Don Riccardo's loud clear voice rang out and the whole congregation looked at him expectantly.
'It is always a pleasure for me when a couple chooses this passage from Genesis 2:18, to be read at their wedding.'
He smiled at the two young people standing in front of him. During the corso di fidanzamento he had got to know them well and grown very fond of them. Last week he had confided in them that theirs was to be the last marriage ceremony that he would perform. He was going to make it as memorable and inspiring as he could. 'It is not good that the man should be alone',he repeated the phrase with emphasis. Before today whenever he read this passage he would have gone on to talk about Adam and Eve, and at a certain point when he knew exactly what the congregation were thinking, he would talk about the fact that Catholic priests are in fact alone in the sense that they do not have a life long companion. They take the vow of celibacy and never take a wife. He would say that it is never good for anyone to be isolated or excluded .He would then point out the difference between being lonely and being alone. But today he was going to say something quite different. He took a deep breath and looked first at the bride and then at the groom.
'Martina and Filippo are here today because they love each other and want to spend their lives together. They want to express this commitment here in this church in the presence of their family and friends. I have got to know them well and I know how deeply they love each other.'
Just for a moment, Don Riccardo hesitated. Did anyone ever know that? He as a priest probably knew more than anyone how difficult it was to see into people's hearts. He had conducted many weddings and got to know many couples and knew that the reasons why people committed themselves to marriage were many and varied. Some thought they would have a passport to a better life, more money, more security. Others wanted an excuse to leave their family of origin or were drifting into marriage out of laziness and lack of self esteem thinking it was now or never. Every so often he would come across a couple who were genuinely in love, who missed each other when they weren't together, they brought out the best in each other, they wanted to make the other ones life better and he knew they loved each other with their eyes wide open. Over the years he had developed a sixth sense of who was destined for a life of bliss or heartache. Often as the years passed the same couples that he had joined in marriage would send their children to his catechism or Sunday schools to prepare for their first communion and later their confirmation. Don Riccardo liked holding riunione, meetings for the parents and reminding them that they were first and foremost sposi, bride and groom, and then parents. He would register the surprise on their faces when he said this. They were so wrapped up in being parents that they had forgotten about looking after each other. They were surprised to hear a Catholic priest say this. What could he know about marriage, about bringing up children, about how hard it was to be romantic and alluring when you had had so many sleepless nights you just felt like a worn out rag?
Don Riccardo smiled at Martina. Her pretty face was lit up and radiant with her love for Filippo who was gazing at her in adoration.
'The couple who we are celebrating today are only just starting out on their journey. Like all journeys you have to prepare for it. Pack a suitcase with essentials that you will need on the way, maybe a map or a guide book. Martina and Filippo have a suitcase full of love. Theirs and that of their family and friends. They have a map that is the bible and a guide book that is their heart. We are here to wish them the most wonderful journey that will bring joy to them and all that meet them on the way.'
Martina's mother suddenly broke into loud sobs, and dabbed frantically at her carefully applied make-up. Her husband moved nearer and put his arm round her. Martina turned and winked at her and gave her a thumbs up. Don Riccardo thought maybe he had overdone it. Abruptly he put his notes to one side and took a deep breath.
'This is my last wedding ceremony and a very special one and I want you all to be a part of it. So please forgive me if now I don't give you the usual sort of sermon, but tell you a story. About thirty years ago a young reckless teenager went skiing with a group of friends. They had an accident due to his carelessness and he was the only one who survived. He was so broken and shattered by this terrible event that he became overcome with guilt for being alive. He thought the only way he could repay this debt was by becoming a priest, by giving his life to God and the service of others. He took his vows and soon had his own parish. He was very good-looking and often the women and young girls would shake their heads and wonder why such a handsome man would choose to be celibate. The priest achieved a sense of calm and comfort from his work and his heart began to heal. '
There was complete silence in the church. Even the children were paying attention. Martina and Filippo were holding hands tightly and smiling at him encouragingly. They knew and understood what was coming next.
A few years ago a young English woman had come to the priest. She was in a state of extreme distress and desperation. Her name was Julie. She had come to live in Italy to marry a carabiniere. They had met on holiday and at first it had seemed just like a holiday romance . When she returned home a dozen red roses arrived and a few days later so did Antonio her carabiniere. He begged her to come to Italy and marry him. Julie didn't hesitate in saying yes, she felt the same way. She did a TEFL course and soon had a job teaching English in a school in Antonio's town. They planned their wedding for the spring. A few days before the wedding Julie had a phone call from Antonio's friend telling her to go to Antonio's parents' house. As she entered she sensed with terrible fear what had happened. There had been an accident on the motorway chasing a speeding car. Her screams joined those of the others in the room. The agony of that moment had never left her.'
'Something extraordinary happened next. This priest who knew all about human pain, knew how the human heart could break and feel that it would never heal, knew the agony of loss and grief.
While helping this young woman to find her will to live the priest found himself questioning his path through life. He fell in love. This was not part of his plan, he was a celibate Catholic priest. He knew he had fallen in love, he had preached about it and talked about it and now it had happened to him. Timidly and gradually Julie had moved towards him as her heart slowly began to heal.
The priest and Julie knew they had to be together. The love that now bound them was overpowering. They had to find a way to spend their lives together. Julie would never forget Antonio, the love they had shared and then the terrible pain of losing him. The priest would never forget how through the church he had learnt the power of love and redemption and had been able to live again
Don Riccardo stopped. He looked to the back of the church. A young woman had just come through the door. The congregation turned as one to follow his gaze.
'I would like you all to meet Julie, my love and my future wife'.
Martina's mother gasped and clutched at her husband. The bridesmaids started giggling.
'You see, this is the last wedding service I will conduct but soon I will be attending my own wedding. I shall teach religious studies at the Seminario and I hope Julie and I will become welcome members of the community.'
A cheer broke out followed by clapping which grew to a crescendo of applause.
Julie ran to Don Riccardo and took his hand. A few of the older guests looked surprised and some of them stood up thinking it was time for the communion. Don Riccardo motioned for Julie to sit at the front and cleared his throat.
'Thank you, thank you so very much. Thank you especially to Martina and Filippo for letting me give you this news at their wedding. So many times I have heard and read words of love and life long adoration, now they are for me too.'
As Don Riccardo took of his priests' wedding robes for the last time he thought again of the passage from
Genesis. Surely it was right for him and Julie to be together and sustain each other with their love. Martina and Filippo came to thank him and invite him and Julie to their reception. He looked at them and his heart sang with gratitude for the way they had helped him and Julie see what to do. It was couples like them that had given him hope and strength over the years. To witness true love is what gives you faith in human beings.
Riccardo went to join Julie outside. she ran towards him, rice still in her hand which she gently threw over him. Laughing she told him that was just a foretaste of what's to come.
They walked slowly to join the party knowing their love for each other would accompany them and protect them for every step of the way.
The choir started to sing 'Vorrei amarti come Dio, I want to love you as God does.'
|White orchids are perfect for a wedding|
|The English translation of Come ti ama Dio|
|A lovely hymn for a wedding|