Two little friends of mine got married on Monday afternoon in a vast cathedral. I did not have the preoccupations of the celebrant and so noticed certain details that normally escape me. The good monsignor who received their vows mentioned that the couple had married civilly thirty years before, and that one might wonder why it took them so long to reach the altar. There are always reasons, he noted, but the fact was that God had brought them to the sacrament that day, for which we had come to give our thanks and support.
The man and woman approached to exchange their vows, which they had already made three decades previous before a civil authority. Thirty years of marriage, with all its joys and sorrows, its euphorics and frustrations, had gone under the bridge, since that day. One certainly could not fault the couple in manifesting a slight bemusement as the priest called them forward to plight their troth, as if for the first time.
But they were not bemused. They were shy, and a bit afraid, and it seemed wonderful to me. “Turn toward each other,” the priest commanded, “join your right hands, and declare your consent before God and his Church.” The priest then whispers the vows, and each repeats the words to the one he or she is marrying. Couples, however, inevitably look at the priest when they repeat the words after him, and I always tell them to look at each other as they say the words I, John, take you, Mary…. “You are marrying her, not me—look at your spouse, not me!”
I’ve always wondered why couples find it hard to look into each other’s faces as they make their vows. Why is it safer to look at the priest, or at the floor, or anywhere rather than into their spouse’s eyes. But as I looked at this couple shyly making their vows after so many years together, something dawned on me. This couple, well into middle age, were facing the infinite depths of the sacrament of divine love, and it gave them pause. They were not just marrying another person, not even the person they had known intimately for 30 years. They were entering a sacrament, and looking into the face of God. No man can see the face of God and live, at least, not live as he had lived before.
These two children of God knew that, for the first time, they were entering the sacrament of matrimony. Rather than look boldly at each other, they stole shy glances. He looked at her furtively, as a schoolboy steals a glance at the beauty he admires from afar. She looked at him bashfully, as a schoolgirl looks into the face of the boy who first asks her to dance. I hope they were even more delicate in consummating the sacrament for the first time later that night. It is right and just that the man or woman most experienced in human love so approach the sacrament of divine love. Happy Marriage, to you dearest little children of God! May your love grow deeper every day, within the Sacred Heart of Jesus.