriage by way of “the three M’s”:
- Mass: How the bridegroom symbolizes the Eternal Bridgegroom, Christ, who longs to embrace us – the Church – as His bride. Mass is the ‘new and everlasting covenant (as proclaimed in the Eucharistic Prayer over the cup). If lived well, we encounter heaven. Marriage is a similar covenant, an image often used in the scriptures as an image of the everlasting covenant God makes with His people. Both are binding out of love. If we are attentive at Mass, we become more aware of God’s constant calling us to this perfect covenant made by Him to us.
- Maturity: Father used a very interesting image of his own mother – gentle soul by nature – in the kitchen pounding a piece of meat. Almost a violent act, tenderizing. Maturity in the person is a person ‘tenderized’ by God’s love through hard lessons learned in life, and a maturing of the soul takes place to prepare it for what He has in mind. We are sinewy and tough by nature, and need to let God teach us in order to reach a place of maturity, to be workable to the designs of God.
- Mission: Marriage is a journey of service, of mission. Both Gary and Hope have served in foreign lands for a time, serving the poor by giving of themselves. Marriage, too, is a mission to serve. It is saying, “My life is for something greater than myself.” It is an act that flows from the maturity of the person. It is also a mission to the Church, by raising up faithful children who long to commit themselves to ‘something greater’ than themselves. It also pointed out, they are beginning their life together on the morning before Mission Sunday, testifying to their willingness to be a part of the Church’s greater mission.
These ‘Three M’s’ are necessary for all vocations.
It just so happens all the elements of Church vocations were present in St Sebastian’s: Parents of the bride and bridegroom; single and married friends of the young couple; the priest; myself as a religious; and even in Gary’s siblings, his brother is a religious brother with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, and his sister, who could not be present, is preparing for her entrance with Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. We – together – were expressing the beauty of the Church when each fulfills his or her proper place within her.
All of these things, together, made the celebration memorable and timeless. In a word, beautiful.