Pamela J. and Patrick S. met when they were undergraduate sophomores enrolled in an honors course at a Catholic college. They were a bright, healthy, attractive pair who reminded the world that love-at-first-sight romance is alive and well and living in the heartland of America. They majored in marketing and accounting respectively. Each semester they expanded their résumés with volunteer work, academic clubs, and extracurricular activities, which promoted team spirit, communication skills and leadership experience. They were determined to be successful as individuals and as a couple.
If asked, both Pamela and Patrick would reply that they were baptized but not practicing Catholics. So, when they talked about marriage, they agreed that a Church wedding would not be in the mix. Before beginning their senior year and in keeping with the prevailing secular norm, they decided to move off the campus and into an apartment, which they rented together. Three months before their May graduation several job offers arrived for Patrick, which was a welcomed relief because Pamela had just learned she was pregnant with their daughter.
All four of the soon-to-be grandparents were thrilled in anticipation of their first granddaughter. Nevertheless, they encouraged the young parents to formalize their union in some public fashion before the birth of this child. So, in July Pam and Pat sent out save-the-date invitations to a combination beachside commitment service for them and a baby shower program for their daughter. They scheduled the festivities for the Saturday following Thanksgiving. In addition to their gift registries, bridal and newborn, they listed the customs they would be celebrating while standing barefoot on the ocean shore. In lieu of the traditional oaths, they would begin by reciting interpersonal toasts to each other, continue by exchanging sage smudging bundles and conclude with a rite of handfasting. For those who might not be familiar with these practices, they also attached website references.
Dare we raise some unspoken, disconcerting questions at this point? Is the seashore saga, as opposed to celebrating marriage on consecrated ground, a glitch or a trend? What might Jesus say about this?
During his three-year ministry on earth, Christ performed many miracles. We only know about the 40 recorded in the gospels. But the very first occurred at a wedding in Cana to help the newlyweds escape an embarrassing beverage shortfall. Jesus changed water into a savory, fine wine. Can we suppose that He received an invitation to every nuptial event in the village afterward?
How many prospective spouses are inviting Jesus to their wedding today? Pam and Pat are not. Is this fundamental communion ceremony between a husband and wife coming to an end? What are the facts about matrimony nowadays and how many people are actually tying the knot?
From the beginning of this century until now, the U.S. marriage rate has declined. Instead of eight marriages per 1,000 we are down to less than six per 1,000. This is the lowest marriage rate since our government began keeping marriage records in 1867. Although the rate of entering into marriage is dropping faster than the rate of departure, experts tell us at least 50 percent of all marriages will end in divorce or separation and 41 percent of all first marriages will end in divorce. Currently the average marriage lasts eight years!
The Catholic Church begins its liturgical ritual for this sacrament with the statement, “Marriage is most sacred and most serious.” In other words, this solemn exchange of vows is not a superficial, hasty pledge. The bride and groom will need all the help they can get. Therefore, it seems prudent—a primary moral virtue according to St. Thomas Aquinas—that folks who are engaged should invite Jesus to be present at their wedding and remain with them throughout their married life. He may not add vintage selections to their wine rack, but the mutual yoke they bear will be much easier and their burdens much lighter.
Set a wine glass filled with water as part of the centerpiece for this year’s Thanksgiving table. During the prayer before this festive meal, be sure to offer gratitude for all couples who, in the coming year, will choose to invite Jesus to their wedding.
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