"'For this reason a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5: 31-32).
Sometime ago, I got a frantic phone call from a bride-to-be. Her paperwork was not done. A wedding was to take place in Wisconsin in a few weeks' time, and she was not prepared. They hadn't done a retreat; they hadn't done their premarital inventory; they hadn't gathered their requisite affidavits for free status to marry. Certificates of baptism had not been gathered from the parishes of origin, and they were not even registered parishioners here at St. John Vianney.
The groom and bride met me in my office that very night. They pleaded ignorance. You see, her uncle was an elderly priest, long retired, and he had only told them to let the local priest in Wisconsin know that they were coming in from Arizona and that her uncle, a priest, was going to celebrate the wedding. When the parish in Wisconsin asked that she turn in her paperwork, the poor bride-to-be was at a loss.
Could I help them, they begged. The local country club's banquet hall had already been reserved, and the menu had been chosen. The cake had already been ordered from a bakery in Madison. The band and videographer had already been hired. They just needed to get this preparation part out of the way; it was all that was keeping them from their trip down the aisle. It was all that was keeping them from their honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean.
I helped with some of the paperwork. They completed whatever they could complete. They registered and attended Mass in the weeks leading up to their wedding. They brought witnesses in for their affidavits, and we completed all the questionnaires and inventories. I had four meetings with them to go over their marriage inventory, the some hundred questions we ask couples to prepare them for the sacrament.
We did all we could do, short of stating that they had actually been prepared to the standards set forth by the diocese, which requires nine months of preparation. I was honest with them: I could only say that they were known to us – a simple letter to go with their other documents. But, prepared for the sacrament, I could not say; we after all had only been preparing for this lifelong commitment for about a month.
I have not seen them since. What was the Church to them? Maybe a stumbling block? More likely a speed bump? I do not know if they are still married. I don't know if the groom cherishes his bride as Christ does His Church. Maybe their love and their commitment to it has been lasting, maybe it has grown cold. Regardless of how they are to one another, "what God has joined, let no man separate."
Fr. Paul Ybarra, C.S.C., is the Parochial Vicar at St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear, Ariz. Fr. Ybarra professed Final Vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross on August 28, 2010 and was ordained April 30, 2011! He joins the Spes Unica Blog this year as a regular contributor, sharing with us a slice of parish ministry in the Holy Cross. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross in parochial ministry, including a video highlighting the 13 parishes Holy Cross officially sponsors in the United States.