“I’ve never seen a Catholic wedding as happy as this one. And I’ve seen a lot of them.”
That was the somewhat awed comment made to me by a photographer during a break in duties at the reception for my newly married cousin and his bride, in June in the Washington, D.C., area. I had struck up a conversation with him as we stood on the patio and the sun set below us over a hillside of perfectly manicured grape vines at a boutique winery in southern Maryland.
I had to agree with him. It was an incredible wedding. My cousin grinned from start to finish. The bride smiled through tears at the exchange of vows, and was a picture of radiant happiness throughout the reception. On a personal note, I enjoyed reconnecting with a lot of family members on my mom’s side of the family whom I haven’t seen for many years, and who are such good people that I wished I had done a better job of trying to stay in touch.
But it was the bride’s happiness, shockingly, that was what struck the photographer first. He told me I’d be surprised how difficult he found it at many weddings to snap a candid shot of the bride smiling — because so many brides seem stressed and unhappy.
Unhappy bride syndrome, in his experience, strikes Catholic and non-Catholic weddings in equal measure.
His next observation, though, ought to prompt some probing of collective Catholic conscience: He said he found in general that the more “Catholic” a wedding was, the more dour the atmosphere felt.
That’s why he was surprised by my cousin’s wedding. He noted it was unmistakably Catholic, with traditional touches like the new husband and wife laying a bouquet of flowers at the statue of Mary in church, the priest saying a blessing before the reception meal, and even customized Marian prayer cards at each of the reception place settings to invite prayers for the new married couple.
But the moments of piety and prayer went together seamlessly with the general atmosphere of happiness and fun.
So much so that the photographer, who described himself somewhat proudly as “faithless” and said he had grown up in a culturally Jewish but irreligious home, wanted to find out from me what it was that made us tick. At the end of the night, he gave me his card and invited me to stay in touch.
As someone who has made a profession out of Catholic information, education and inspiration, I felt especially blessed to have been able to witness not just the event, but also to see in real time the evangelizing effect of Catholics who choose to make their faith an important part of their lives and are visibly happier, more loving people for it.
The priest who married them noted in his homily that every Catholic marriage is called to reveal what God’s love looks like, in practice. My cousin’s appears off to a good start.