Thoughts On A Marriage | For Better, For Worse

Adam and Eve Cling to Christ |Triumph of Religion, Dogma of the Redemption |  John Singer Sargent,  Boston Public Library, 1903

Adam and Eve Cling to Christ | Triumph of Religion, Dogma of the Redemption | John Singer Sargent, Boston Public Library, 1903


I take you, from this day forward…

A future promise, presently revealed; no assurances given beyond a firm and lasting ‘Yes’. It is a Fiat they exchange, perhaps unspoken; ‘Yes, be it done’, is what they give each other.

Be this marriage done! Be it born, offered, given, received, lost to be found, — be it an eternal ‘Yes’– in times when ‘yes’ is sorrow and ‘yes’ is joy, when ‘yes’ is painful, or sad, or dying, or again born.

I take you, from this day forward, for better, for worse

So, what are the better times? What are the worst times?

A litany could be formed in response and it would not suffice. Over and over countless stories of love encounter real joys and real sorrows. It could be said it is the nature of love to rejoice and to suffer. No compilation of words could pretend to exhaust the depths and possibilities here.

And it is so, in reflecting on this part of the marriage promise that we see its meaning rooted in the nature of the vow itself, and of the love that sustains it. It is not the best times or the worst times that matter. It is the full promise that does, for better, for worse, and in between.

The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. The danger of it is that he himself should not keep the appointment. And in modern times this terror of one’s self, of the weakness and mutability of one’s self, has perilously increased…
– G. K. Chesterton, The Defendant

At the heart of the ‘yes’ is the uncertainty of what it will entail. Some are more conscious than others of this; others are later surprised and find themselves disoriented by the waves of emotion that follow. The marriage vow is a perilous ‘yes’—indeed, every ‘yes’ is a risk. And, were the risk of choosing one person for a lifetime not sufficiently daunting, the compounded risk is that in choosing them, we choose them now as they will then be. That distant time and distant place must be pondered every day, for every new day is a future time and distant place.

Lest we lose ourselves in the ethereal, the grounding is always there — this vow, this voicing of a human promise, this expression of enduring intended fidelity — to remind us that, amidst the joys and the sorrows, we choose, and yes, we offer this ‘yes’ together and to each other, daily.

There is more. This vow links two person such that their nature is changed — they are made one. Marriage does not simply bring together persons who then proceed to live together, individually. No, sacramental marriage, by its nature, binds them to each other in such a way as to form something new of them — a new creation — a union, physical and spiritual, bound before God as sacred. Such is what is at stake in the worst times and the best — the union is, not the individual’s interests, but their very oneness.

…It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-favored grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.

The nature of love is to relinquish its liberty such that it can find its freedom in oneness. Its joy is to bind itself, so as to fuse together what lay apart, and render of it new fruitfulness and new glory.

They sold their individual liberty to buy their joint freedom. And their oath, offered and received, was written on the heavens. God took them seriously, and blessed them.

So much was given and received at that altar some ten years ago. And with it comes the daily grace that is sufficient to anchor the arc of this love back closer to shore when the waves beat hard and the stormy seas rage. That future promise is presently revealed: ‘Yes’ is possible, over and over and over again.

And from it, every joy, every sorrow and agony, every inclination to despair, every hope of future happiness is transformed.

He is there, Incarnate, in the midst of them. For in taking each other, they cling together to the great Lover who died for love of them, and are so strengthened and made one. The shadow of that Cross — the worst of times, the best of times — envelops them, and makes of them a communion of love.

‘For worse’ becomes ‘for better’ now. And in their ‘yes’ they modernly repeat an ancient Fiat. I will love! Be this marriage done!

I take you, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…

In a Genesis moment, God saw their intended fidelity in light of eternity. And it was very good.

To be continued.
This piece is preceded by Thoughts on a Marriage | From This Day Forward.

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