One joy of priesthood is accompanying young couples as they prepare for marriage. Two summers ago, I served as a chaplain during a program for Catholic undergraduates. The students worked demanding jobs in hospitality at a National Park and dedicated their off hours to prayer, study and living in intentional community.
The program is a marvelous idea; it gives students the opportunity to earn the money they need for the upcoming year all the while providing the necessary support to continue to grow in their faith. Many students return from the program equipped to be capable leaders in their respective college campus ministries and Newman centers.
But another happy consequence is that two young people, with a shared commitment to Christ and similar dreams for family life, might meet. And fall in love. And get married.
When I arrived on the scene as chaplain for this program, which at the time was based in Acadia National Park in Maine, it was clear to me that one particular young man had fallen for one particular young lady. (She was not as obvious about her feelings.) Anyone who has been to Acadia wouldn’t be surprised. By nature, it’s an extremely romantic place, animated by fantastic sunrises, towering mountains and beautiful ocean views.
Now, two years later, these marvelous young people have gotten married! It was a privilege to officiate their wedding, having been present in those early days when their affection for each other was first growing.
I’m happy to report that I loved every detail of their wedding. She was a graceful, poised bride, and he was a happy, confident groom. (He wept when she was walked down the aisle by her father, as is right and just!) They selected lovely hymns, including Holst’s epic melody turned hymn “O God Beyond All Praising.” Their guests sang loudly, participated in the responses and properly presented themselves for holy Communion. It was a celebration rich in love, rooted in faith.
Priorities in order
But the thing I loved best was that they held their reception in the church hall. Transformed by elegantly draped tulle and illuminated by thousands of Christmas lights, they made a multipurpose room a perfectly lovely venue.
They could have put off their wedding, waiting years to save more money to have a larger, more opulent party. They could have taken loans or made other choices to splurge on their wedding day. But they didn’t. They know that the heart of their marriage is their profession of love before God and his Church. And that is why I loved the hall.
I loved the bride’s youngest brother making announcements at the behest of the DJ. I loved the rehearsal dinner in the Knights of Columbus meeting room. I loved that the Knights then helped serve the meal (fantastic pulled pork!). Toasts were heartfelt, succinct and memorable (as opposed to bawdy, rambling and insincere). In short, this wedding was about everything a wedding should be about — God, family and friends. It wasn’t about the pictures or the food or the reception (even though all of those elements were well-executed). It was simple, wholesome and perfect.
As we enter the summer wedding season, it’s worthwhile to pause and remember what weddings are about. Can we encourage young people to forgo the unnecessary expense? Are we willing to step up and help couples celebrate? Will we give our own time to contribute to these communal celebrations?
Pope Francis has said: “Marriage is a symbol of life, real life: It is not fiction! It is the sacrament of the love of Christ and the Church, a love which finds its proof and guarantee in the cross.” I think, in the end, that’s why I loved this wedding so much. It wasn’t a fairy tale. It wasn’t pretend. It was real. It was a real party. With real family and friends. Focused on real love animated by real faith.