It was my first time doing such a thing. When I was asked I wasn’t sure I could say yes. I became Catholic several years ago, and this was not a Catholic wedding, so I was not sure what the rules are. But my research (much thanks to Catholic Answers) said it was okay within parameters I was willing to follow, so I said yes. My wife and I counseled the couple as well. I was humbled to be asked, and felt it a great privilege to be a part of this couple’s starting out together.
photo by Daniel Odegaard
Here is the text of what I said at the wedding:
Karly and Jackson I want the two of you to take a good look at all the people who are here today. Go ahead and look at them. These are people who are dear to you, and you are dear to them. There is no denying the fact that the two of you are loved, and this day is important to a lot of people.
And I must say that Maricel and I have enjoyed spending time with the two of you over the past several months. It’s been a blessing to us, and I hope it has been good for you as well.
And this points out a very important thing – though making the commitment to get married is a very personal decision, it is also a very public one; it is a decision that is made and lived out within a community, and it affects, and is affected by, the lives of that community. None of us will be the same after today. So in case you are feeling just a little overwhelmed about all the attention, know that it’s not just about you, even though it is about you.
Before we get to your vows I want to take a few minutes and say a few words about marriage. I say these words based on my own experience and convictions that have come about because of my marriage to my beloved Maricel. I also say these words because of the conversations Maricel and I have had with the two of you. And because this is so important, I wrote out what I’m going to say. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m going to read to you.
For many here, and I hope for you too, what I will say will be nothing new. But weddings are important moments for all who come to witness, to celebrate, and to be reminded of the joy and goodness of marriage. In other words, it’s not just about the two of you getting hitched, it’s also about all of us reaffirming our own commitments to what marriage is, and to live in the light of those commitments.
The two of you have chosen, and are declaring today in front of these witnesses, to become ONE. We are told in Genesis 2:24 that in marriage a man and woman are united together and become one flesh. These words are also repeated by Christ. Today you two will be united in the mystery of marriage and you will personally and publically begin your life as one. This is an incredible idea to ponder – to be one.
But let’s make sure we are clear on a couple of absolutely critical and fundamental facts of this amazing oneness. First, becoming one in no way diminishes your individuality. Karly you will still be you. And Jackson, you will still be you. True oneness does not negate who each of you are as unique individuals. In fact, the mystery of oneness in marriage means that you two should help each other to become more fully, more completely yourselves. Jackson, you should dedicate your life to helping Karly become more beautifully, more wonderfully her truest and best version of herself. Karly, you must be dedicated to the same for Jackson, to become his truest and best version of himself.
But I also must say that, even though you start today being one, you will live out the rest of your days together becoming one. In other words, it takes work to be one. Marriage is something you dedicate yourselves to. And you need each other to do this. Your marriage, if you work at it side-by-side, and in cooperation with God’s grace, will become ever more perfectly and ever more completely what marriage is – that is, what it is meant to be.
You also need this community. We are all here today with you, not only to be witnesses of your vows to each other, and not merely to celebrate this day, but also to declare to you that we will support you and encourage you on your journey. As I said earlier, this decision you have made and are making is being done within a community. We are all here because it’s that important to us.
And secondly, this brings us to something perhaps even more fundamental. You see, we make a big deal out of getting married by having weddings, by gathering as a group like this, doing these formal ceremonies, and then making a party out of it. The reason is because getting married is not merely some legal agreement, or a contract where the two of you meet in the middle somewhere. The commitment of marriage is, rather, a covenant. Instead of saying “I’ll do my part as long as you do your part,” or “I’ll carry this half and you carry that half,” a covenant is a promise of persons. It’s one person saying I commit myself to you, I give myself to you, I pledge my very being to you and to your welfare, your self, your holiness. Not only is this amazing, but you see, when two people pledge themselves to each other in marriage it is a kind of miracle. There is nothing ordinary about a covenantal marriage.
In fact, Christians have always referred to marriage as sacred. It’s not just another thing we do, it’s a sacrament. In other words, it’s an outward sign of an inward grace that has been instituted by Jesus Christ. In fact, the language of marriage is the language of God’s relationship to us. It is, in effect, the language of salvation itself: God and His people, Christ and His Church, the groom and his bride. And God can work in your lives in many ways. And He has already been working in your lives since before each of you were born, creating the families and communities into which you were born, in which you were raised and in which each of you have been formed.
Now you stand here ready to enter into this special grace of God, that of marriage, created by God since the beginning of time, blessed by His only Son, and given to you as a special work. It is both a beautiful and a challenging privilege offered to you as you submit yourselves in love to each other. And as you do the work of marriage, may God continue to work in and through you, to bless each other, to bless us, and to bless the world.
But now I must address the issue of sin. You see, for how wonderful and good marriage is in its very nature, marriage can also be a struggle. Why? In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul writes about his struggle with sin. He says that all too often he does the things he doesn’t want to do, and conversely doesn’t do what he knows he should. He then says he finds a war going on in his soul. He desires righteousness, he desires goodness, to be loving and virtuous, but that desire is constantly being sabotaged. Something deep within him is again and again warring against his ultimate desires. If we are honest with ourselves we all find this principle in each of us, whether we are married or not. It’s a struggle common to us all. We are all in the same boat.
In marriage one cannot hide from this reality. Ironically, and I say this with the utmost seriousness, this inability to hide is one of the great gifts of marriage. In many ways marriage seems designed to make this inner struggle more evident. But instead of seeing this as something to avoid, welcome this truth. Only by knowing the truth of yourselves will you then feel the honest and authentic need to turn to God and call to Him for His grace and mercy. Only with this knowledge can you develop genuine empathy for each other. Knowing the two of you as I do, I am convinced that you already know this in part, and will continue learn this more fully. In fact, I truly believe you will come to embrace this.
So let’s remind ourselves of the goal. We want to be holy, truly loving, imitators of Christ. The apostle Peter says that we actually become partakers of the divine nature, that we would become like Christ who gave Himself for us. And what joy it is that now, because of this covenant you are entering into, each of you has a partner, that is one another, to help you on this profound and glorious journey. There is nothing either of you can do of more importance, or that carries more weight, than to follow Christ in the totality of who you are.
So then how do you deal with these demands, and strive for this reality? It begins with the grace of God through Christ. For Christ gave us the example of how we should live when He came into this world, humbling Himself even to the point of death, and then rose again that we might have life. He did this for you Jackson. And He did this for you Karly.
Christ dwells with you and in you. He gives you the strength to take up your crosses and so follow Him, to rise again after you have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and abundant love. It is in loving each other and giving of yourselves as Christ gave Himself for us that you will live out the covenant of marriage and become one.
I know that both of you desire to do good in the world beyond yourselves. You expressed to me and Maricel that in your hearts is the calling to do works of mercy, to help those in need, to serve and bring Christ to others. This is a noble calling and, in fact, we are all called to do these things. I want to emphasize that it will be your marriage, and the oneness you build together in Christ, that will not only be a powerful witness to the world, but will be the source of your strength, the foundation from which you can best extend your love to others. Work first on your relationship with Christ and with each other, and in your parenting if God blesses you with children, and the rest will follow. This, in a very personal way, will become the way you two seek His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these excellent and noble things will be given to you as well.
Finally, love is to will the good of the other as other. Jackson, your desire for Karly ought to be that she should become the woman of God she is meant to be. Karly, your desire for Jackson ought to be that he should become the man of God he is meant to be. You are not to use each other, and I know you believe that. But I must say that marriage is not a cure for loneliness, or merely a way to provide physical intimacy, or the way your going to get happiness. It’s not about what you can get from the other, or how you can make the other conform to your short-term needs. To love each other is more than having feelings for each other, it is to actively desire the very best for each other, to serve each other to that purpose. And this requires that each of you become students of each other, spending your days finding out more and more about how each of you uniquely embodies the image of God. Enjoy the romance, but even more revel and rejoice in goodness, in the pursuit of holiness, and in love that endures.
My prayer for you is that you would live in the light of these truths, and in the love of Christ; that you will give of yourselves to the building up of each other towards holiness; and that your marriage become the greatest blessing you ever receive short only of your final glory in the kingdom of God.
I am truly excited (and I know we all are) for both of you and this new journey you are beginning.
And now, Jackson and Karly, we have come the time for you to pledge yourselves to each other.