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While I was at Mass recently, I was reminded why Jesus says of children, "The kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Luke 18:16).
Next to me, my three-year-old niece was reading a children's missal and following along during the liturgy. When we reached the consecration, the missal described it as the point of the Mass where "the real Jesus" appears.
My niece started looking intently around the church. I glanced over at her, sitting on my mother's lap, and watched her eyes slowly fill with tears. I asked what was wrong, and she explained that she "could't find him. Where's the real Jesus?" She burst into tears, burying her face in my mother's shoulder.
My niece had such a desire to meet Jesus in person that she broke down when she couldn’t find him.
As my mother was comforting her, probably trying to think of a way to explain the mystery of the Real Presence to a three-year-old, I reflected on my own posture toward the Eucharist, the “source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324)
The Eucharist, truly God in body, blood, soul, and divinity, is available seven days a week at my local Catholic parish. When was the last time I wept with childlike longing because I couldn't receive? When was the last time I chose to commit a sin, knowing full well that it would interfere in my relationship with the Lord?
I think that couples preparing for marriage should regularly do a similar reflection. It can be so easy to get distracted by details during wedding planning that couples forget to ask, “what is this day about?” and “who is this day for?”
It might not seem like the best place to begin planning a wedding, or even thinking about marriage, but a thorough examination of your motivations and your personal failings will ultimately help you grow toward a more Christian relationship, a more relaxed attitude toward your wedding, and a better and holier life.
So, let's humble ourselves, shall we? There are three things that are important keep in mind when planning the “perfect wedding:”
You are not perfect, and neither is your future spouse.
Besides Jesus and Mary (“Our tainted nature’s solitary boast”), there have been no perfect people. You and your partner are likely (though we strive against it with all our hearts) to commit sins in the time that you are together--worse, the two of you are likely to commit sins that directly affect your relationship.
You are right to expect your future spouse to be striving for the perfection of virtue, just as you should be, but keep in mind the verse above: all have sinned.
The “Good News” is that Christ has provided us with the answer to these struggles: himself. He, being the truly perfect spouse of the Church, humbled himself and hung on the cross for our sins. Shown in this amazing act of ultimate love, he greatly desires your conversion of heart.
Have you accepted this truth, and gone to confession recently? Make plans with your future spouse to go together, and definitely before your wedding! Jesus gave the apostles the ability to bind and loose sins (Matthew 16:19), and the priest at your local parish has this same faculty, inherited by merit of his ordination. Our contrition can be expressed to that priest, acting in the person of Christ, and through genuine repentance we can be given absolution for any sin, big or small.
That we can be confident in God’s forgiveness through the sacramental ministry of the Church, is one of the most beautiful things about our Catholic faith! Furthermore, you can view going to confession as a powerful step toward a holier, healthier, and happier relationship with your beloved.
With a little bit of humility about our own imperfections and a repentant confession, our sins are washed away and our souls made clean. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?
It is important to strive to do for your future spouse what Christ does for us. Forgive your partner when they've done wrong, even if they don't “deserve it.” *
However, I have found that it is easier to see imperfections in others than in ourselves. Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, says "We [then] judge ourselves by our motives—and others by their behavior." Ask first if your partner’s actions can be seen in another light, or recognize that they may not be motivated by malicious intent at all.
Then examine yourself and ask when you last failed to live up to the call God had planned for you. Act from that place of humility, rather than on your first instincts.
Remember to ask forgiveness for the wrongs that you have done them. Make the first move, in love, and you may resolve conflicts much more quickly. If you make this pattern of humility a regular exercise, you will see the fruits of Christ's mercy in your relationship.
Your wedding won't be perfect, either.
Being a wedding photographer can be a surprisingly intimate experience. I am hired to capture details of someone's life that they often don't share with others. The privilege of listening in on earnest prayers, capturing tears of joy and happiness, and witnessing the unification of two lives is an honor I receive with great gratitude.
When I take photos, I try to capture the feeling of the day as the couple experiences it. Bright colors, white dresses, beautiful decorations, and smiling faces are all mainstays of wedding photography. But as with many forms of media, it is easy to get the impression that these perfect images mean a picture-perfect day.
Ask any of your married friends about their wedding, and they will tell you (usually after gushing, "It was wonderful!") all about the myriad of small mistakes that were made during planning, at the rehearsal, and even on the big day.
In six years as a wedding photographer, I have never seen a perfectly executed wedding. I have seen mistakes and "imperfections" ranging from the very small (processing down the aisle in the wrong order) to the very large (a church so hot that the mother of the groom was hospitalized).
There will be mistakes made at your wedding, and no amount of planning may stop them from happening. But if the event isn't perfect, then what unifies the couples that genuinely enjoy their day?
In my experience, these couples are those that see their wedding for what it is: an imperfect event planned by imperfect people crowned with a supernatural reality.
A couple can be married in front of a crowd of five people just as validly as a crowd of five hundred; they can be married for no money just as easily and completely as they can in a wedding that costs a small fortune; they will still be married if their tablecloths aren't the right color, or if that one relative makes a bit of a fuss.
I say these things to free engaged couples from unnecessary worry, not to make them paranoid. If you know, as I do, that an absolutely perfect wedding isn't possible, I hope it allows you to relax and remember the purpose of the day: getting married to your bride or groom. Everything else is ancillary.
With this in mind, I advise my couples to schedule ten minutes together after the ceremony without the photographer, wedding planner, mother-in-law, or any guests. The goal is to take in the reality that you are married. Kiss each other, pray together, and then face the rest of your wedding day knowing that whatever else happens, you are now one flesh!
No mistake of planning, no social faux pas, and no guest falling face first into your wedding cake will change that reality. See this as an opportunity for humility. Give this special day to your spouse, to your families, and to God. Be confident that, whatever else may happen, God has already accomplished the work of the day.
And so, acknowledging all this human imperfection, what is the proper response?
The response to our imperfection: Humility.
Humility. But is it really that easy? To let all material worries go, and achieve the elusive "perfect joy" of St. Francis? No, it is not, but relinquishing control to God is a huge first step. It is a step to eventually embracing humility as a permanent feature of your life.
If pride is the source of all sin, and humility is the virtue that directly combats pride, then embracing humility is a sure route to fighting sin in your relationships with your beloved and with God.
Humility thinks first of what your partner needs instead of what you want. Even when their actions are wrongly ordered, humility means forgiving your spouse as you have been forgiven by God.* Humility means holding yourself to a higher standard before encouraging your beloved to do the same. Finally, humility means allowing yourself to be forgiven, both by God and your future spouse, so that you can move past your failings and “live in the truth [of humility]” as Teresa of Avila says.
So, let us live in the truth, and humble ourselves before God.
Place all of the logistics at the feet of the Lord, enjoy your wedding as it is, and you'll find that the day is made perfect by God present in your union, even without all the perfect trappings.
Oh, and that planning detail you’re currently fretting over? Forget it. I give you permission!
*In each place where this asterisk appears, the following is a necessary inclusion: The mandate to forgive one another is universal, but there is no such mandate to stay in abusive (physically or emotionally) or dangerous (spiritually or physically) relationships. Please discuss these kinds of issues with friends, family, your priest, a therapist, and/or law enforcement personnel.
About the Author: Evan shoots timeless photography and serves the Boston and New England areas. He is available for travel and specializes in Catholic clients. Born in Norway, Evan has 15 years' experience, including six years' worth of shooting weddings. With a great hope in sacramental marriage, he sees love as "making a complete and unreserved gift of yourself to the other."