Tuesday, February 14, 2006

putting on a valentine spirit and a rush to marriage

A few days ago the phone in my office rang with the parish secretary on the other line, “Father, there’s a gentleman on the phone who says he would like to speak to a priest.”

“Oh please put him through.”

I receive the call and the guy begins: “Father, I was wondering if I can set up an appointment to see you soon.”

“Well…. sure, when are you thinking?”

“Would this afternoon work for you?”

“Uhmm….well…..I have an appointment at 1pm…I am guessing that should be over by 2pm….But is it rather urgent? Would you rather see me right away?”

“Oh, no Father, nothing like that…my fiancée and I are getting married, so we were wondering if you could answer our questions.”

Relieved, I responded, “Well, that’s great, congratulations! Would after 2pm be alright? Say, 2:30pm?”

“Yes, Father, that’s perfect. See you then.”

“See you at 2:30.”

My meeting at 1pm ends earlier than I had thought which gave me some time to bone up on the parish’s wedding policies and the diocese’s marriage preparation guidelines.

I am quite eager to meet the guy as this would be my very first meeting with someone preparing for marriage, and possibly his wedding will be the first for me as official witness.

But what was uppermost in my mind was the advice of a priest-friend of mine who said:

“Always remember, when you speak to a couple preparing for marriage, be where they are. They’re excited about their marriage, maybe a bit apprehensive….But they’re totally in love with each other, and want everything to go well. Your job is to make sure they’re not just preparing for the wedding ceremony, but for their marriage as well. So, speak to them about the ideal, the ideal marriage, that this is in store for them, not the ruined marriages that many people out there have to go through….Be your most ‘romantic.’”

So there I was before the appointment thinking, “Be my most romantic…Ok….think valentine’s day, or something like that.”

My phone suddenly rings. It’s 2pm and the secretary says, “Father, your appointment is here.”

“Oh!” He’s early, I thought. “Great. I’ll be right out.”

I go to the office reception area, met the charming, youthful couple, and show them into my office.

“Well, first I would like to congratulate you on your upcoming wedding….you must be very excited I am sure.”

“We are,” his bride says with a wide pretty smile. “We told our parents just after New Year’s, and they were so happy for us.”

So they tell me their families’ joyful reaction and their excitement and how they met. As they describe all this to me, I can’t help but think what a happy couple they are together, both totally relaxed with each other, and with me. There’s an enthusiastic energy about them, and they seem to be in love with each other that it wasn’t difficult for me to “Feel the romance,” to use my priest-friend’s advice.

Then the groom asks, “So Father, what do we have to do to get married here?”

I proceed to tell them rather expertly I thought the process of preparation, the fruit of my boning up a few minutes earlier.

Then the groom says: “Father, what’s involved in the 6 months of preparation?”

“Well, we will be meeting for at least 5 times: there are the forms to complete not only for you but also for your witnesses. There’s a retreat for engaged couples that you will be taking part in. And so after that retreat, we will be meeting again. There’s the rehearsal, and then maybe 2 or 3 more meetings in addition to those, going over the meaning of marriage and your understanding of the sacrament. Then, perhaps I’d ask you to complete a survey. But we’ll see.”

The two paused for a bit. Then the groom says, “Is there a way we can do all of that by May? And I am sure we can do all of this by then.”

Now it’s my turn to pause. “Well, there is a lot involved here.” Not having had the experience of preparing a couple for marriage, I thought to myself three months is quite a rush, but perhaps not entirely impossible.

“Are you definitely set on celebrating your wedding in May. That’ll be quite a rush for you....(and for me, I thought silently).”

“Yes Father, we would like to get married in May," the groom says determined.

Then his bride says, “You see Father, we are expecting a baby, and in 6 months it’ll show. And so the sooner we have the wedding, the better for us.”

I pause some more.

Then I blurted, “Well, I see the urgency of your situation here. And (smiling widely) congratulations on your baby….” (Whew…..In spite of my shock, I was still hanging on to the being-romantic-and-positive advice.)

“But I just don’t know we can do this in 3 months. I mean, frankly, you’re the first couple I will be preparing for marriage, and not having had a previous experience at this, it probably can be done in 3 months—the whole thing.”

Then I add, “But I just don’t think we should rush this. Don't you? I mean, even the arrival of your baby shouldn’t rush this important event and your preparation for entering into married life.”

Long faces all around. A longer pause this time. Then….

“But we can start the preparation immediately,” I say. “This is going to be such a happy year for the two of you.”

“Thanks Father. I know it will be,” says the groom.

He looks at his bride, who looks back at him. “We’ll let you know our decision.”

As they leave the office, the groom asks, “Do we have to be registered to be married here?”

“Yes….we have the registration forms here.”

They take two copies and they tell me on the way out that they will call me back in a couple of days to begin the preparation.

My heart just dropped as I watch them go to their cars.

This was two weeks ago, since then I haven’t heard from them.

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