Beyond I Do

Wedding RingsThe night before David’s and my wedding, there was a big storm. Winds ripped through the area and blew out the electricity. As my mom was scurrying around, trying to get my younger siblings dressed in the dark, considering whether the food in the refrigerator would spoil and worrying about whether the church lights would also be out for the rehearsal, I just wanted my blow dryer and hoped the curling iron, which had been sitting on the bathroom counter, would still be hot enough to curl my hair.  I know… shallow.

After the rehearsal (lights were on in the church (thank you God), which went rather well, we headed off for dinner. Oh, but the place cards for the dinner after the wedding the next day were not finished yet, so after the rehearsal dinner David,  my mother and I sat down with the restaurant host to finish figuring out where everyone would sit the next day. Personally I did not care, and David did not either but we still threw ourselves into the task which seemed important to my mom. God bless my dear fiancé who, finally around midnight told me to go home and that he would stay with my mother and get the place cards done. I guess he knew me well enough to realize I’d be grumpy without sleep and who wants a grumpy bride? Either that or the poor guy looked at me and thought to himself, “This girl needs some beauty rest.” At the time I didn’t think of it, but there was also the distinct possibility he was simply being thoughtful.

The next day, an Indian summer produced in the end of September humidity and record heat, with the thermometer approaching 90 degrees.  I wouldn’t have minded but that my dress was a heavy, satin gown with long sleeves.  My dad forgot to put his arm out for me as we walked down the aisle at the entrance hymn, and consequently, videos of the event make me look like I’m clutching him in fear.  I suppose it didn’t help either that I was crying my eyes out. I shouldn’t have chosen the dramatic music for the entrance. Poor David.  He probably wondered if I was having second thoughts.

I wasn’t having second thoughts, but I was engrossed in thinking about the serious nature of the event. Although somewhat immature and naïve, I did fully understand the commitment David and I were about to undertake, and felt overwhelmed by the beauty and solemnity of the sacrament we were going to receive. Our first date six years prior and many dates since then as well as memories of fun and friendship melted away. I remember thinking, as I walked down the aisle, “I hope he realizes I’m giving him my life.”  In retrospect, I know he did.

This year, David and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I look back and think what a forerunner that the day before the wedding and the wedding day itself was of our entire marriage. Our married life has been full of many surprises – storms when least expected, sudden and immediate demands, inconveniences, compromises to people who are important to us, things forgotten, weird emotional responses, and sudden realizations. Our marriage has also, like many marriages, been filled with great joy, sometimes, unexpected, take-your-breath-away pure delight. My husband is still my best friend. In this imperfect world, with our imperfect selves, we still stick together.

The secret of a long, happy marriage, as most long-married couples know, is to simply keep moving forward with grace and in God’s care. The happy and sad, challenging and fun events of life serve as glue to the marriage, as do the gift of children fortify a couple over many years. The secret is that there is no secret. There is simply commitment and a lot of hard work, rolling with the punches, accepting the joy with gratitude, and most importantly, relying on God through everything.

I was flipping through my daughter’s St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism book this morning and came upon the chapter on Matrimony. I thought it might be a good thing to share a few things from it as all of us married people, married five weeks or fifty years, think about the meaning of this beautiful sacrament:

“The grace of Matrimony, which a husband and wife receive to love each other and their children unselfishly comes from the passion of Christ. They receive the grace to make their love a reflection of the love of Christ for his Bride, the Church, personified in Mary. In the flesh, Mary was His mother, but in the spirit she was His bride. Children, seeing such love in their parents, can more easily learn what love Christ had for them on the Cross.

“The chief effects of the sacrament of Matrimony are:

  • An increase of sanctifying grace;
  • The special help of God for husband and wife to love each other faithfully, to bear with each other’s faults, and to bring up their children properly.

“To prepare for a holy and happy marriage, Catholics should:

  • First, pray that God may direct their choice;
  • Second, seek the advice of their parents and confessors;
  • Third, practice the virtues, especially chastity;
  • Fourth, frequently receive the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist.” [i]

One of the most striking things to me in perusing the writings of the Church on marriage is that God calls each of us to this vocation where we are. He doesn’t require the prerequisite of being a saint before marriage – He knows that marriage with its experiences and challenges can very well help along that process.

In looking back, I see many weaknesses in my 23 year old self who married her husband in the fall of 1986. Thank God that He did not require perfection before marriage or I’d be a librarian spinster (well rested and with perfectly curled hair) right now. God receives us where we are. He bestows many graces and forms us in His image, gradually and suddenly, even more than we can imagine when we first say “I do”. If couples can offer a willing heart and a humble disposition, if they frequent the sacraments and call upon God’s help, they can, despite their own imperfections, despite many twists and turns, challenges and unexpected events, easily find themselves joyfully celebrating marriage for 25 years… and beyond. What a gift. What a God!


For Further Reading:

The Holy Bible.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Article 7: The Sacrament of Matrimony (Sections 1601-1666)

Introduction to the Devout Life (Saint Francis de Sales)Chapter XII “On Purity”, Chapter XIII “How to Maintain Purity”, Chapter XXXVIII “Counsels to Married People”, Chapter XXIX “Sanctity of the Marriage Bed”. This book can be read FREE in PDF form here.

The Faith Explained (Leo Trese). Chapter 35: Matrimony.

The USCCB website including its Love and Life in the Divine Plan and also this page.

Footnotes:

[i] Kelley, Bennet. “Matrimony.” Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism: the Truths of Our Catholic Faith Clearly Explained and Illustrated with Bible Readings, Study Helps and Mass Prayers …Vol. No. 2. New York: Catholic Book Pub., 1969. 216-220. Print.

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