Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Thoughts for a wedding on Independence Day

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 02, 2010

Last year the 4th of July was a very special day for the Lawler family: not only Independence Day, but also the day when our daughter, Mary Rosaleen (“Rosie”) was united in marriage to Lt. Philip Turner, USMC. I cannot adequately describe the beauty of the ceremony: a Solemn High Mass in the extraordinary form, with magnificent music performed by Rosie’s colleagues of the Harvard Collegium Musicum. But I can offer readers one sample of the day’s offerings. Father Paul Scalia, of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, traveled north to preside at the ceremony. In a memorable homily, he reflected on the fact that this marital union began on a day when Americans celebrate their independence. With Father Scalia’s permission, we reproduce the homily here:

If the Son of man makes you free, you will be free indeed.

[In the Name of the Father...]

My dear friends in Christ, I am afraid we could be accused of a being a little schizophrenic, perhaps even hypocritical. Today we celebrate two very different things. As a nation we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, while here in this church we celebrate vows – a declaration of dependence. As a nation we celebrate the dissolving of a bond, here in this church the tying of a knot. As a nation the beginning of a revolution; ere, mutual submission. As a nation the throwing off of a yoke; here, the yoking of two people.

This is, of course, not schizophrenic. And there is no hypocrisy involved. This paradox – this seeming contradiction – only brings out more clearly that ironclad Gospel truth – namely, That in order to be free we must give ourselves. And its sad corollary: that those unwilling to give themselves will never be truly free.

Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt 16:25).

Now the secular world understands this truth – but only to a degree. The Founding Fathers of our nation knew that to attain that freedom they desired they would have to pledge – as they did – their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor. A gambler knows that in order to get the jackpot he must commit himself in the hand. An athlete knows that victory only comes by giving everything. A Marine knows that battles are won by investing everything – not by half-measures. Freedom is secured by the giving of oneself.

But again, the secular world understands this truth only to a degree. Our politicians do not commit themselves as fully as did our Founding Fathers. Instead they measure every last word and statement precisely so that it will not put at risk their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor. And for that reason we are less free.

The world fails to understand this truth perhaps most especially as regards matrimony. Yes, people – even in Hollywood – still take vows in marriage. But if they see them as having any significance at all, it is only as a negative. The vows merely bind and confine the person. They may be seen as an expression of love. But they are certainly not seen as a means of freedom, as a way of setting oneself free.

But that is what they do: the vows set spouses free. We know that freedom is necessary for the vows. In order to speak the vows with any integrity and meaning every bride and groom (or here in the Commonwealth, every Party A and Party B) must be free to do so. They must be free from impediments and free of coercion. But the vows also free the spouses. It is the vows – and the faithful living out of them – that enable them to give everything. The vows are a declaration of independence from everything else except the beloved. The vows set lovers free from all else so that they can be free for one another. This is why the language of lovers is the language of vows and promises and forever and always...

The enemy of freedom is not vows and promises – it is the inability to make them. The greatest slavery is to the self. The saddest people are not those who make a vow and persevere in fidelity to it. They are, rather, those so obsessed with remaining free that they will never commit to anyone or anything. They parcel out their lives in a stingy, miserly way, making sure that although they give piecemeal here and there, they never actually give, invest, or commit themselves. They become enslaved to gauging, measuring, and examining everything to make sure it does not demand too much of them. Everything is measured according to their own personal autonomy. And as a result they live a very pinched and narrow existence. In trying to save their own lives, they lose them.

The saddest marriages are those in which the spouses hold themselves back or give halfway. They find they have half a marriage. Their posture toward one another is always one of negotiation and calculation: How much can I measure out..What's the bare minimum I have to give? This spiritual contraception begets physical contraception. They contracept precisely to avoid giving themselves – and the very thing they hope will keep them free enslaves them. They keep divorce in the back of their minds as an escape hatch from self-giving. They will never know freedom or happiness or joy – because they refuse to bind themselves.

The happiest, most joyful marriages are those in which all is given. When the spouses are truly abandoned, truly vowed. Not pausing to measure and gauge what might be. Not withholding until they know whether or not it is safe. But severed from all competing commitments and abandoned to the realities of marriage – to its joys, sufferings, sorrows – and life. It is the marriage, in short, that trusts that God knows better. They do not want to choose for themselves but allow him to choose. They want him to make them free for each other. There is an openness, a joy, because everyone is full in – no one is trying to find a way out. No one is calculating, negotiating a better deal.

If the son of man makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Our Lord teaches this truth about freedom not only by his words but by his actions as well. No one is more free than God. And God's freedom is not somehow curtailed by his binding himself to us at the Incarnation. Or, even more extraordinary, binding himself to us in the Eucharist, to come to the altar at the words of the priest, to be confined to the properties of bread and wine. Now we cannot speak of God becoming more free. But we can see, perhaps, that by his commitment to us in the Incarnation and its continuation in the Eucharist he has – in a sense – freed himself to be present and among us in another mode. It is that freedom in self-giving that spouses are exhorted to imitate.

I have heard it said that when the Nazis were on their way to arrest Maximilian Kolbe, one of his friars tried to convince him to flee and save his life. “They will arrest you,” he said. “I know,” responded Kolbe. “They will imprison you,” the friar insisted. “Yes,” said Kolbe. “They will take your life!” he said. “I have already given my life,” responded the saint. His vows had freed him.

Philip and Rosie, today you have given your lives to one another. Yes, by the vows you have bound yourselves to one another. But you have also freed yourselves for one another. You have cut away all other distractions and commitments. You have burned the bridges and scuttled the ships – you have freed yourselves for one another. You have lost your lives so that you can find them. Now, at this Mass and in your Communion with the Son of man, pray that he take these vows in his own hands, that he deepen and sanctify these vows – that he increase your freedom for one another and therefore also your joy.

If the Son of man makes you free, you will be free indeed.

[In the Name of the Father...]

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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