THE EAGLE, Summer 2012
Has the Eastern seaboard of America suffered the same extreme weather conditions as the U.K. this year? Here in England we had the wettest April for years, a brief hot spell in May, and then a monstrous dumping of rain in June – which at least put an end to the official drought. None of this ruined the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations; in fact, it was a fitting reprise of the leaden skies and rain at the Coronation sixty years before (as those of us who crowded the London pavements in 1952 well remember.)
Could it be that the Transit of Venus affected the weather? Even that event was veiled in curtains of rain. Or can it be due to the notorious El Nino? Or the dreaded “C” words – climate change?
Anyone trying to arrange a wedding this summer must be tearing their hair out in tufts. Evelyn “Brideshead” Waugh promised the good nuns of Tyburn two guineas (a good sum then) if they prayed for a sunny day for his daughter’s wedding. They did – it was a glorious day, and the Sisters received their offering.
Incidentally, the infamous site of Tyburn, where so many saints and martyrs died, is now a pleasant spot in Hyde Park, a stone’s throw from Marble Arch. Probably its most famous victim was St. Edmund Campion (1540-1581), whose biography Waugh published in 1935. In it, he wrote: “The Church has vast boundaries to defend, and each generation finds itself called to service upon a different front.” The contemplative Benedictines who pray before the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day at Tyburn are certainly integral to that defense. St. Edmund Campion is remembered every summer with a pilgrimage from Lyford Grange in Oxfordshire, where he was arrested, to Tyburn, where he died.
If one wishes to avoid the bride sporting Wellington boots under an umbrella, it might be advisable to organize an underwater wedding this year. This can be arranged in a London aquarium, in the Cayman Islands, in Bali, or in Curacao. Or how about being kissed by dolphins in a marine park in China, while tying the knot? It seems that anything goes nowadays, and if you Google “weird weddings” you’ll come up with some corkers. You might fancy being married in mid-bungee jump. It has been done, with the exchange of rings 164 feet up in the air.
Or you could have an equally airy “do” on top of a biplane! Or what about an on-the-road wedding, in a chapel complete with organ, purpose-built on the back of a converted fire engine? In a replica of Scott’s hut in Antarctica? The ingenuity of the venues is only restricted by your imagination and bank balance.
In some parts of the world a wedding may take several days. In rural Poland, three days of feasting, drinking, and dancing are not uncommon; the bride changing her dress several times, and the amount of food served sufficient to nourish a battalion for a week. In Japan, the elaborate and lengthy ceremonies are now so expensive that young people often marry abroad to bypass the cost; it seems the same is true in Sweden.
Here in cash-strapped Britain the Big Wedding is still de rigueur. The happy pair expects to pay on average £15,000 ($23,000) to get hitched these days. Guests are lavishly entertained, perhaps in a country house like Blenheim, or in a marquee in a field of buttercups. The photographs, the clothes, food and drinks; the themed favors, gifts, flowers, music, and 101 other things that go to make up the perfect day must all be included in the budget. No wonder some save up for years to get married in style, while others are forced to take out a loan. And no wonder so many balk at the prospect.
Celebrity weddings have left their mark, and our Kate and Wills were prime ex¬amples. But we have come to expect it of celebs and would feel let down if no show was put on for TV and glossy magazines. It’s difficult not to be a touch cynical, especially when one recalls how many of these carefully-planned events end in separation or divorce.
But let us leave the bridal pair, exhausted and poverty stricken, with their great expectations. I confess that I begin to sound like the bad fairy at Aurora’s baptismal party. Somewhere among these excesses is what one might call the ordinary real-life wedding; often in a church, with family and friends, a generous reception, a honeymoon. A fairly modest affair where you spend what you can afford.
But however much one spends (or however little I might add) there can be no guarantee of happy-ever-after. Neither should we forget that there is a difference, is there not, between the wedding and a marriage?
We have never been so well-prepared for marriage as we are today. The Church insists on a course of preparation and in most parishes at least one or two ses¬sions with the parish priest. When you are young and in love it’s not easy to think much beyond the wedding day to what may well turn out to be a stretch of 60 years spent with one other person. There are thousands of handbooks and magazines; racks of CDs, DVDs, and websites to bemuse, amuse, instruct, and de-construct the Happy Couple till kingdom come. Friends and relatives have never been so keen to offer advice. (And it’s hard to say who can be more tiresome at times, the happily-married or the miserable.)
There can be no certainty about either the chosen man or woman, or about the quality of the future marriage. It’s a risk, a leap in the dark, however well-prepared. If this writer had a tenner (that’s $15.70 in your money) for every time she had been asked how to be sure one had chosen the right mate, she would be a rich woman!
But there are ways to lessen the risk of a break-up; first and foremost being to reduce the points of potential conflict. One of these has to be, for a person who believes and practices his or her religion, to agree beforehand exactly how that faith will manifest itself, in everyday life and particularly in the upbringing of any children who may be born. This is a subject that requires a slim volume all to itself, and despite 54 blissful years with my old man, I am not the person to write it (although this never prevents my giving my opinion!).
There are surprisingly few examples of happily married saints (or their married state is not emphasized if they were married) – Saints Monica, Louis, Margaret, Henry, and Thomas More, to mention just a few of the few. We can’t be sure but may assume that St. Anne and St. Joachim, the parents of Our Lady, enjoyed a model marriage; their feast is celebrated on July 26th, in the middle of summer, a happy day to choose for a wedding. We know next to nothing about them except that they possibly lived in Sepphoris, not far from Nazareth.
The Church could perhaps promote more often the saintly lives of married people all over the world, so many valiantly coping with appalling family, economic, and health problems. We can all point to families, husbands, wives, and children in our neighborhood who manage we don’t know how.
But there again, there is that one family, that Holy Family, whose example is always before us if we do but care to follow it.