16 October 2015

The Colosseum - a good place for a wedding? With thoughts from Tolkien and Ignatius of Antioch

According to Instagram, I took this photo 100 weeks ago.
As scores of eminent and excellent Churchmen are gathered in Rome to discuss how the Church can help to encourage and strengthen families, the city council of Rome has decided to allow wedding ceremonies to be conducted inside public buildings, like the Olympic Stadium and the Colosseum.

Upon reading this bit of news, I could not help but recall what the great J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote to his son Michael in March of 1941: "Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes." Still, at first thought, I'm not sure he would have thought a place where people were mauled by lions a good place for a wedding. It certainly isn't very romantic, if you really think about it.

But here we have to ask why Tolkien thought nearly all marriages are mistakes. It is because "almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates."

On second thought, though, maybe the idea to have a wedding at the Colosseum is not such a bad one after all (please note that I say this in ironic jest; I am not advocating for Catholic weddings to be celebrated outside of consecrated churches). Tolkien, after all, rightly acknowledged that happy marriages do exist, but that these are only brought about "by denial, by suffering."

He goes on to write to his son a few reflections about marriage that the Synod Fathers, if I may say so, would do well to take up:
John and Edith Tolkien, 1966
Faithfulness in a Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him - as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that - even those brought up 'in the Church' (emphases original). Those outside seem seldom to have heard it. When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only --. Hence divorce, to provide the 'if only.' And of course they are quite right: they did make a mistake.
These might sound like rather depressing words for a men then married for 25 years. But there is a glimmer of hope, even of romance, in his words, because, as he says, "the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to."

Maybe the Colosseum, then, isn't such a bad place for a wedding, after all, inasmuch as it would make abundantly clear that the bride and groom pledge to enter into a shared life of self-denial. The memory of what happened there - particularly the martyrdom of Saint Ignatius of Antioch - would make this abundantly clear.

In his letter to Saint Polycarp, Saint Ignatius wrote that men and women should "form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to the Lord, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honor of God (V)." What can give greater honor to God than a lived in imitation of his Son, who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave" and "humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7, 8)?

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