One of the highlights of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that I was on recently, was witnessing married couples renew their marriage vows in Cana of Galilee, the site where Jesus turned water into wine during a wedding feast to which He and Mary were invited.
A church now stands at the site. It is simply but beautifully decorated, with clay jars as prominent decorations for the altar.
Twenty couples in all renewed their marriage vows. Some had been married for almost 40 years; the youngest couple had been married to each other for two years already. All of them were excited about the renewal. They spoke about the event as if they were actually getting married again. A lot of the wives would have wanted to wear gowns, were it not impractical given our packed itinerary that day which involved a lot of walking (the renewal was scheduled in the morning); for the occasion, some wives wore something a little dressy and packed a set of more comfortable clothing they could change into after the ceremony.
The renewal of marriage vows took place within a Mass. After the Mass, the couples had their photos taken in front of the altar, as usually done after weddings. Then the group had a final photo taken in front of the church.
For the rest of the day, we proceeded with the rest of our planned itinerary, visiting other important sites from the life of Christ. In the evening, there was a special wedding dinner – with wine – for the couples who had just renewed their marriage vows. The couples were so happy and obviously in love with each other as they liberally dispensed dating and marriage advice to us younger folk, and reminisced about how they met each other, fell in love, and got married.
As a young, single person witnessing the renewal of marriage vows, I wondered: what made these married couples as giddy as newlyweds, even if they were not literally getting married again?
Surely it was not just the wine. From observing and listening to the couples, I realized that the answer was in what the event meant to them: a commemoration of that day in their lives when they first invited Christ and Mary into their common life together as husband and wife. These couples were teaching a very important lesson with their example: invite Christ and Mary not just to your wedding but to your entire married life, and happiness ensues – definitely not without trials, but without the warmth of the first love dying.
I feel sad when I see couples pay a disproportionate amount of attention to non-essentials when planning their weddings. Unfortunately, wedding planning these days has become a competition to make each wedding more Hollywood-like or quirkier than the last.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the celebration part of weddings. My point is not that all couples should imitate the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who scheduled their wedding at midnight in the church so as to be alone together with God. Christ would not have changed water into first-class wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee if He disapproved of the celebration part of weddings. But the following words of St. Francis de Sales are all too true:
“Would that our Blessed Savior were always invited to all marriage-feasts, as to that of Cana. Then the wine of consolation and benediction would never be lacking. For the reason this is so scarce is that Adonis is invited instead of Jesus Christ, and Venus instead of His Blessed Mother.”
We younger folk would do well to learn from those 20 married couples the secret of a great wedding and a happy, fulfilled marriage life ahead. I am grateful to those 20 married couples, and I wish them more years of happiness to come.