Be weird. Be simple. Be one.

Avatar

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: The Vatican’s Choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

In mid-May, Chinese leader Xi Jinping unveiled a plan to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and impose draconian new “national security” laws on the former British colony. Putatively intended to defend Hong Kong from “secessionists,” “terrorists,” and “foreign influence,” these new measures are in fact designed to curb the brave men and women of Hong Kong’s vibrant pro-democracy movement, who have been aggravating the Beijing totalitarians for a long time. With the world distracted by the Wuhan virus (which the Chinese government’s clumsiness and prevarication did much to globalize), the ever-more-brutal Xi Jinping regime evidently thinks that this is the moment to crack down even harder on those in Hong Kong who cherish freedom and try to defend it.

This latest display of Beijing’s intent to enforce communist power in Hong Kong coincides with the most recent persecution of my friend, Jimmy Lai.

Jimmy and I have only met once. But I have long felt a kinship with this fellow-Catholic, a convert who first put his considerable wealth to work in support of important Catholic activities and who is now risking all in support of the pro-democracy movement in Kong Kong. Arrested in February, and then again in April, Jimmy Lai has been charged with helping organize and lead “unauthorized protests.” That he was in the front ranks of pro-democracy demonstrations is true. The question is, why do the Chinese communists regard peaceful protest in support of freedoms Beijing solemnly promised to protect as treasonous?

In late May, the thugs in Beijing tightened the ratchet of repression another notch: Jimmy Lai’s case was transferred to a court that could give the 72-year old a five-year sentence, or even consecutive sentences. But what else could be expected from a regime that was already trying to bankrupt Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, by pressuring both Chinese and international firms to stop buying advertising space there? Shamefully, far too many have kowtowed to those pressures, and a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article reported that Apple Daily is now cut off from 65% of the Hong Kong advertising market. Meanwhile, Beijing, while trying to reassure the business community that everything will be just fine, warns business leaders (as well as diplomats and journalists) not to “join the anti-China forces in stigmatizing or demonizing” the new national security laws.

The Xi Jinping regime may be less stable than it wants the world to think it is. Secure regimes do not increase repression, as Beijing has done for several years now. Moreover, labeling all criticism of the Xi Jinping government as “anti-China” is not the play a regime confident about its legitimacy and stability would make. Such tactics seem clumsy; they bespeak sweaty nervousness, not calm self-assurance.

The attempt to break the Hong Kong democracy movement is one facet of a broader campaign of repression that has not spared Chinese religious communities on the mainland. One million Muslim Uyghurs remain penned in Xinjiang concentration camps, where they are being “educated.” Protestant house churches are under constant threat. And repressive measures continue to be taken against Catholics and their churches, despite the almost two-year old (and still secret) agreement between the Holy See and Beijing. That agreement, which gave the Chinese communist party a lead role in the nomination of bishops, looks ever more like one in which the Vatican gave away a great deal in return for hollow promises; Chinese Catholics who do not toe the party line as the Chinese communist party defines that line are still persecuted. The effects of this sorry affair on the Church’s evangelical mission in the China of the future – hopefully, a post-communist China – will not be positive.

Around the world, voices have been raised in support of Hong Kong’s brave pro-democracy demonstrators. Has the Holy See’s voice been heard? If so, I missed it and so did many others. Are strong representations in favor of religious freedom and other basic human rights being made by Vatican officials behind the scenes in Beijing and Rome? One might hope so. But if the Holy See’s current China policy is in fact a reprise of its failed Ostpolitik in central and eastern Europe during the 1970s, those representations are more likely tepid and wholly ineffectual.

With one of its most courageous Catholic sons now in the dock and facing what could be life-threatening imprisonment, the Vatican now faces a defining choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?