The basic context: Jack and Jill (not their real names) were to be married at St. John's and completed their marriage preparation in a different diocese. Last week they asked me the following questions about the ceremony: i.) Can we write our own vows? Or at least use our vows and the church's?; ii.) Do we have to use Christian music?; iii.) Can we use a unity candle?
Having asked for a Catholic wedding I responded that we needed to stick with the vows given in the ritual for weddings and the music should be from a Catholic hymnal. The unity candle is allowed, though I typically discourage its use. I tried to convey that Catholic weddings are sacramental, and because of this, certain elements need to be followed. I left the ball in their court: do they really want a Catholic wedding (which they had signed up for) or their own vows/music? I still haven't heard back from the couple, but I have learned they will not be getting married at St. John's and I got the following letter in he mail today (I quote verbatim, including quotes and underlines):
"I am writing this letter with a great deal of angst, contempt, frustration, and a few other adjectives I choose not to use. It has come to my attention, that a young man and his future wife had attended a meeting with you regarding 'Their Marriage Plans." They were turned down to be married in God's Church not your church, because of a few factors they wanted in their ceremony, as a great many young people want to do, and do in fact get to do.
I am an "80" year old woman with all her senses and thinking capacity in tact and I want to relate to you exactly what I think of you. My religious beliefs and affiliations are irrelevant where your concerned. I could be Jewish, Baptist, Budist, Protestant, Catholic or whatever. That is not your business.
What is my business is when you, and its not the Catholic faith as a whole, you have the audacity to tell a young man and his intended, they can't have a few things in the ceremony. Like their choice of music, but young people today have a "Special Song" they relate too and they want it sung or played. They want to write their own vows, which means a lot to them, to name a few. You say NO because its against the church law or beliefs. Really now. I hardly think God would condemn them and others to hell for that. You might be doing this for 2000 years, but if we did literally in life literally [sic], we'd still be wearing sandals and walking in the sandy desert. There are many laws the church professes to follow saying their "Church Laws" but they're not. They're man made laws told to me by a "Priest," yes a "Priest". I've known many priests in my 80 years and they don't strangle people by church laws. One told me, after I asked him, if he knew someone who wasn't Catholic, if he'd refuse the sacraments to them. He knows some like that but said he'd never refuse them as that is between them and God.
Who appointed you, "God, Judge and Jury". Who are you or the church to say they can't have their music and special vows. Perhaps the church will one day be judged for their actions by God and the people. How about the Church hiding the "Pedophile Priests" from place to place and harming minds and bodies of young boys. Why weren't they prosecuted for their horrendous crimes. What's worse, that or "Special Music and Vows".
You are a pompous, arrogant, self centered, egotistical, self centered person and the church is in many ways--not God's Church, but what people like you have made it. You don't have all the answers and the Church doesn't--only God does, and he is a loving, caring, and forgiving God. He is not judgmental. He rules the world. You don't. He makes the rules--man doesn't. He thinks he does. Shame on you and all the others who think they rule the world. Shame on you all. "Judge not, lest yea be judged." Its God's job to judge--no one else.
The Church has many problems and its people like you who make it like that. Why do you loose so many people--they're leaving the Church. I feel pity for you and the church cause you don't see it. "Martin Luther" broke away from the Church. You wonder why. Hmmmm?
Maybe you all should put your thinking caps on and ponder the happenings going on today.
These beautiful people will be married inspite of you and the church and well have a wonderful blessed day and memories without you and the church."
This letter shows a few insights into ministry in our culture. First, one should know the facts before contributing to a discussion. Unfortunately, this woman (who I know truly loves her grandson and wants what is best for him) lacked many of them, starting with my own name. The letter was actually addressed to "Father Kuntz" (referring to Fr. Kunst, my pastor) who had no interaction with this couple. She was not present at our meeting and did not hear what I said or how I said it. And as the game of telephone goes...(For the record, I never said they couldn't get married in a Catholic Church, and I certainly didn't condemn them to hell.)
Second, in heated moments like this it is important to distinguish ideas/desires from the person himself. Without ever meeting me, she described me as "a pompous, arrogant, self centered, egotistical, self centered [she drove home this point]" person. She doesn't know me or the work I do on a daily basis in priestly ministry. Ironically, she told me not to judge others while all the while judging my character.
Third, the philosophy of individualism and egocentrism are dangerous. Note it was "Their marriage plans" and "Their wedding". Where is God? Where is Christ's Church? This couple wanted what they wanted. Period. Yet as Catholics we know it takes three to get married. And if you sign up for any sacrament in a Catholic Church, certain rites need to be followed, just as you need to show up to the basketball court with a basketball, not a hockey puck. As a priest witnessing a wedding, I can no more insert different vows (or add additional vows) than I could change up the consecratory prayers at Mass or the words at Baptism.
Finally, I move on from this experience with new gratitude for the couples I am honored to work with towards marriage. Wherever they are at in the faith, I appreciate their openness to hear what the Church (and God) has to say about marriage and their willingness to take steps toward Him. And I am reminded of just how important the prayers of the faithful are to priests--sadly there are people in the world who hate us and our Church. May God, in His love and mercy, send such men and women abundant grace. When we face persecution, may we forgive them as Christ does and love them as God's beloved sons and daughters even when we are not.