To My Brother on His Wedding Day

I said this to my older brother this evening.

Mark, we never talked about our visions for marriage, for wives, for children.

I’m not sure why.

But I have a bundle of hopes and wishes and dreams for you today.

As I welcome you and your bride into this strange and stunning marital world,

As I extend my hand and pull you in along with the hands of all these loved ones today,

As I wrap my arm around yours and hold you in congratulations and compliments,

As I squeeze and tell you that I love you inside the echoes of all these other expressions of love,

I want to tell you what my dreams are for you, for Keisha, for your children, and for your future.

I want to tell you what I didn’t when we were boys, when traveled around the country singing.

I want to tell you what I didn’t on Normal, on 103rd Street, over Auntie Pat’s and Uncle Tim’s and everywhere in between.

I want to say what I didn’t when I became Dawn’s husband.

I want to say what I see, when I look at your future.

I want to welcome you to marriage, to being Keisha’s husband.

I welcome you to not knowing exactly what you’ve signed up for, to not fully knowing what you were saying moments ago when you spoke those lovely vows, to a world where being a husband means putting someone else first, all the time, and hoping that it means you will be first place again, to a world where you are becoming more like God because you are graciously and regularly putting another first.

I welcome you to finding out that being a husband means that everything changes even when your address doesn’t, to an arena when you’ll answer questions differently because you’ll always, now, have a wife who trusts you and hopes for you and gives to you and builds you and who expects that you are able to do the same for her.

I welcome you to the solidness of that simple precious circle on what was, this morning, a lonely finger, to an experience when women will want you more now than they did before (and they did before), to a world where words become symbols with the power to alter your family and your future, where compliments erase criticisms, and where the consistent practice of humility will make you a better man even when it feels defeating.

I welcome you to what will sometimes feel like unending fights with no real point behind them, to a swirl of upset with no real beginning, but I also see, in that same world, unending kisses and streams of happiness and contentment when conflicts are resolved and God meets you in the midst of joyous and sexy reconciliation.

I welcome you to the security of lifelong love and commitment and forgiveness, while running or walking or stumbling up cultural hills which tell you to leave your wife, to forget your vows, or, worse, to act as if those vows having no weight.

My dream for you is that you will always be an example in how you husband your wife and father your children.

My dream for you is that you will navigate with honor and power and grace the roads of being a father to all of these children, that you will know the boundaries but not respect them, that you will be wise in dealing with a biological father who may, at times, act sinfully, and that you will have a long and wide embrace of four children unless, of course, more come along!

My dream for you is that you will never lose strength and when you do, because you will, that you will the tap the greatest strength in the greatest and only God.

My dream is that you and Keisha will experience daily joy even while experiencing the bland parts of life, that boredom will be a minister to you and that it, like excitement, will teach you that life is about moments of boredom as much as it is about excitement.

My dream is that you will always be convinced that God loves you without condition and that you learn, daily, how to love just like that.

My dream is that you will not shudder under the heaviness of responsibility but that you will arise and arrive at that burden and that you will excel and flourish and flower.

Finally, my dream is that the Lord will bless and keep you, that the Lord’s face will shine upon you and be gracious to you, that the Lord will lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.  Amen.

Memorable Moments

After seeing and hearing a spectacular performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, me and Dawn spent dinner last weekend, in part, going over memorable moments from the previous year.  There were several we discussed; others went without our mentioning.

The space to do so, the room to remember, was an authentic tool for our marriage.  It has been a way that we’ve made sense of things over the years, particularly when celebrating our anniversary.

Talking about things that happened and people who happened has been for us a way of putting and holding together this grace-filled experience called marriage.  There are surely other times when we do what we did, remembering.  We recall what’s happened during the turn from one year to another.  I usually fall into a similar mental exercise around my birthday.

But anchoring memory and marriage have been helpful to me as a husband.  It trains me to see and attend to Dawn, to things which impact her, and to people and events that relate to us.  And it was wonderful rehearsing such times and figures from our story after having seen what must be described as musical movements by this country’s talented artists.

For Future Generations

Have you seen this letter?  It’s rich with words that, I imagine, you will agree and disagree with given our increasingly divisive political discourse around marriage.  It is, in part, a completely pastoral letter, written by Catholic bishops for their flock in England and Wales, where pastoral has to do with the recognized church leadership giving sound, biblical, and/or theological guidance to those members in their care, particularly, and in this case, when it comes to the issue of marriage in the UK.

These letters are worn and read into the fabric of Christians, and people familiar with Christianity, no matter whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.  A portion of the Christian Scriptures are essentially pastoral letters which address timely concerns.  Of course, the “damaging pages” of our Scriptures make a broader impact since they are canonized within the Bible.

Take a look at the letter.  It’s a touch longer than you may be accustomed.  I found it originally here.

Do you learn anything from it?  Does it widen or shrink your own views about marriage?  Does it help you see what this church in the UK is passing on to future generations?

This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.

Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.

The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion.

Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.

There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.

The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: ‘The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.’ (para.1601)

These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.

This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.

In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.

In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.

The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.

Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.

We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.

With every blessing

Most Reverend V. Nichols, Most Reverend P. Smith