Despite her skepticism, hearing of a FOCUS missionary's success story on the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel convinced Hannah to give the app a try. Within a few days, Jared popped up as a match, and he soon asked her out on a real date, willingly making the trip to meet her from his Army base in Biloxi, Mississippi. At the time, Hannah was studying Theology at Spring Hill College not far away, in Mobile, Alabama.
What started as a simple coffee date morphed into lunch, followed by a stop by Hannah's campus chapel, botanical gardens, dinner, and plans for a second date. When they officially declared their relationship a few dates later, both were struck by the ease of friendship and lightheartedness they shared, making the new feel familiar.
Shortly after, when Jared graduated medical school and was relocated near Seattle for residency, Hannah accompanied him on the forty-five hour drive to his new town. After days on the road, discussing life’s big questions and listening to Catholic radio, they knew their friendship had become real love. They saw in each other the desire for a holy marriage and the qualities of mutual love and respect that could make it possible. Three months later, when Hannah returned to Washington for a visit, Jared got down on one knee.
From the Bride: A long-distance engagement didn't seem ideal, but it helped us focus on communication and was part of God’s plan for our engagement nonetheless. Thankfully, technology provided us with an opportunity to prepare for the sacrament of matrimony online through Catholic Marriage Prep's program. After six months, our endless planning, prayers, reflection, and support from family and friends brought us to our anxiously awaited wedding day.
Like most Catholic little girls, I always envisioned myself having an elaborate wedding Mass, and upon realizing God’s call for my vocation was, in fact, to be a wife, the desire remained. Now though, I wanted a wedding mass for different reasons than when I was young--most importantly, the Eucharist. I knew now that if we were to have only a ceremony, there would be neither consecration nor distribution of the Eucharist. The presence of the Eucharist, being the “source and summit of the Christian life,” seemed particularly important for our wedding day.
One potential roadblock to having a full nuptial Mass, however, was that my groom was not yet Catholic, nor baptized. Jared was in RCIA at the time, yet until he was baptized we would not be able to celebrate our wedding as a sacrament. A special request was put into the Bishop of Seattle for an early baptism for Jared. On January 21st, one month before our wedding, Jared's long-awaited desire to become Catholic was fulfilled, and he was fully initiated into the Church!
In a spirit of thanksgiving, we planned our wedding Mass right away. Incorporating our guests was an influential factor--our friends and family in attendance would be from varying faith backgrounds. For some, it would be their first Mass experience; for others, it would be their first time in church after many years away. With that in mind, we wanted the songs and readings we chose to reflect our personal preferences, but more importantly, to reflect our experience of God as a loving and merciful Father.
We chose John 15 for our Gospel reading, which includes the famous verse, “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Seeing in this verse the complementary nature between the love of Jesus and the love of husband and wife, it seemed to encompass the perfect ‘love triangle’ our marriage prep had been talking about. The rest of the passage was also a good fit for our congregation, and we hoped it would particularly speak to those who were unfamiliar with the Word of God: “You are no longer slaves if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my father I have made known to you.”
The beauty of our wedding also served as a means of evangelization, both for our guests and in our own hearts as the bride and groom. The church itself where we were married, Holy Family Parish, is beautiful yet understated and about a hundred years old. The traditional design and larger-than-life wooden crucifix call one’s attention to Jesus. I had been confirmed in this parish, my many aunts and uncles had also made their sacraments there, including some of their own weddings.
Jared and I strove to dress up as gifts for one another. I'd only tried on a few dresses before choosing the long-sleeved, beaded gown that I hoped would compliment Jared's fancy Captain’s dress uniform. Other small details also had lasting impact: my grandmother handmade a dozen gold bows for the pews; white lilies, my favorite flower, flanked the altar; on top of that, sun poured through the stained glass windows during Mass and despite the February date, the day was warm.
Remembering loved ones who couldn't be physically present at the wedding was also important to us. Jared's father passed away a few years prior due to cancer; his mother had a picture and tribute made for him displayed at the front of the church. We also remembered him during the Prayers of the Faithful, as well as my deceased grandparents who'd attended the church for nearly sixty years. Being able to lift their souls up in prayer was a comfort, as well as a reminder of everyone’s true, eternal home.
At the culmination of the celebration, we were both joyfully able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The hymn, “Here I Am, Lord” was sang during communion, a childhood favorite of mine, followed by “Amazing Grace,” a beloved song to Jared. Once again, the complementary nature of the songs seemed to symbolically encompass our new union as husband and wife, as well as the union of each individual with Christ in the Eucharist. It was truly a sublime moment, one that leaves a lasting impact on the soul.
Time. My only sadness on my wedding day was time. It was the fastest thing to go; I loved every minute of that day. I loved it so much so I wished I could pause the moments, store them away, and walk back into them whenever I wanted. As a finite creature, I know it just cannot be. But as a hopeless romantic, I nonetheless long for an eternal love story.
My wedding helped me realize something my ten-year-old self would gasp at: marriage itself still does not satisfy my deepest longings, which are for God. Upon saying I do, though joyful and full of love, I did not magically feel complete. Perhaps it was the recognition that even spouses and fathers, though dearly loved, are not ours to keep. Time is part of the human condition, and one day God will come calling for all souls, which truly belong to Him.
While I wished to somehow pause our wedding day and make it last forever, I also realized the wedding wasn't the end, but the beginning of something much greater. It was amazing to tangibly celebrate our covenant together, surrounded by loved ones. However, like all earthly things, the cake, dancing, and merriment had to come to an end. We’re left now with each other and the gift of each day. Like our wedding, my greatest desire going forward is that we simply invite Him in, letting the Prince of Peace reign in our hearts and marriage.
Photographer's Business Name: Steven Dray Images | Church: Holy Family Parish - New Brighton | Wedding Reception Venue: Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh | DJ/Host and uplighting: Kelli Burns Entertainment | Flowers: Blossoms by Jillian | Dress: Justin Alexander | Dress/Veil: One Enchanted Evening, Zelienople, PA | Dessert table: Lauren at Sweet Boots Baking Co., Pittsburgh, PA | Cake: Bethel Bakery, Bethel Park, PA | Maid Of Honor Dress: Jenny Yoo | Flower girl: Wrare Doll Custom | Bridemaids: Weddington Way | Card box: Steven and Rae