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Waiting at the altar

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The kind of wedding God wants and plans and dreams of is not focused on centerpieces and cake toppers.

Jaymie Stuart

Most girls have thought about their weddings at least once or twice before they've met someone they'd ever think of marrying. In fact, a whole lot of us begin imagining our "dream weddings" long before we stop believing in the tooth fairy. I know I did, even though I wasn't a girly-girl by any stretch, and actually hated playing with Barbies and baby dolls.

There's just something about all things bridal. Choosing colors and music and dresses and suits, food and flowers, photographers and reception venues: for most of us, it's a once in a lifetime chance to design a day of happiness and love right down to the last detail.

Of course, there's always the challenge to do it all within some kind of budget. As things evolve, the priorities are set by each individual bride. For some, it's all about having lots of people. For others, it's about keeping things simple. There are brides who want to feel (and act) like Queen for a Day, and brides who want their guests to know how much she values their presence in her life. None of it is inherently bad. But in real life, choices must be made, and real choices reveal a lot about the people who make them.

In today's world, one of the single most powerful witnesses to faith is the choice to marry (rather than cohabitate), and marry in the Church. For more and more baptized Catholics, a Catholic wedding involves too many rules, too many requirements, and too many restrictions. "What do you mean we can't write our own vows?" "What do you mean we can't use a top-40 song at our wedding?" "What do you mean we can't get married on the beach?" Those were the kinds of objections we used to hear. But now, the list includes much deeper questions about divorce, heterosexuality, and whether or not to have children at all. Ever. Sure, fewer brides are being left at the altar, but that's because fewer and fewer people are coming to the altar to begin with. I am grateful that our daughter Katerina and her new husband chose to be married in the Church.

Certainly, a wedding day is, and should be, filled with expressions of a couple's love. But it is also a celebration of the twists and turns of God's grace that brought them together -- and a public declaration of trust in the power of that same grace to keep them together. Few moments are more beautiful to share than those in which vows are made. That holds true for weddings, professions, and ordinations. It is meant to be so for baptisms and confirmations, as well. That's because love, true love, means venturing all. It means leaving nothing unsaid or ungiven; nothing, no thing, sequestered away just in case or held back in reserve.

Marriage is the clearest sign of what God promises every one of us. The kind of wedding God wants and plans and dreams of is not focused on centerpieces and cake toppers. The marriage feast of the Lamb is the eternal and irrevocable exchange of all for all. God promises to love, honor, and cherish us forever. And we, inspired and empowered by that kind of selfless love, give our whole lives to him. We are His bride. We become beautiful and radiant only in the glow of his love.

Our walk with God in earthly life is a walk down the aisle that leads to heaven's altar. We are accompanied by those who have gone before us, as well as those who walk the journey with us. We meet Jesus at the altar; his eyes are full of love for us. We are given fully to him, not without consent, but by the power of it. And in the unbreakable bond of self-giving love, we are ushered into a new life of union and joy. That is the wedding invitation God has given each one of us. He is standing at the altar waiting for us to arrive.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.

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