The Princess Bride was on TV the other night. No matter what else is happening in my life, if I’m flipping channels and I come across The Princess Bride, that’s as far as I’m going. I have the movie on DVD—I could watch it any time I want—without commercials. But, if I see it on TV, I’m watching it. It was playing in the background while I was working, and while I wasn’t paying 100% attention to it, it didn’t stop me from saying the lines along with the movie. When the wedding scene came on, however, I began to pay attention. It’s hilarious.
Everybody knows; and I’m sure Prince Humperdink would have remembered if he wasn’t so rushed, that his marriage to Buttercup was not valid. But, poor Buttercup was so distraught that she lost sight of this fact. Thankfully, Buttercup has Westley to put it in perspective.
It goes like this:
Buttercup: Oh, Wesley, will you ever forgive me?
Westley: What hideous sin have you committed lately?
Buttercup: I got married. I didn't want to - it all happened so fast.
Westley: Never happened.
Westley: Never happened.
Buttercup: But it did I was there; this old man said 'man and wife.'
Westley: Did you say 'I do?'
Buttercup: Um, no...we sort of skipped that part.
Westley: Then you're not married. You didn't say it; you didn't do it.
If you were married in a Catholic Church you were probably subjected to a whole lot of questioning, paperwork, meetings, Pre-Cana sessions and maybe a year’s worth of waiting. Why all the hoops? Because, like Buttercup, people need to know what they’re getting themselves into when they get married. No one can be tricked, coerced, bullied or guilted into a marriage. It has to be an act of free will—both parties deliberately, lovingly (Catholic Canon Law actually says that love must be present), carefully and joyfully entering into the covenant. You have to know what you’re saying, and say it with intention and in freedom. In fact, the couple are the actual do-ers of the sacrament—the priest or deacon is an official witness for the Church.
What makes it sacramental is God’s presence, offering grace to two individuals who are freely and perfectly committed to giving themselves wholly to one another for the rest of their natural lives. Show up drunk? Not legit. Feeling trapped? Not legit. Not intending to be faithful? Not legit. An Impressive Clergyman says “Man and wife” without you giving consent? Not legit. (that won’t happen in a Catholic Church…)
And taking that commitment that you enter freely and with your whole self into seriously is crucial. Because, while marriage is wonderful in so many ways; life-giving, sanctifying and growth-inspiring, it’s not all chocolate and roses. It’s extremely hard work, existential personal struggle, and sometimes serious conflict. And there will probably be moments, or even long stretches when you could find yourself having less than mushy feelings for your spouse. That’s when you have to buckle up, Buttercup, and remember the words you spoke before God, your family and friends, and one another. There may be times when that promise you made is the only thing keeping you in the game. But, God honors our commitments, and when we are faithful, amazing things happen—particularly in the Sacrament of Marriage.
Have you ever talked to a couple who’s been married for fifty years or more? They aren’t still together because everything was easy and pleasant. They're still together because they rolled up their sleeves when things got tough and worked even harder. They clung to one another in the face of grief, confusion, uncertainty; and they forgave one another when they messed up; sometimes grievously. And you’ll find that in fifty years people can mess up plenty. I mess up several times a day!
Because personal freedom—a well formed understanding of the Sacrament, the ability to make sound decisions, and an understanding of who you and your spouse are as children of God, and a willingness to put someone else first every day—is such an important part of the marriage covenant, it’s essential to make sure that you are entering into it with as clear a head and heart as possible. Scrutinize what “sickness and health” means; “what richer or poorer” means; what “better or worse” means—and what it means to be open to God’s gift of children. And consider what “till death do us part” means.
If you’re thinking about getting married, consider your intention, love for one another and in what freedom you are going to offer yourselves. If you’re married already, how are you living the vows that you made? How are you and your spouse making one another more fulfilled and free to answer the vocation that you have accepted in marriage? What graces have you received from being faithful to the promise you made to one another?