A wedding is a day; a marriage is a lifetime

Why can’t I get married on the beach?
My reflection on this question also can be viewed in the second of our “video interviews,” which includes a 9-minute segment from the February edition of “Conversations.” After you have finished reading this column, I encourage you to go to www.archlou.org/destinationweddings to view it.

Destination weddings — in the mountains or on the beach — are personal and tailored to the interests of the couple. The question about the location of weddings is a natural one in today’s culture in which marriage is seen as a personal and private relationship. In addition, young adults are attracted to wedding locations that reflect their values and the places and times that have been meaningful to them.

These cultural trends often run counter to Church policies that require couples to marry in the sacred space of a church with the community present. Couples want to know: What difference does it make where I get married?

The key to appreciating our important Church teaching on marriage is to take the best first step of the rest of your lives by having your wedding in a sacred space. The theme for our Engaged Encounter ministry — “The Wedding is a Day; the Marriage is a Lifetime” — reminds us that marriage is a journey, and the wedding is the first step of a journey that is personal, solemn and public. In addition, the pastoral practice of the Church that encourages vows to be exchanged within the context of Holy Eucharist when both spouses are baptized Catholics emphasizes Christ’s presence in the marriage and the couple’s important role within the body of Christ, the Church.

Marriage, a covenant that through its sacramental nature expresses God’s total and unconditional love for his people, involves the love that Jesus describes in the Gospel according to St. John with the Greek word agape: a love that exists for the sake of the other and for the community. Through the sacrament of marriage, a man and woman receive the grace and power to share this love with their spouses, their children if blessed with children and with the whole world, which yearns to witness a love that is sacrificial, heroic and deeply romantic.

Father Robert Barron, the priest whose Internet ministry “Word on Fire” has provided so much good material, reminds couples of their higher calling — they are called to represent God to the world through a faithful and fruitful love for one another. He explains that couples are not receiving a sacrament; they are the sacrament. They are a living sign of sacrificial love and of the Trinity, a community of persons in love.

I recently read a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian who died in a concentration camp near the end of World War II. While in the camp he wrote a touching sermon on marriage that he never had the opportunity to deliver but that continues to touch hearts.

Bonhoeffer wrote about the three “yeses” of marriage. The first “yes” is the deeply personal love of the couple for each other and their lifelong “yes” to love and cherish one another. The second “yes” is to God’s earth as couples open their hearts to children. The third “yes” comes from God as the couple grows in their understanding of the great undertaking of marriage and in the wisdom that recognizes that without God’s grace they cannot hope to succeed in this lifelong journey. He ends the sermon with these words: “It is not your love that sustains the marriage but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”

Thus it is only fitting that you invite God’s “yes” on the first day of your marriage by doing so before God’s altar, with vows exchanged in the public and sacred space of a church with the community of parishioners, family and friends who love you. The church is not just a “stage” for the wedding but is an expression of all we believe about marriage. Ultimately, where you celebrate your wedding sets the tone for how you view your marriage: Public and for others or private and only about you.

Many of you are in the midst of planning your wedding. This is a time like no other in your life and is a time of great joy. We share your happiness and welcome your energy and enthusiasm. As you plan for your wedding, however, please think and pray about how you will become this beautiful sacrament of the church.

I would appreciate your feedback on this explanation of our Church’s pastoral practices surrounding marriage. Does this help you understand the richness of our teaching about marriage and why the Church has policies about how and where weddings are celebrated? Follow and contact me on Twitter (@ArchbishopKurtz) or send an email to conversations@archlou.org.

As you think about the sacrament of marriage, please keep in your prayers those couples celebrating 5 to 25 years of marriage at our wedding anniversary celebration this weekend, as well as all engaged couples as they embark on this great adventure of love.

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