This weekend I am concelebrating at the wedding Mass of a cousin of mine and his fiancee in my hometown. They are pretty young, i.e. college graduates as of last month, and would readily admit that they are not perfect. But, in my opinion, they have prepared themselves for the vocation of marriage perfectly. In describing what this young couple has done, I hope to shed some light on how I, in the context of my faith tradition, understand the bond of marriage.
My cousin and his bride-to-be recognized that their engagement was a journey, not only with each other, but with Christ. They resolved not only to identify with their religion as though it were something external, but to practice their faith actively. The fact that they are exchanging their vows in a house of worship, surrounded by their family and friends, flows from their faith commitment. They acknowledge that their marriage is a public event, but a sacred event first and foremost.
My cousin and his bride-to-be decided, from the beginning of their engagement, to live apart until the day that they would become husband and wife. They learned that the physical realm is only one small part of marital intimacy. They know that cohabitation is not analogous to taking a test drive before purchasing a brand new car. Cohabitation, by its very nature, despises the marriage bond, since it is designed to provide either party a neat and tidy escape hatch if things turn sour. Moreover, study after study proves to the chagrin of a great many sociologists that cohabiting couples are LESS likely to stay together than those who choose not to cohabit prior to marriage.
Rev. James Gross
My cousin and his bride-to-be took advantage of the wisdom of the church by completing a pre-marriage program through a local parish. They received helpful tools in managing finances, resolving conflicts, and relating to their new in-laws. This entailed a sacrifice of lengthy time spent in conferences, including a full course in Natural Family Planning. But they received a wealth of information to make their married lives the special sacrament God has intended it to be. Despite their attraction for one another, they chose first to have God unite them as one flesh by their marriage vows before entering into conjugal relations. They affirmed that fertility and the transmission of human life are supreme goods and a wonderful means of participating in God's work of creation. They came to see that pregnancy is a blessing in accord with God's plan, and not a disease to be attacked, and that through cycle charting and periodic abstinence, they will become true partners in life and love.
Society is poorly served when marriage is defined down. We ought not to settle for the least that the marriage covenant can be, but instead continue to unfold the heights of holiness to which married life can reach. Couples like my cousin and his fiancee take concrete steps to enter into a strong, lifelong communion, and theirs is a true, untainted ("storybook," if you will) celebration of which everyone can be proud.
Lastly, I'd like to share with you a great resource on the Internet. An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, (foryourmarriage.org) is a website that contains many helpful tips and statistics. May God bless all the couples in our area whom he is joining this summer as husband and wife.
Reflections, a mini-sermon written by Minot and area clergy, will appear each Saturday in The Minot Daily News. Clergy interested in writing a mini-sermon should contact Religion Editor Loretta Johnson at 857-1952 or Debbie Sandvold at 857-1950. The toll-free number is 1-800-735-3229.
The Rev. James Gross is pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Velva, and Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Karlsruhe.