I smiled ruefully on reading Cara O’Brien’s article, “Do We Invite God?” Whether to “invite” God to the wedding is clearly a sincere question for her—and many other young adults. But it indicates both a common misconception (as if God needs an invitation to be present and care for us) and a fundamental mistake that many brides make by getting so wrapped up in their wedding that they miss the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony. I urge young couples to strive to keep things simple and get married, not “wed-Dinged.”
Many young women planning weddings think in terms of what is best for “me,” what “I” like, what “I” want or, maybe, expanded to what the couple wants. As Catholics, we are encouraged to think about what is best for us in a broader communal context, what we like, what we want. In the Catholic Church, it is not “your” wedding day; it is a celebration of “our” sacrament of Matrimony, the sacrament that strengthens and binds not just a wife and a husband in marriage, but all married couples in the living out of their vocations as married Christians.
We celebrate Matrimony in the same place we celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments, in the church, the tangible physical structure that symbolizes all the people held within. Human community is formed by regular repetition of cultural practices. We say the same vows that millions of others have pronounced before us. It is moving to look around the church as a bride and groom say the same words that so many other couples have said before them. From my vantage point behind the couple on the altar, I can see hands clasp, or a large arm embrace the shoulder of a woman whose eyes glisten. As the couple enacts the sacrament, dozens in the church are renewed and strengthened by the living on of the commitment they made years before.
A person who wants to have “my wedding,” at “my special place” (beach, mountain lake, home plate at some ballpark), “my” way (my readings, my prayers, my vows) reminds me of an episode in my own life where I missed the larger, more fascinating part of a reality going on all around me.
In 1982, I was in my first year of teaching in Osorno, Chile. My Spanish was adequate, but I could miss some important info now and then. One day my usually well-behaved class of 50 high school kids suddenly stood up en masse and excitedly began moving out the door. I saw everyone else in the school moving along the corridors. I had no idea what was going on. I was the only one who did not know Chile was playing at that hour in the World Cup. I wasn’t a soccer fan (“futbol” in Chile) and just hadn’t paid attention to what was going on. Soon the whole school was in the cafeteria, watching the game on a small 19-inch TV screen.
That was my introduction to the joyful madness that grips the planet every four years. Now I wouldn’t miss the World Cup for anything. I have learned what the World Cup is about, what it means, the history of the contests, the fun and frenzy of La Copa. Just see the movie, “The Cup,” about young Tibetan Buddhist boys who talk the monks at their school into getting a dish so the monastery can watch the game. You’ll get a taste of how The Cup affects the peoples of the Earth. Before 1982, I was missing all that.
So much deeper and broader
Too many young couples today miss the wider and richer implications of Marriage. A wedding celebration is much more like a game in the World Cup than it is like two people kicking a ball in the back yard. Marriage is so much deeper and broader than that one-hour ceremony, and the sacrament is celebrated in a manner which recognizes that reality beyond just “me” or “the two of us.”
Cara wonders in her essay if the wedding day is a legitimate time to invite God if we ignore God all other days? To borrow a concept from the ancient Greeks, I suggest that a couple’s wedding day is not a matter of kronos—ordinary, daily, hour-by-hour clock time—but a kairos moment, a unique opportunity to experience God’s visitation. It is a time to realize relationships existing across space and time.
Now is the time to invite God into your life. The challenges of marriage, the challenges of children, the challenges of life are all met more easily and capably together, rather than solo or only as a couple. In the same way the reception is open to goofy Aunt Matildas or crazy Uncle Louies, so the newly married couple becomes connected to a world larger and greater than themselves. Such connecting recognizes our loving God as having been there all along the way. True marriage celebrations are both personal and communal events.
So much of this can sound alienating and oppressive to young adults coming of age in a culture that little appreciates, let alone celebrates, human community. We can get so lost in the woods and the mountains, or wherever we construct our idyllic private retreats, that we forget who and what we are called to be: the pilgrim people of God journeying together through life. God doesn’t so much have to be invited to a wedding as recognized as the ground of life and goodness that makes possible our having any weddings, truly our having anything at all.