It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles for a wedding. It was a special wedding.
Weddings are little time machines. If you’ve been married, it takes you back to the time you made that commitment. If you are not married, it projects you into the future, imagining what yours may be like.
Every bride and every groom wants their day to be unique, yet they weave ritual all through it. It is not only a tying of the knot between each other, it ties a knot with all those who have gone before us to the altar: Our parents, our aunts and uncles, our siblings. In its very familiarity, the ritual binds. It doesn’t need new words or tropical settings. Two are becoming one, the ritual confirming both its absolute uniqueness — this man, this woman — and its sameness with everyone else who has made that commitment.
The rituals are many. There is something about that walk up to the altar that brings tears, as predictable as the walk away from the altar at the end brings cheers. Maybe it is the beauty of the bride-to-be, the nervousness of the groom-to-be. I think it is the sheer anticipation of something momentous.
Ceremonies usually involve the completion of something: a graduation, a funeral, an award. The wedding ceremony marks solely a beginning.
An extraordinary beginning. To commit oneself to another person wholeheartedly and without reservation is really quite extraordinary. No one makes such commitments anymore. We have trial periods and contracts with escape clauses. “Complete satisfaction or your money back!” We put one foot in and keep one foot out. Yet in front of a priest, in front of friends and family, sometimes in front of our children, we promise to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
And while we may sign a marriage certificate and register our marriage, there is really no contract, no law, no coercive force that immutably binds us to each other. It is simply our desire and an act of will.
And before God and priest and people, we make this commitment. It is as brave and foolhardy a commitment as we will ever likely make. Especially these days, we know all the stories. We see the detritus of broken promises and false hopes, the wreckage of the best of intentions. And yet we stand before God and make these promises, repeating the words out loud that the priest whispers to us. We hold each other’s hands as if to signify the bond being forged in those words.
Not every marriage ceremony takes place within the context of Mass, but it is particularly moving when it does. Of course, my non-Catholic friends sometimes think this drags the whole thing out, like a 10-minute television show with 30 minutes of commercials.
But the Mass situates this sacramental bond within a greater bond: God’s love for us. In my parents’ wedding rings, they had inscribed “In Christ’s Love.” And when my wife and I were married, we did the same.
“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon … capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior,” Pope Francis wrote in “Amoris Laetitia” (11). A couple may not be able to have children, yet the fruitfulness of their love radiates out to all they meet. Their love begets love. Their love begets life.
It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles for a wedding. It was a special wedding, for it was my oldest sister’s. It was a second marriage for her and a second marriage for him. They had more foresight into what marriage meant than I certainly did when I was married. They both know what “for better or worse” means, what “till death do us part” means.
And when Father Jim presented them to us, the cloud of witnesses, they beamed and glowed as we saluted their union with applause.
Unfortunately, we are all aware of the challenges of marriage, the shoals and sinkholes. Hollywood reminds us. Our neighbors remind us. Sometimes our families remind us.
But if I could have a do-over on my toast at the reception afterward, I would say that marriage isn’t a slog. It’s an adventure. And that sense of discovery, of passionate encounter, that leads you to the altar is just the first step. Love grows! It deepens and enriches. There are low moments, of course. Every relationship has them. But they are followed by other moments of incredible joy and tenderness, solicitude, and comfort, and yes, still passion. And it is all these moments that give flesh to the words pronounced at the altar.
My marriage, I often tell my wife, is the best decision I ever made. My wish for my sister is that she continues to feel that as well.
Congratulations to Mary Agnes and Ross Cerny.