This summer in all of its glory I attended two weddings. One was my brother’s and the other, two friends’ of long standing. All four are regular church goers. One attends Mass daily at the hospital where she works; two sing in their Catholic church choir. St. Paul’s hymn on love featured prominently at both weddings. Love hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love rejoices in the truth. Both couples lit a unity candle. As the flame blazed, we prayed that God would bless all those we love, would fill our hearts with gratitude and sustain us in joy.
My brother and his new wife were married by a judge in a flower-filled gazebo at a lush, green park. My two friends were married by their lawyer in a fine Italian restaurant. My brother’s new wife tried mightily to obtain an annulment, but the non-cooperation of her long ago, divorced spouse and the wrenching personal nature of the annulment process led them to a judge. My two friends are lesbians. No more need be said.
Now, while the synod in Rome ponders over who shall share Christ’s Eucharistic presence, four people promised eternal love. Four people receive Christ’s body and blood to help them keep their promises.
Both weddings were memorable: the hand-crafted invitations, the corsages and boutonnieres for all who came, the dinners beyond imagining, the dancing cheek to cheek, the prayers and well wishes. Both couples were beaming. I had never seen my brother so happy. The long shadow of his first wife’s untimely death seemed gone. But not forgotten – he lays a rose at her grave every Mothers’ Day. Both couples expressed their joy and gratitude to all of us and gave us gifts to remember.
And I will remember, even the dancing, when joy lifted like balloons so that we were transported right out of those rooms. I found myself doing a mild sway with my nephew, his father’s best man.
However, there was one huge difference in the two weddings. It came when one of my dear friends took the microphone. She had attended many of my retreats, written many memoir type pieces, shared her home and table. All of this took on a new light when she spoke. And what she said was that she knew from the age of seven that she was “different.” Since that day she has been hiding. She dated boys for show during high school and hid during college. She was still hiding during her professorship, fearing she would be terminated, she said, or worse, murdered. When she and her spouse go on a cruise, when other couples dance on the upper deck – they dance under a stairwell. Now, after 35 years of commitment, she and her partner are legally married, and a roomful of family and friends rose and clapped as they kissed each other. Which is exactly what we did at my brother’s wedding.
It was all a joy to me, but a sadness, as well. Did my friend think that I was unaware all of those years, that it even mattered? I never gave it a thought. She was my fun-loving, accomplished friend. She still is, only in deeper dimensions.
The poet, W. W. Merwin says, “We are words on a journey, not the inscriptions of settled people.” I hope that those who make church words remember this – all words journey as do those who say them. Sometimes our words break and need mending. Sometimes they reach into dark places and bring back light. At their best our words stretch to include all of God’s people. Every day a journey.
The words we say to each other, the vows we make, mine included, are words on a journey. They say It’s all I have to give you, these words and my heart beside.
[Joan Sauro, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, publishes widely in the Catholic press. “We were called Sister” (U.S. Catholic) was awarded first place for Best Essay 2014 by the CPA.]