It had been a long Thursday, and Brooke Paris couldn’t wait to take off her heels, peel off her contacts and wipe off her make-up. She changed into her pajamas, climbed into bed and opened her MacBook to the pope’s apostolic exhortation.
“Amoris Laetitia” was released two weeks after Brooke’s high-school sweetheart, Timothy Foley, had dropped on bended knee in Mary’s Garden, the grounds behind the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. As he proposed, the sunset lit the flowering crabapple trees with a soft glow, and a fountain trickled behind them. It was the most easy, joyful yes of her life – and it was rooted in a relationship that felt ordained by God.
But since that idyllic moment in spring, the then soon-to-be college graduate had managed to squeeze in just enough wedding-related activity to make her dizzy. She’d bought “The Southern Weddings Planner,” ordered sample wedding invitations and conducted a midnight Google into pricing of a couple reception venues. She had doubled over from the sticker shock.
So she took a deep breath and began scrolling through Pope Francis’ 264-page document. Within five minutes Brooke found herself in chapter six, in a section titled “Preparing engaged couples for marriage,” arrested by these words: “Here let me say a word to fiancés. Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances. What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else.”
“I knew immediately that that was what I was supposed to find at that time,” said Brooke, 21, a Virginia native who has since completed her bachelor’s in theology and religious studies from the Catholic University of America. “It was a great reminder that it doesn’t matter if my venue is as lavish as my Pinterest boards. There are ways I can save money and still make my reception a celebration of the love Timmy and I share.”
The timing of Pope Francis’ reflection to inspire their engagement was not lost on Brooke.
“I think God gives you tools to live out your vocation,” she said.
Brooke is drawing a double value from “Amoris Laetitia” – for her own 2017 nuptials and for the clients she hopes to one day serve in her dream job as a Catholic wedding planner. She envisions a service that combines planning of the liturgy, planning the reception and preparing for marriage.
And she has a clear-cut approach in mind: She’ll begin by helping couples plan a liturgy that reflects their unique relationship and God’s vision for marriage; then she’ll help plan a reception that echoes that liturgy. It’s an approach that reminds couples the liturgy is the pinnacle of their wedding day, not a pit stop to the party.
Brooke nearly bursts with giddiness to consider the rich possibilities of a distinctly Catholic reception. It may mean framing verses from the readings at your wedding Mass and using them as table centerpieces. It could mean asking reception-goers to sign a Bible versus a guestbook or inviting them to write prayer intentions and place them in a jar.
It might mean saluting the longest-married couples in the room. It could mean having the groom and bride wash each other’s feet as a symbolic act of service rather than challenging him to remove her garter. It definitely informs the way you handle mealtime, toasts, dancing and alcohol.
Brooke has the courage to be different, and this wedding season she’s encouraging other engaged Catholics to do the same, to heed the Holy Father and let love take precedence over everything else.
(Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., and the editor of SisterStory.org.)