Dear Father Joe: My parents are demanding that my fiancée and I get married in the Church, even though we are not practicing Catholics. Why should I get married in the Church?
Thank you for your question. It is a rare gift that you are offering here: Some couples, it would seem, enter into marriage in the Catholic Church with little to no intent of ever going to church again and, as a priest, it’s quite sad to see. What you may be experiencing here is something called integrity and that, my friend, is a gift.
It may seem odd that my first response isn’t simply “Yes! Get married in the Church!” and, as I hope you’ll see, that is ultimately my goal. However, if I understand you correctly, you don’t want to enter into something that, ultimately, you don’t plan to be part of. What I hope to do is convince you that the vision of marriage that the Church offers you is not only something you should be part of, it’s something you need to be part of.
So, long intro, I know – let’s get to your question.
What does it mean to get married in the Church? If you get married in the Church, it means that you and your fiancée are entering into an eternal and exclusive covenant of love, a covenant that will imitate God’s love for his bride, the Church. You’ll imitate that love by being faithful, by creating life and by helping each other become holy.
God’s love for his bride (that would be us), is a love defined by faithfulness, exclusivity and sacrifice. When you marry in the Church, you commit to imitating that faithfulness, exclusivity and sacrificial love.
But wait, there’s more! As humans, we were created for love and by love. Life is a hallmark of love and when two people marry in the Church, they commit to imitating God’s love by creating life.
God loving us (exclusively, faithfully, sacrificially) not only creates life, but it’s such an amazing thing that seeing it in action changes those who see it. When we love like God, God will change and heal hearts through us.
This process that you two will undertake will be one that sharpens and refines your love. Simply by being the people God has called you to be, you will grow in holiness and help each other get to heaven. This is a remarkable gift to us, the simple truth that when God requires something of us, it is always something that makes us better people, more loving people – something that will make us holy.
This is, in a nutshell, Catholic marriage. Two people, imitating God’s love for his bride by creating life, loving each other faithfully, exclusively and sacrificially, and seeing this life-giving love transform those who experience or witness it.
This may be very intimidating, but fear not, through the sacrament of marriage, God will give you grace to live this wonder; you won’t be alone.
Since you and your fiancée are entering into this covenant to imitate God and his bride, you can be sure he will be with you. He will give you strength; he will fill you with his love. He will walk with you on every step of your married life together, crying with you, laughing with you, leading the both of you and your children to heaven.
This is a vision for marriage that goes way beyond companionship or human love and right into the heart of why we are alive: we are alive for love.
This is a vision of marriage that has survived the test of time and emerged from thousands of years of thought, prayer and guidance by God – why would we abandon that?
So, finally, we come to my answer to your question: I think both you and your parents are right. If you, as a couple, do not accept the vision of marriage that the Church offers, then you should not be married within the Church. But, if I may, why would you reject that vision? What about it isn’t life-giving and deep in its teaching? What about this vision of marriage is not worth all of your time, effort and energy?
I guess it all comes down to this: you should get married in the Catholic Church, not because it’s a pretty place or it’s a family tradition, but because you accept the truth: there is a deep reality to the wonder of marriage that goes beyond companionship and right into the heart of why we exist.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!
If you’d like to submit a question for Father Joe Krupp to consider in a future column, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Father Joe is unable to personally answer questions.