Saturday, May 03, 2008

For Your Marriage

With family life now firmly enshrined as a key priority for the Stateside church going forward and Wedding Season racing toward its peak, a timely reflection comes courtesy of this week's Word of The Wilt:
I have been directly engaged in the occurrence of a marriage proposal only on one occasion. I was the Bishop of Belleville at the time, when a nervous young man asked me if he could visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the cathedral at the conclusion of the Christmas midnight Mass. I assured him that it would be fine for him to pause there as the cathedral emptied out following Mass.

I thought that his request was a bit unusual but not inappropriate. I did not recognize him, and I imagined perhaps that he was just a visitor who was uncertain of the cathedral’s procedures.

He then told me that he intended to present an engagement ring to his girlfriend that Christmas Eve at the conclusion of Mass. I thought it was most fitting for him to do so in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

The evening Mass crowd finally emptied the cathedral, and I headed back toward the sacristy. I noticed that the young couple was still there in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and I stopped by to congratulate them. The problem was that he had not yet formally proposed, and my congratulations anticipated the event!

I was embarrassed—as was the young couple. I think about them on occasion, and I only hope that my remarks did not spoil a special Christmas in their young lives.

Proposals are special moments for couples and are made even more so when they are publicly announced and shared with the entire community (hopefully, not unintentionally so by the bishop!).

Last Saturday at St. Peter Chanel Church, Father Frank McNamee shared the happy news of the engagement of one of his staff members twice with the entire church gathered for two confirmation ceremonies. It was both times greeted by rousing applause and many personal expressions of best wishes and congratulations. The young couple was clearly pleased to enjoy the support and affection of the parish community at this happy moment in their lives.

The young groom-to-be told me that he had proposed while he and his fiancée made a visit in church earlier in the week (reminding me of my earlier faux pas in the chapel in Belleville’s St. Peter Cathedral). He reasoned that if he proposed in church “she couldn’t say no in front of Jesus!” I chuckled since I suspect that he already knew of her love for him and his reasoning that a visit to church would guarantee him success was more to calm his nerves than to assure him the reply he desired. In any event, I doubt that there was a happier couple in St. Peter Chanel this past week than the newly engaged staffer and her fiancé.

Marriage is an adventure that involves the community. In spite of our society’s tendency to privatize this reality, it is a moment that is intended to bring joy not just to two people but to the entire Church.

Marriage is a public promise that brings reassurance and happiness to two individual hearts and to the heart of the Church. We have witnessed so many changes in the society’s understanding of this institution to the point where now some people would contend that its meaning and purpose can be determined exclusively by individuals, without reference to society, human history, family, faith or the public at large.

When a young couple decides to embark upon marriage, they bless society with the promise of the future of this institution that has existed long before either of them was born—and with God’s grace will enrich them with more joy and happiness than either of them could ever attain by themselves.

May that young couple always know of the love and affection of the Church, and may Christ Himself bless their marriage with great happiness, success and good fortune.
On a related note, for the last year the US bishops have been asking "What have you done for your marriage today?"

Complete with interactive goodies, videos, a touch of humor and information for groups spanning the spectrum from the engaged to the long-wed, the project's site -- located at -- is well-worth a look... even for those wedded to the church... even before stopping by these pages in the morning.