By Barb Arland-Fye
Pope Francis’ wise advice to engaged couples in his apostolic letter, “The Joy of Love,” caused me to reflect on my wedding day, 31 years ago on Memorial Day weekend. “You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else,” the Holy Father advised. (#212)
A modest and simple celebration would not describe my wedding day. Steve and I planned months in advance: reserving the church, selecting invitations, finding a band, a reception hall and the honeymoon location. Our families traveled from out of state so we also planned hotel accommodations. Our planning was typical for couples in 1985 and perhaps even for couples today.
The celebration would hardly be described as lavish or overindulgent. Our parents helped pay the bills, and we made sure we didn’t break the bank. I remember paying for my treasured wedding dress in installments from my modest income. Making that last payment was so satisfying!
Admittedly, wedding details consumed our free time. However, marriage preparation and Steve’s participation in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults reinforced our commitment to lifelong marriage. We also attended Mass together. “Having faith gives you a foundation for marriage,” Steve says.
A foundation, yes, but the rooms get built with an awful lot of hard work, perseverance and, especially, the grace of God, as Pope Francis observes. “Their gaze now has to be directed to the future that, with the help of God’s grace, they are daily called to build. For this reason, neither spouse can expect the other to be perfect.” As spouses, we need to look at one another as “an unfinished product, needing to grow, a work in progress.” (#218)
On that sunny, joy-filled day in May 1985, Steve and I couldn’t have imagined the challenges we would face as parents of one son with autism and another who needed help with positive coping skills. But with God’s grace (accompanied with a sense of humor), we nurtured our sons to adulthood and knit our family close together. As spouses, we see ourselves as a work in progress. Steve jokes that he’ll be reaching toward my hand to pull him out of purgatory. I tell him it might be the other way around!
Pope Francis says that young people “need to be encouraged to see the sacrament not as a single moment that then becomes a part of the past and its memories, but rather as a reality that permanently influences the whole of married life.” (#215)
On the difficult days, especially when one or the other son was having a rough time at school, I’d pull out my wedding album and gaze at that younger Steve and Barb so full of anticipation for their future together. Our younger selves were imbued with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of marriage. I needed a visual reminder that the Holy Spirit continues to work through me, in my everyday life. Focusing on the memories of that day reenergized me.
We’ve experienced plenty of good times in our marriage, too. Steve and I enjoy walking and bicycling together (when he’s not nursing sciatica) and going on trips. We look forward to weekend dinners with our sons. I introduced Steve to Liturgy of the Hours, which we pray together occasionally. We tease each other in good humor.
In marriage, Pope Francis says, “love takes precedence over everything else.” My wedding day remains a special memory to unwrap and rewrap. With the grace of God, Steve and I appreciate that “love takes precedence over everything else.”
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.)