Be weird. Be simple. Be one.

While much of the chatter over “Amoris Laetitia” has focused on divorced and engaged couples, the Pope also had an urgent plea for the engaged: Be uncommon. Have a simple wedding.

“Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances,” he said.

According to the popular wedding planning website “The Knot”, the average American wedding costs $32,641. That number increased $3000 in six years. And it’s not that people are inviting more friends and family–the average number of guests has actually decreased. Couples are just spending more money per guest. In fact, they’re spending over $14,000 on the average reception venue, over $5000 on the ring, and $68 per person on catering. Compare that to the $1,901 spent on the ceremony site.

Paying the officiant didn’t even make the list.

The average American wedding costs over $30,000. Most of that money is spent on the reception. Pope Francis has voiced his concern that this may discourage couples from marrying.

The average American wedding costs over $30,000. Most of that money is spent on the reception. Pope Francis has voiced his concern that these costs may discourage couples from marrying.

In “Amoris Laetitia“, Pope Francis worries that the rising costs of weddings may deter people from marrying.

“The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take. The same kind of preoccupation with a big celebration also affects certain de facto unions; because of the expenses involved, the couple, instead of being concerned above all with their love and solemnizing it in the presence of others, never get married,” he said.

This deterrence is tragic, because the Catholic Church views marriage as a very, very good thing. In fact, it’s the foundation for society. That’s why we made it so easy for Catholics to get hitched.

For Catholics to get married, only a few things need to happen. They need to give their vows freely. They need witnesses to the vows, and it should ideally take place within the context of a liturgy. It’s ideal for them to receive a blessing. At no point does Canon Law require them to have orchids and a groom’s cake.

The only meal you need to plan at a Catholic wedding. Photo uploaded to flickr by Prayitno.

The only meal you need to plan at a Catholic wedding. Photo uploaded to flickr by Prayitno.

However, the simplicity of a bare bones Catholic wedding is in contradiction with a standard Western one. That Princess Di-esque wedding gown? That tradition came to the West via Queen Victoria in 1840. Before then, the bride simply wore her best dress. That monarch also brought us a whopping 300-pound wedding cake, which is an evolution of the ancient Roman custom of breaking a loaf of bread over the bride’s head for fertility’s sake. All this to say, an American Catholic can feel free to incorporate traditional American culture into their wedding, but there’s no need to lose site of the sacrament in the stress of planning the reception.

“Short-term preparations for marriage tend to be concentrated on invitations, clothes, the party and any number of other details that tend to drain not only the budget but energy and joy as well. The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take,” Pope Francis wrote.

Cindy O'Boyle and Mike Degitis are eschewing some the more expensive wedding traditions to keep their wedding simple. Photo provided.

Cindy O’Boyle and Mike Degitis are eschewing some the more expensive wedding traditions to keep their wedding simple. Photo provided.

Cindy O’Boyle and her fiancée, Mike Degitis, came to this conclusion when they got engaged last year. The couple met when O’Boyle served as a Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary on Degitis’ campus. She now works for Bella Women’s Clinic, and he is a high school math teacher. She said they both took some advice from her boss to heart, and decided to focus on making their reception an expression of hospitality, instead of a statement.

“My boss said that she thought the ceremony is the most important thing for the couple. The reception is to honor the people who got you there. I love that mentality,” she said.

O’Boyle found a brand new wedding dress at a consignment shop. Her bridesmaids are wearing $40 dresses from Kohl’s. She and her mother made the wedding decorations themselves. They’re bringing in Famous Dave’s for the catering.

After a simple wedding shower, O'Boyle enlisted her family to help her make decorations for her wedding. They used her mother's old canning jars. Photo provided.

After a simple wedding shower, O’Boyle enlisted her family to help her make decorations for her wedding. They used her mother’s old canning jars. Photo provided.

“Just be hospitable in the best way you know how. Don’t live in should land, like you ‘should’ have a three tiered cake. I think I’m going to have cookies from Costco,” O’Boyle said.

Not that they’re going to take the simplest road on everything. Since O’Boyle is from Montana and Degitis is a Colorado native, they wanted time for their families to meet. So they rented houses in Longmont for the week before the wedding, so that the families can get to know one another. They plan on holding their rehearsal dinner as a backyard barbecue at her future in laws’.

“When two people become one, your families do as well. We love our families so much, and we want them to love each other,” she said.

O'Boyle and Degitis said they want to focus on the sacrament and bringing their families together. Photo provided.

O’Boyle and Degitis said they want to focus on the sacrament and bringing their families together. Photo provided.

After all, that’s what marriage is: A covenant. It’s a bond between two parties established by an oath. In the Old Testament, people would cut animal sacrifices in half and walking between the halves. In a marriage ceremony, the couple divides their friends and family in half and walks down the middle. Then they typically join together for a meal to celebrate.

Jodi Lieske, the sacrament coordinator at St. Thomas More parish, has helped with hundreds of weddings. She says that while the wedding doesn’t necessarily need to be inexpensive, she is always encouraged by weddings that focus on the sacrament.

“I think large, elaborate weddings can be beautiful as long as the perspective is kept. As long as we’re not losing the integrity of the Mass or the sacrament, that’s what’s important,” she said.

O’Boyle said she and Degitis do this by praying together, and making sure they discuss their marriage preparation classes outside their meetings with the priest. They also keep their sacramental preparation separate from wedding planning.

“They’re two totally different things,” she said.  “Marriage prep is like digging into our relationship. It’s hard work in a good way, because we’re learning a lot and going deep. We’re having difficult conversations that need to be had, and it’s beautiful. We’ll talk for hours after a marriage prep meeting. Planning for the wedding has been a fun way to enjoy time together.”

Degitis and O'Boyle shortly after the proposal. They are trying to keep their wedding simple, which has included eschewing some traditions. Photo provided.

Degitis and O’Boyle shortly after the proposal. They are trying to keep their wedding simple, which has included eschewing some traditions. Photo provided.

All of this fits perfectly with what Pope Francis called for in “Amoris Laetitia“. He said that couples should pray ” together, one for the other, to seek God’s help in remaining faithful and generous, to ask the Lord together what he wants of them, and to consecrate their love before an image of the Virgin Mary.”

 

Ways to pray as an engaged couple

Spend time in Adoration together

Attend Sunday Mass together

Find the style of prayer that works best for you as a couple (spontaneous prayer, rosary, Scripture meditation, etc)

Consecrate yourselves to Mary together (try reading some of St. Louis de Montfort’s books)

Share spiritual reading, such as “Three to Get Married” by Venerable Fulton Sheen

Learn about the lives of married saints and blesseds

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”