It was the parish priest’s last meeting with Mike and Sue before their wedding. They had completed all the preparation work on the sacramental dimensions and practical issues of their new life together. Now all that was left was to finalize the wedding ceremony. As they were about to review the proposed liturgy that the parish priest had drafted, Mike said, “Before we get into this, I have to say I’m really scared.”
Seeing his fiancée’s stunned, pained expression, he said quickly, “Oh, I’m not afraid of marrying you. I’m terrified of losing you.” Then he looked back at the parish priest and explained, “Several years ago, my mother died, and it almost killed me.” Turning back to his fiancée, Mike continued, “What if something happens to you too? I can’t imagine how I would survive.”
The parish priest wanted to say something like, Oh, Mike, don’t worry about that. You’re both young and there are so many wonderful years ahead for both of you. But he had buried too many young people to say that. So, as compassionately as possible, he said, “In my experience 100 percent of marriages come to an end, and you’ll never beat those odds.
There was a pause before Mike stammered out, “What?” The parish priest tried again. “Well, your marriage will end in either death or divorce. There are no alternatives.”
This time Mike’s face was blank. The parish priest continued:
“Let’s say you have a fabulous marriage that lasts as long as we can imagine. How about 60 years? Or 70? There are few of those, but let’s assume you have 70 years, and that each of those years is an experience in deeper intimacy. Still, one of you is eventually going to have to lay the other into the arms of God. That day will tear you apart . . . The better the marriage the harder it is at the end.
“That’s the best possible scenario for your marriage – to share a love so incredible and so long with Sue that it almost kills you to give her up at the end.”
“So why do you want to go through all of that?” the parish priest asked. “I say give her up today. Give her back to the Creator who made her, sustains her, and to whom she will always belong. Get the grieving over with before it becomes unbearable. Let God hold her. That way, every morning when you find her next to you, you can rejoice in the temporary gift you can still enjoy.”
To say I love you to another person – and mean it – is to attempt to walk on water; it’s to keep sailing your boat together through one storm after another, until your craft goes down in a final storm. All we can do, as this wise parish priest counsels this couple, is to realize our vulnerability, to risk the hurt in order to experience God in our midst, to trust God to “catch” us when all seems lost.
And may that trust enable us to be the outstretched hand of Christ for one another; may we create, in our homes and churches and in our schools and businesses, safe harbours of understanding and support for everyone struggling to keep their heads above the waters of life’s turbulent seas; may we be a lifeline of support and trust for all who come to us in need.