In the new Order of Christian Matrimony, the Church has added an official ritual for Blessing an Engaged Couple. (OCM 218-236) Thoughtful pastoral ministers here and there have been doing this for some years. Would that it were more universally observed. I can speak from experience–and my wife would agree–we needed all the prayer we could get when we were engaged.
One of the readings suggested does not appear in the Lectionary for the Wedding Mass. But it strikes me a great checklist for couples. In his letter to the early Christians in Philippi, Saint Paul is not mainly concerned about married couples. He wants to unite a baby church. But his appeal for unity and selflessness is quite apt for lovers. Let’s read:
Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind,
with the same love,
united in heart,
thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for (your) own interests,
but also for those of others.
Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus.
These verses are quite lyrical. Notice the five aspirations that lead off: encouragement, solace, participation in the Spirit, compassion, and mercy. This is a wonderful checklist for any relationship. Do I encourage my beloved in her or his faith? Do I offer solace for difficulties? Do I pray with my beloved? Am I compassionate and merciful? In these virtues, Jesus takes joy in us. Which one do I do the best? Which one needs the most work?
At one wedding I attended, the couple had the unity sand. It’s not a tradition that appeals to me. Their gold and purple sand looked more mixed up than layered. And they forgot to retrieve it from the church–it waited in our sacristy till the three-week honeymoon was over. I was thinking that if some future child found it and shook it up, it would just be a vase of tannish-violet silicon dioxide. If a couple aspired to Saint Paul’s suggestion, one partner would polish the gold sand grain by grain until it sparkled. The other would ensure every purple particle stayed vivid and bright.
In being of one mind, we do not lose our individuality to a partner. Rather, we build up the person we think as better than us. Ideally, every married person has someone not only in their corner, but living as a cornerstone of their partner’s life. It’s a mutual thing. When two people trust, it happens.
Many years ago, one of my young friends pined to meet his life’s love. He commented he was looking for a woman to build him up, attend to his needs, make him a better person. He was sincere. Really. But young and not yet mature.
The true dynamic of fruitful married love is that a spouse has a number one–someone more important, someone whose interests are primary. Marriage becomes a mutual self-sacrificing project.
I remind myself of this when my wife and I encounter difficulty. This reading struck me as a needful reminder the next time I slide into arguing or resenting or drifting. I’m sure an engaged couple can get an early start in self-examination on these points listed by Saint Paul. It wouldn’t be a bad reading for a wedding either. What do you think?