Monday, January 19, 2009

AFTER THE WEDDING


Last Friday evening, my grandson Martin Romero was married to Kristin Walker at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a joint ceremony in which I, an Episcopal deacon, was allowed to participate fully with a Roman Catholic priest, Father Tom Duhe, and I delivered the wedding homily with his blessing to do so.

I experienced trepidations about meeting and rehearsing for the wedding because I had visions, from my childhood, of a disapproving Roman Catholic clergyman resenting my grandson’s request that an Episcopal religious be a part of this important wedding rite -- a rite once restricted to Roman Catholic clergy only --and also a rite once restricted to betrothed Roman Catholics. I was not only surprised by the embracing manner in which I was received, I was humbled because I had expected disapproval. The priest told me I could do any part of the service I wished to do, and during the rehearsal, he grasped my hand and led me up and down the altar steps, insisted that I give the couple the rings, read the Gospel, deliver the homily, and stand beside him at all points of the ceremony. We were all blessed by his calm movements, his inclusive manner, and the way he took care of every person about to “faint and fall out” on the altar.

The altar was simple and unadorned except for the Gospel book with its gold cover, and the focus was on the handsome couple celebrating the beginning of a life together, on those who supported that union, and on the community of believers. In short, the focus was on the people who formed the community of God. This is true ecumenism, I thought, and felt filled with the essence of real community, something that Phillip Gulley describes in his FRONT PORCH TALES as “a beautiful thing…which sometimes heals us and makes us better than we could otherwise be…”

I think each person who had a part in the service felt communal, imbued with the spirit of inclusion as they moved through a rite luminous with caring. It was a safe place where the bride and groom, filled with the wonder and rapture of new love, felt free to weep as they knelt on the prie dieu listening to a homily that borrowed freely from the great treatise on the four loves by C. S. Lewis, Anglican apologist of the last century.

Many people acknowledged me for giving an inspired sermon, and I appreciated their support, but I was humbled by their comments and kept replying that the priest, with the help of the Holy Spirit, had created the place for inspiration and love to prevail. In 1 Peter 4:8, Peter wrote about the community of love much like the one Fr. Duhe had helped to create during this short time of a mixed wedding ceremony. Peter said: “Above all else, hold unfailing your love for one another…”. We experienced and witnessed that love.

I’m grateful to this compassionate priest for helping to make the wedding of Martin and Kristin “the most personal I've ever attended,” one of the wedding guests told me. Yes, the church, the service, the priest, and God’s people participating – it was a wedding where compassion and inclusivity took first place… thanks be to God.
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