faithfamilyMy godson announced that he and his girlfriend are getting married this summer – in a park. A “minister” will officiate – someone they found on the Internet. Our whole family is upset that his wedding will not be in church with a Catholic priest or deacon presiding. Do I even go?

You and your family are not alone in your angst over this situation. As a spiritual director, I hear this story of difficult discernment quite often, and I have experienced it in my own family as well. It is heart-wrenching when we desire all the blessings, support and sacramental life of the Catholic Church for our loved ones on their marital journey and they seem to fling it away in exchange for a “destination” wedding or a “walk in the park.”

The Lord allows these difficult circumstances and choices, not as a test of our Catholic orthodoxy, but as an opportunity to love. Love never fails. We ask ourselves, “What is the loving thing to do?” “What would Jesus do?” In Luke’s Gospel (chapter 6, verse 40) Jesus says, “…when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” Did Jesus shun the tax collector, the Samaritan woman, the prostitute?

Jesus was remarkable because he didn’t shun anyone. He loved people, and met them exactly where they were, which was often in the midst of their human weakness and immaturity. If he were to turn away from them because they weren’t perfectly formed, they were distracted by the stuff of the world, or they wavered in their faith, how could he have ever issued the invitation to his Father’s Kingdom?

Would it be life-giving for you to stay away from your godson’s wedding? As Catholics we believe the exchange of marital promises is a human attempt for a man and a woman to love each other as God loves humankind and Christ loves the church.

The couple promises to walk a lifelong, faithful journey together. God is love and God has planted the seed of divine love in this relationship. God is the author of marriage, but we are the Body of Christ here on earth, and so we need to support that love and to help build it.

Someday, as your godson and his wife grow in their own awareness of God and how his grace really is what keeps them faithful on their journey, they may desire their marriage to be validated in the church. But why would they even consider joining a faith community whose members profess to love one another, and yet don’t “walk the talk”? You don’t know God’s plan for this couple, their marriage and their domestic church. It is not yours to judge. Your assignment is to love them and support them in living out the promises they have exchanged. God, in his infinite wisdom, will take care of the rest.

How can you do this given the present circumstances? I am a strong believer in St. Francis de Sales’ words: “Doing little things with a strong desire to please God makes them really great.” So here are some little things I encourage you to do:

  • Choose a wedding card and gift that reflect the belief that God is at the center of this marriage. Religious art, a subscription to the Catholic Herald or another Catholic publication, a crucifix, or a family Bible are some gift suggestions. Give these gifts without strings attached; don’t cling to outcome. Plant seeds; see what the Holy Spirit does.
  • Be sure to continue all those “loving offices” of godparent that you did before the wedding: regular contact, special celebrations and daily prayer for your godson. In addition, always remember the wedding anniversary with a remembrance in the same vein as the wedding gift.
  • Invite your godson and his wife to Sunday Mass and brunch with you. Extend hospitality, but again don’t fuss if they turn you down. Be creative with your invitations: a concert at the cathedral, a fun afternoon at your parish festival, Advent vespers, or a Lenten book discussion.
  • Gift them with a couples’ retreat or Marriage Encounter.
  • Ask their opinions on questions of faith and morals as topics arise. Be respectful in your discussion; do not proselytize.
  • And all through the wedding ceremony, be happy for them in their love, asking God to bless them all the days of their lives. Though the wedding is not in church, find God present in the couple, their family and friends who love them, and in the beauty of God’s creation in the park. Put everything else in God’s hands because, … faith, hope, love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13: 8-13)

(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats, and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke,” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)