Happily Even After
by Josh Noem
Attending weddings is always an enriching experience for me. It doesn’t matter if the wedding is a full-on Mass at a cathedral or takes place under some boughs by a justice of the peace. Every wedding I’ve ever been to has a moment–the moment when the couple professes their love by taking public vows.
Witnessing that moment reminds me of what I promised Stacey. The commitment I’ve made comes back to me as a visceral reminder, not just a memory. Once or twice a year, we attend weddings of friends and family and as time passes that moment comes back to me with more and more depth and richness.
We were at a friend’s wedding last week. The couple is Protestant, and the ceremony took place in a park in Portland. It was a simple and beautiful celebration.
“The moment” came in that wedding, too, but I left feeling grateful for our Catholic tradition. At several points, I could see that what was happening was true and holy, but it left me wanting more.
For example, in his opening remarks, the minister reminded us that we were gathered to celebrate with the couple; that every celebration is made better with family and friends. While this is true, I recalled that our Catholic tradition calls the community together to witness the wedding because marriage is a public reality. The presence of the assembly is an essential element of the Catholic rite because it is this community that will support and nurture this relationship.
Stacey and I have clung to the fact that Catholic marriage looks outward. Our relationship is not just for ourselves. We are bringing each other to holiness, yes, but we are also called to bring the world to holiness through the way we love one another. Not always easy to remember, especially when we’re lost and I’m driving and Stacey is navigating with a map. That would be an example of us not spreading holiness through the streets of Portland, which is why when we are going somewhere new downtown, Stacey drives and I make suggestions with the map.
I also love the fact that Catholic marriage is the only Sacrament that is not normally administered by an ordained person. Deacons can baptize, priests hear confessions and preside at Eucharist and anoint the sick, and bishops confirm and ordain. But at a wedding, the priest (or deacon) is only a witness, someone who stands at the head of the gathered community to receive the public vows that the couple professes in “the moment.”
The implications of this are enormous. If the priest is not administering the Sacrament, then who is? The couple themselves!
When we got married, I administered the Sacrament of marriage to Stacey and she administered it to me. What is more, that sacramental moment is not confined to “the moment” at the wedding itself. I administer the Sacrament of marriage to Stacey every day, and she to me–even in small ways.
I’ve been compiling a list in my mind of smaller sacramental “moments” by which Stacey ministers matrimony to me. Three moments in the last few days alone stand out:
In a marriage preparation session a week back, Stacey was giving an example from our lives of how a couple grows to take each other’s needs and preferences into account. She was recalling that she knows that I really need the microwave to be clean. I had no idea that she had internalized that preference of mine! In the past, she had never taken time to cover what she was re-heating, and it would splatter all over the inside of the microwave. But that hasn’t happened since I-don’t-know-when. Her adoption of that rule for herself–all on her own–made me feel affirmed and cared for.
I felt affirmed and cared for in two other smaller instances. When Stacey was making lunches for the family a few days ago, she made sure to add extra meat in one for me because she knows that’s the way I like it. It was a nice moment to divvy up sandwiches and find one specially marked for me.
The last example of Stacey ministering the Sacrament of marriage to me in small ways is when she lays out my toothbrush with toothpaste for me. If I’m following her to bed and she’s already cleaned up in the bathroom, I am reminded that she loves me when I see my toothbrush all ready.
These smaller moments are less grand than “the moment,” but no less significant. Extending “the moment” into smaller, even mundane parts of our day sanctifies our lives.
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