Hardly anyone's wedding day ever goes as planned. The coronavirus has been an unusually cruel teacher of that lesson.
''I finally understand why he compares heaven to a wedding feast," I whispered to my husband as I looked out at the faces of the guests at our reception. "I wish I could live in this moment forever."
I had been to plenty of weddings by that point, and no one would accuse me of having been a wallflower at any of them. I'm a great wedding guest, and by that I mean that you can count on me being on the dance floor until last call. As a guest, I fully embrace my role as I understand it: to help extend a newly married couple's joy as long as possible.
But there was something different about my own reception, when everyone whom I loved -- whom we loved -- were together in one room, eating, drinking, laughing and dancing because of our joy and God's goodness. Until that evening, eternity had been a concept that both intrigued and frightened me. That night I had a sense of what unending joy might be like, and the foretaste made me yearn for it more.
This is why I have felt so much sympathy for the brides and grooms of 2020. The choice to indefinitely delay their weddings or to have a ceremony but forgo a celebration with loved ones must be excruciating. Hardly anyone's wedding day ever goes as planned. The coronavirus has been an unusually cruel teacher of that lesson.
Each couple will have to discern what works best for them in these strange times. Every marriage is unique, and starting off with a solid foundation is the most important investment a couple can make.
The best pre-Cana programs are designed to help couples do this: to more intimately know themselves, each other and God, the author of marriage. In my own experience, I came to better understand God's plan for marriage generally, alongside the truth that he had a particular destiny for my marriage.
I must say that I have been encouraged by those moving forward. To me, it's a sign of just how radical Christian hope is. In the midst of economic uncertainty, Catholic couples are promising to be faithful in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer.
As a deadly virus with still-unknown effects spreads through the globe, they are vowing to love one another in sickness and in health.
One story in particular has inspired me, not only because it was published by my alma mater. Two young Providence College alumni got married this past March in a ceremony much different than the one they anticipated. The guest list was cut, priests they invited could not come, and they had their first dance to music played on an iPhone. But the couple had a perspective that many only arrive at much later in marriage, if at all.
"We have the sacrament, we have each other, and it's a great story we'll be able to tell," the bride said. "We can have our party later. This is much bigger than us."
In fact, they seem to know that their whole lives, as well as their marriage, are about more than themselves. The bride and groom are second lieutenants in the Air Force and are studying medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences with the goal of serving as physicians in the military after graduation. Their celebrant, Dominican Father James Cuddy, was ordered on active duty to serve as a Navy hospital chaplain for coronavirus patients on the USNS Mercy.
In its simplicity, their wedding was a testament to what Bishop Robert E. Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and founder of "Word on Fire" ministries, has preached: The path to holiness involves discovering that "your life is not about you." That revelation usually comes in time, in the ordinary days of marriage, when the vows take on flesh. How fortunate to have a sense of it so early on.
Jesus does compare the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast, because those celebrations reveal something about eternity. Yet the entirety of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, compares God's relationship with his people to a marriage, a relationship marked by fidelity and fruitfulness over time.
In these unsettling days brought about by the coronavirus, let's look to Christian marriages as signs and symbols of God's fidelity that will get us through good and bad times, sickness and health.
- Elise Italiano Ureneck, associate director of the Center for the Church in the 21st Century at Boston College, writes the "Finding God in All Things" column for Catholic News Service.