With just three days until my wedding, I’ve done a lot of planning ahead. My free moments are dedicated to contemplating song choices, discussing photography itineraries, and determining the order that our bridal party will walk down the aisle. There are a lot of details that need to be considered, and as I’m sure you can imagine, we’ve devoted a lot of time to wedding planning. But now that we’re just a few days away, we need to begin thinking about the days following our wedding. We’ll be flying to Disney on Sunday, and we won’t be returning for a week. When we fly home, we’ll have one day to recuperate before heading back to Maryland and the home that we will share as husband and wife. We have a busy week ahead of us, and so it should be no surprise that I’ve been thinking ahead to our honeymoon. And that includes thinking about my blog. Because let’s be honest- as much as I love writing, it won’t be foremost on my mind during our honeymoon. For that reason, I’m writing another anticipatory blog post. I promise that there will be a reflection on the early days of marriage (or on our wedding) next week, once things have settled down. But for now, in light of the fact that I will have only recently said my vows, I thought I would spend some time reflecting on what those vows mean.
Whenever a man and wife exchange wedding vows, they promise “until death do us part.” They promise that they will love each other for as long as they both shall live. In just three days, I’ll make the same promise. I’ll stand in front of my family and friends and promise Andrew that I will love him until death. That’s a powerful promise, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Until death” can be a very long time.
During the course of our preparations for marriage, we were often reminded of the gravity of our promise. The vows given in marriage cannot be broken. Once they have been promised, they cannot be taken back. This is where the Catholic Church differs from the rest of the world. No one promises “until death do us part” and expects to get divorced. Or at least I would hope that people would not do such a thing. No one enters into marriage hoping that it will end, but most of the world has no problem saying that it can be ended.
The Catholic Church stands in contradiction to the teachings of the world. The Catholic Church reminds us that the promises that we make to one another are real. When we vow “for as long as we both shall live,” we promise forever. And the promise of forever cannot be temporary. The Catholic Church holds a higher view of man than the world does, though the world claims that it is more merciful and compassionate. The Church declares that man is capable of promising forever by the power of God. The world declares that it is sometimes more merciful to let “forever” come to an end. But then it was never really forever, was it?
When Andrew and I exchange vows, we will promise fidelity for life. Our union will only end with death. We cannot destroy it ourselves. When we get married, we will be in it for life. That’s right- that means no divorce. Though we cannot predict where life will lead us, we can be certain that we will remain faithful to one another until death. We might not have any power over the circumstances that influence the course of our life, but we do have power over our decision to love and to remain faithful.
A while back, a teacher told me a true story about a middle-aged man who went to a therapist for marital advice. He explained that he did not love his wife anymore, that she was not the same person she had been when they had married and he had “fallen out of love with her.” He did not feel especially inclined to seek a divorce, but he was unsure how to fix their marriage. Divorce just seemed inevitable. If there was no love, how could they stay married? Could their relationship be fixed? The therapist’s answer was short: “Love her.” The man, confused by the answer, reminded the therapist that he had fallen out of love with his wife, but once again he simply told him, “Love her.” Getting more frustrated, the man objected to this ridiculous suggestion, asserting that the feelings had faded. The love was gone. But once again the therapist told him that he must love her. When the man opened his mouth to object again, the therapist went on to explain his solution. You see, he told the man, love is not just a feeling. Love is a choice. You’ve fallen out of love with your wife? Love her again. Don’t feel the same way about her? Love her again. You must wake up every morning and commit yourself to loving her. If you want to salvage your relationship with your wife, you must love her again. It doesn’t matter if she’s not the same person she was when she married you. Neither are you. You loved her then, and you can love her now. You just have to make the choice. Love her.
That therapist understood something about love that most of the world has forgotten. Love is not just a feeling. It is a choice. It is a choice that we can always make. When the feelings fade, it becomes more difficult to love sometimes, but it is always possible. But even when the love fades, the marriage will not die. Marriage only ceases with death. It cannot cease to be by our own choice. When Andrew and I promise forever to one another, we will promise to always love one another. Even if the feelings fade. Even when things get difficult. When we exchange our vows, we will promise that we will love one another in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, in good times and in bad, until death do us part. And once we make that promise, there will be no taking it back. I will love Andrew until the day I die, and I am blessed to be able to do so.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!