originally printed in The Catholic Transcript – July 02 Wedding Supplement
A marriage is not just a wedding. In fact a marriage and a wedding are two distinct things. A wedding is an event; a marriage is a process. Traditionally, a wedding is when friends and family come together to celebrate as the couple pledge their love for each other, before those present and before God, and mark the beginning of their life together. It is a sacred event, and rightly so, needs to be celebrated and enjoyed.
A wedding begins with “We are gathered here today” and concludes with “You may now kiss the bride.” In between these words are the vows that the bride and groom take. They promise each other, to their families and friends, and to God that they will be together for the rest of their life. They acknowledge that with this promise they are becoming something different than what they were before. They were two lives, but now they are one. From this promise the couple enter into marriage – a lifelong process that continues on after the guests have gone, the pictures are in the album, and the wedding cake has disappeared.
We tend to generally spend much more time in the preparation of things than in the on-going enrichment and support. This appears to be especially true with marriage. Marriage preparation is foundational learning. Too little is done for couples once they are married. Married couples also mistakenly enter into marriage thinking that they do not need to continue to work on their marital relationship after the wedding. It will sort of just happen.
Marital relationships require lots of effort – on-goingly. Because marriage is a vocation, like entering the priesthood, becoming a religious sister or brother, or living a single life, it requires, among other things, the capacity for faithfulness and fidelity. The first promise of the wedding vows is to be true. The concept of being true is a complex one. Merriam-Webster states that the word true comes from Old English treowe, which means faithful. In the Rite of Marriage, the couple exchange rings as a sign of their love and fidelity. Fidelity comes from the Latin word fidelis, which also means faithful. Truth and fidelity have a common root, a common idea, as their origin: faithfulness.
To be faithful every day means you are being the person your spouse believes you to be. Such an understanding is much broader and more inclusive than the things we commonly come to think of as unfaithfulness, such as sexual affairs. A physical relationship outside of the marriage is certainly harmful, but it is only one of many ways to harm the marital union.
This faithfulness in marriage - “being true”- is a call to be honest and authentic all the time in our words and in our actions. This includes being honest about how we spend our time, being honest about our likes and dislikes, our fears and aspirations. This includes white lies, omissions and a willingness to confront our differences and possible conflicts. Sharing such things has the capacity to bring a couple closer together. The simple rule of thumb is this: live life truthfully and draw together in faithfulness. Regarding a sexual infidelity, often it is not the physical relationship with another person that is the most upsetting part of this painful event. Rather it is the on-going and willful deception that hurts the most and is most damaging.
“The truth will set you free.”
Being true is also about being consistent. Practicing habits of being open and honest creates faithfulness. Just as a retirement fund is realized over a lifetime of consistently putting money into the fund- so that after 30 – 40 years there is a large sum to draw upon, so too does the married couple build a sort of “marriage account.” This account is created out of daily acts of kindness, lots of smiles, generous and frequent embraces, kind words and compliments and so on. In marriage we promise not only to tell the truth but to be true. Like the stock market over the long haul, marriages that invest over the long haul yield significant returns. Studies now show that married couples that stick it out do end up in a much better position than they might have been five, ten or more years ago.
Married couples who have weathered the storms and passed milestones have acquired some wisdom. They say things like “God willing or With God’s grace”, as expressions that let you know their source of power and love. The term faithfulness also refers to the way we live out our belief in God. Like the other marital habits a couple develops, their religious practices will guide them in decision making and help define what they hold to be a good and honorable person. Going to church, praying together, celebrating the sacraments are practices that the couple draws upon as they live out sacredness in the everyday ordinariness of married life. This is being true to your spouse, your faith, and yourself.
To the Christian, marriage is a vocation and a sacrament. Therefore it is a calling to live an extraordinary life. It is about being a witness of Christ’s love. This is indeed extraordinary. It is a radical doubt in a world that measures and sets limits on such things as love. As married people we are called to reflect God’s unlimited, unfettered, unconditional love. The task of marriage is not to fix one’s partner or to show that we are right and that he/she is wrong. It is to simply love and by doing so reflect God’s unimaginable love. This is what it means to be the sacramental minister of marriage. Each partner is the minister of the sacrament and to the extent that we reveal God’s love to our partner we are being the effective in our ministry.
“Love is patient, love is kind” - a focus on love
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written nearly two thousand years ago and it still speaks to us today. We must love our self before we can have a mature love for someone else. Such a love comes with time and maturity. All love relationships display varying degrees of intimacy, commitment and passion.
Intimacy is the extent to which you share your thoughts and feelings with someone and are interested in that person’s thoughts and feelings. Commitment is the desire to be together with a person for the long term, to defend, protect, and stand by the loved one. Passion is the degree to which you are physically and emotionally attracted to someone. Each of these are also decisions. In marriage we decide and we act accordingly to generate each of these elements of love.
A strong friendship, with its love of companionship, has a high degree of commitment and intimacy, but little passion. On the other hand, passion combined with intimacy but without commitment is likely to result in a brief and intense relationship or infatuation. The combination of passion and commitment without intimacy can result in a long-term relationship that makes one or both partners feel guarded or distant. It is the combination of all three elements – commitment, intimacy and passion – that offers the recipe for a promising and fulfilling marriage.
As stated earlier, the call is to live an extraordinary life. Marriage is a call for each partner to live into a future that they are both creating called being extraordinary. Any couple who lives this way will constantly be confronted with all of the ways that they are not extraordinary. This is a good thing. When confronted with a short falling, the question to ask at that moment is: how would someone who is living an extraordinary marriage handle this particular situation? Out of such a question will come the answer: “let go of being right; be more generous; pray for guidance; ask for forgiveness; start anew today…”
Successful married couples come to know these things and delight in the on-going journey to live out their marriage. They also come to know that their marriage needs to be renewed each and every day. “Will you marry me today?”is an appropriate question for people who vow never to take each other for granted. These married couples also know that they are either growing closer together or they are drifting apart – with each and every day. Each new day, with God’s abundant grace, offers the possibility for their love to deepen always more. Couples who know the difference between a wedding and a marriage spend a lifetime discovering the process of marriage.