By Barb Arland-Fye
A friend who is around my age got married last weekend for the first time, in a small Catholic church, on her birthday. The love she and her husband conveyed when they exchanged vows and when they washed each other’s feet, moved me deeply.
Witnessing this celebration in a church filled with people underscored for me the communal nature of the sacrament of marriage.
“[W]hen a couple marries in the Catholic Church, ‘their marriage is not just for them. It’s also for us,’” wrote David Gibson in a 2010 Catholic News Service column, quoting Father Thomas Vandenberg of the Seattle Archdiocese. Gibson said the priest tells couples, “As a sacrament, you bring something of Jesus’ love into our lives.”
Listening to and watching my friend and her new husband recite their wedding vows brought a lump to my throat as I reflected briefly on 28-1/2 years (and counting) of marriage to Steve. “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.…”
We’ve experienced “for better or for worse” and through the grace of God continue to embrace the sacrament and watch it mature.
Moral theologian Father Edward Krause observed that “living faithfully the freely pledged vows of marriage and the responsibilities of stable family life prepares us for Heaven” (Social Justice Review, “Freedom in Marriage,” Nov./Dec. 2002.)
Steve jokes that he’ll be calling me from purgatory to give him an assist into heaven. I tell him I think it might be the other way around. Kidding aside, Fr. Krause’s observation reminds us that our vows call us to prepare each other for heaven in our day-to-day living.
It’s all about how we treat each other, what example we set for our sons, our extended family, our co-workers and even strangers. We understand that we are far from perfect, but accepting God in our marriage reminds us to strive to be good witnesses.
In a column I read by Cardinal Francis George, he noted that “Married life is made of innumerable small sacrifices, acts that show one is thinking first of a husband or a wife” (Catholic New World, “The Cardinal’s Column,” Feb. 13-26, 2011).
This morning I returned home from jogging in the cold and found the bed made and the heater turned on. Steve knew I’d be in a hurry before work and that I would be cold getting out of the shower.
At the wedding reception following my friend’s nuptials, her new husband read a poem he had written to her for her birthday. Love, the kind that sustains you through good times and bad, was expressed in every word.
I’ve made a habit of reading the “Celebration” section in my Sunday newspaper to survey where couples are getting married: in a church, on the beach or in the mountains?
It seems to me that many couples who choose to get married are in love with the idea of marriage. More of us need to give witness to the grace of marriage as sacrament through our thoughts, actions and words, so that other men and women will embrace the sacrament, too.