By Javier Soegaard
Summer is neither spring nor fall: it has no blossoming trees; it has no color-changing leaves. Yet as my mid-twenties progress it becomes all the more apparent that Summer is the real season of change.
Summer means Wedding season. It means fancy clothes, color schemes, vows, and all the fun ways of celebrating a couple’s new life together. Presumably for many of you who read this blog, summer also means Ordination season, an equally joyous celebration of the Church’s public ministry and those who have been called by God to give their lives to its mission.
Witnessing and celebrating all this change always sounds like fun in theory, but in a very real way it proves to be very tiring, inconvenient, and expensive. On my current road-trip, which has seen one priestly ordination and anxiously awaits a friend’s wedding in Indiana, I have often wondered why it is I’ve been doing all this. Nagging questions arise. Am I missing out on fun stuff back in Boston? Is it worth all the travel? Is my presence really needed here?
The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. Attending these celebrations of change often means having to sacrifice the fun and relaxing things that can be done on one’s own time and at one’s own leisure. Yet when we are present for these momentous Sacraments: to pray, to attest, and to party, it becomes abundantly clear that not only were we needed (to add to the joy of the day, to show our support, etc. etc.) but also that we needed to be there.
When we witness the Holy Spirit change these young people, showering them with the grace necessary to live out their vocation to one another or to the people of God, we too are changed. In a very cliché way, part of that change is an increase in hope: we see good and holy people professing to live a good and selfless life. This gives us confidence that the future of our Church and our world will be better than its past.
But lots of things can give us confidence that things will get better. Buzzfeed and Upworthy do that for me all the time. #gmh
As far as I can tell, the real way in which we are changed as witnesses of these Sacraments has everything to do with freedom. As many comedy movies like to point out, one of the real hardships of having friends get married (and in our case be ordained, but there aren’t many movies about that) is that they no longer have time for us. Married couples have to spend time together, learning to love and forgive one another. They have or adopt children. Priests have parish meetings, Masses, and events. They have to make emergency calls when someone is dying. Playing cards or Nintendo, grabbing a drink at a local watering hole—these activities can no longer be done at a moment’s notice. Committing oneself to another means that living on a whim is no longer an option.
This certainly doesn’t seem fun, but the crazy thing about many young people is that they actually desire to commit in this radical and Christlike way. You can see it in their eyes when they are on the altar, professing vows to one another or to the local ordinary. It is that mix of resolution and joy that marks the presence of God and the fulfilling of his mission on earth. It is a truly wonderful sight to behold in another person.
And yet as wonderful as it is to see firsthand, we who are present must ask the Spirit to free us from any attachments to this person which may impede them from living out their vocation. We in fact have to commit ourselves to their commitment. We must understand their new life to be a special gift of grace, one that demands the utmost care and prayer—one that may not include spending as much time with us.
This is no small task, but it can begin in simple prayer. When we attend these weddings and ordinations, if we open our hearts to rejoice, not just in the forthcoming open bar, but in the reality of God’s call to the couple or to the ordained, our own role in that vocation will become clearer. Perhaps God may be asking us too be very involved as a mentor or confidant. The likelihood, however, is that we ought to step back, to make room for God to work in and through their lives for the good of others.
I hope I don’t come across as a wet blanket or a Debbie Downer. These are real occasions of joy, and should be celebrated to the fullest extent. What we must be conscious of, however, is that we do not celebrate to cling, but to acknowledge our setting them free. So as we continue this season of raising glasses and dance-floor boogying, let us give thanks to God for calling so many young people to serve the Church as couples and priests. Let us pray, too, that all we do may allow these our brothers and sisters to live out their calling in love and in freedom.