Wedding in the Modern Diaspora

by Don Ellis

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My wife and I have had six children and 18 months ago, we had our first wedding. Sarah had been 'on cruise' for two years, ready for her mission which has now begun, full of confidence and humour. We are the parents-in-law of a young man we are persuaded will live in the observance of his calling as a loving Catholic husband and father.

Does it get better? Well, yes.

In early June, 1997, the seven members of our family still living at home hunkered across the country in a U-Haul and the aging family van. We drove from the Northwest Territories to Peterborough, nearly 3,000 kilometres as the crow flies. We had decided to make a new start, and moved without knowing much about where we were moving. Only two weeks after we arrived here, a young man we'd never met, a former Thomas More College (New Hampshire) schoolmate of our 21 year old daughter, flew to Peterborough and proposed marriage.

She accepted. Chris was studying in Belgium, so they decided to get married before the school year, less than twelve weeks later. So, 'in the fullness of time' on September 20th 1996, they were married, and set out on their way.

There are two stories here. The first is for Sarah and Chris to tell, regarding their sudden conviction that their vocation is a shared one, and the hurdles the Holy Spirit overcame for them. The second story is one we can tell. It is one of the formation of a new family, a new beacon in the world, and the context from which it rose.

When Chris and Sarah pronounced their vows, they did so in front of two priests, three generations of their families, a few old friends, and a small community of new friends. The two families, ours from the Northwest Territories and theirs from Houston, Texas, had never met. In our few days together however, we realized we shared the same faith - and more remarkably, realized that same faith is our same culture. The differences were interesting, and kept the conversation sparkling, but they were clearly peripheral to the central message of faith.

The new friends are the people, the community, and the reason we came here. We hadn't met them before we decided to move. It may be larger than we think, but we have come to know a small number of Catholic families in Peterborough, mostly members of the Regnum Christi lay movement. Most of them were in turn involved in the establishment of a small, Catholic school which our youngest two now attend. Their intelligent generosity has been exemplary - we can only hope to emulate them.

We attend Mass and receive the sacraments in a parish which unfailingly challenges and edifies. After a figurative and literal wandering in the wilderness, we have a place, a parish of Catholic families where our family feels at home to celebrate, in a language we all know and love, a great and ordinary, intensely personal and eternal event.

We often think of our calling to personal sanctity, and we are all familiar with personal, moral questions. We are typically less conversant in the way in which we are called, as Catholics, to live as families, as linked families, and as community. It isn't as if the Church and successive popes have neglected to speak on this subject, but for curious reasons, most of us aren't very familiar with that wider aspect of our calling in the world.

Our daughter is now entering into a joyful but very challenging time: she and Chris hope to be blessed with a large family. One doesn't raise a family, large or small, in a vacuum. I think there was a time when children's lives naturally revolved around family and parish, but if that was once true, it rarely is now. Encouragement, a context of friends in faith, friends who pray for one another and who pitch in at crises to help a brother or sister - in short, an extended, open family - make the likelihood of raising children in the faith, of regenerating our parishes, far better.

If we pay attention, there will times when the living, breathing, universal Church makes its power and encouragement in our lives more than usually evident. Our "homelessness" of the past year has simply made it clearer that our home is everywhere and nowhere. It is in the Church. Sarah and Chris were married in the palms of that Church, in the palms of their two families' hands - and in the palm of this parish community. The sixty or so people who attended came not only from Peterborough, but from all over North America. We all celebrated, in a fitting manner, a powerful moment in two ordinary lives and now three ordinary families. We celebrated our opportunity to raise these young people, their new vocation, their joyful willingness to accept it, the Love which wills it, and the Love which binds us all, living and dead, together. It was pure inebriation of breathing the divine air, even though it looked a lot like ordinary life playing out.

A further note from Don, on Friday, April 3, 1998:

Moire Siobhan Cronin, born 09:10 hrs Belgian time this morning, in Leuven, Belgium, made us grandparents. Sarah is resting comfortably and will do so for a week, she tells us. None of this "get up and walk" stuff in Belgium! It was a bit of a long affair, with back labour, but Sarah reports the midwives were great, the drugs were great, and Chris (her husband) was also great, except when he fainted from hunger.

Moire was 3.5 kg (about 7 lbs 11 oz) at birth. She has an exceptional voice - it carries well across the Atlantic, even when she's across the room from the telephoning mother - and will probably be red-headed.

Asked how she felt about the labour, Sarah reported - "Well, I don't have to do this again for another year and a half." This is the determination we always knew was down there somewhere.

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