Comment: This time, Jesus is invited for our wedding vows
My wife and I, in our 40th year of married life, are renewing our vows this month at a special Mass in the Marian chapel of our home parish at London’s St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica.
Carrying as they do a suggestion that marriage is not necessarily for life, renewal ceremonies of this sort are not something that a lot of Catholics go in for. And had we been Catholics when Kirtley and I first tied the knot on Dec. 28, 1977, I doubt very much we’d feel any need to make this public act of recommitment now. But 40 years ago we were both, to varying degrees, agnostics, and so were married at a civil ceremony at Toronto City Hall.
We would’ve been happy with a London ceremony but our City Hall was closed for that entire week between Christmas and New Year’s when we wanted to piggyback our nuptials onto the general merriment of the season.
I had been raised in a not very observant home. We attended our neighbourhood United Church erratically, always at the urging of my mom. Whole years would slip by between visits — usually at Christmas or Easter — as other concerns took precedence in my parents’ busy lives. I was the youngest of four sons and they had even neglected to have me baptized; felt a little sheepish when they realized the oversight but took no measures to correct it. Similarly in my wife’s family, it was her mother who felt an intermittent attraction to the Anglican Church, an interest that was pushed aside by the distractions of day-to-day life and, more pointedly, by her husband’s sometimes virulent skepticism of all faiths but most particularly Catholicism.
As a young adult, questions of faith for my wife were a treacherous minefield whereas I was more open to persuasion. I read a lot of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and Malcolm Muggeridge and was excited by what they had to say about Christ. I conducted some experiments with prayer and was frightened when I started to sense that this wasn’t a one-way conversation; frightened because of the changes I knew I would have to make if I followed this any further. A few months before our wedding I told my wife that I knew I had some unfinished business which, sooner or later, I was going to have to delve into further. “You might end up married to a Christian.”
What forced the whole decision for me was having children. I knew that I would owe these brand new souls truthful answers to important questions and that I had been dodging the biggest question of them all for too long. It was, in Samuel Johnson’s great phrase, “a time to be in earnest.”
It tells you a lot about the overwhelmingly WASP complexion of London that I was 31 years old before I ever attended a Catholic Mass. Five minutes after that service concluded — thrilled by simultaneous undercurrents of homecoming and setting off on a whole new adventure (rather like a wedding day, actually) — I signed up for instruction in the faith. And a mere 31 years after that — much to everyone’s delighted surprise, not least my own — my wife came into the Church at the Easter vigil of 2015. (So let’s not have any talk that I hectored her into converting.)
At an Opus Dei Lenten retreat in the spring of 2000 I scored a copy of Frank Sheed’s To Know Christ Jesus and just melted when I read his conclusion to an account of Mary and Joseph’s wedding in Nazareth: “How far the wedding feast of Mary and Joseph resembled that of Cana, we can only guess — we simply cannot see either Mary or Joseph putting on any very spectacular show. But one thing the two feasts have in common — Christ was present at both of them! No royal wedding had ever had a glory to compare with that. The poorest Catholic can have it now with a nuptial Mass.”
I’ve always regarded our marriage as the supreme blessing of my life even if, contractually speaking, it was a strictly civil matter. I was utterly enchanted by Sheed’s illustration of what true Holy Matrimony means but didn’t dare to imagine that things could unfold in such a way that my wife and I would ever be able to exchange our vows in the presence of Christ. And now, praise God, that opportunity is at hand.
(Goodden is a writer in London, Ont. His latest book is Three Artists: Kurelek, Chambers and Curnoe.)