On August 8, 1981 we exchanged our marriage vows at St. Edmonds Catholic Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. We asked Fr. Fred Reynolds, S.J., the main presider at our wedding, to choose the Gospel reading for the mass. He chose St. Luke’s story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem and people laying palms before him. He shared, in his homily, that that is a strange reading for a wedding, but not a Christian wedding where a man and woman stand before witnesses and die to themselves in order to be resurrected as a couple set apart for the service and worship of God. Together they take up their cross of living out the Sacramental mystery. The Icon Fr. Fred gave us to commemorate our wedding is a constant reminder of that celebration and his words to us. Through the cross is new life and joy in marriage. There have been temptations, distractions and incredibly hard times. We have gotten through these times by following Fr. Fred’s encouragement to recognize the mystical presence of Jesus in each other and bow to that presence especially in the midst of arguments and hard times.
There is a centuries old tradition that is linked back to a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina called Siroki-Brijeg, which reportedly remains the only place in the world with a 0% divorce rate. When the couple approaches the altar the priest says: “You have found your cross. And it is a cross to be loved, to be carried, a cross not to be thrown away, but to be cherished." He then blesses the Crucifix. During the exchange of vows, the groom holds the Crucifix in his right hand and the bride places her right hand on the top of the Crucifix uniting their hands together. The couple unites themselves on the Cross, and they recite their vows over this visceral image of Love Himself. Before they kiss one another, the couple first kisses the figure of Christ, the source of their love. This tradition is called the Marriage Crucifix, rather than the Wedding Crucifix because it was meant to remind the couple of the covenant they entered into, not only during the wedding but throughout the rest of their time on earth.
The Marriage Crucifix ritual is a beautiful way for us to commemorate 40 years of intentionally targeting a Bullseye Marriage. In our book we used archery as a metaphor to daily shoot for a Sacramental relationship. The action of putting our hands together on the cross adds a new dimension to the metaphor by providing a “Cross-bow” to assist us in hitting the bullseye!
We recognize that there will continue to be major distractions and temptations to take our hands off of the Cross-bow. But the crucifix reminds us that the journey through the pain and hard times leads to resurrection. Temptation enters into every marriage in one way or another. It is during those times spent deep in the valley that it takes heroic efforts by both to stay the course. Those who are experiencing this or have in the past can fully appreciate the grace that is necessary to hold on through the storm or the silence. There might be days when it all seems hopeless. Then a moment of true grace can bring a flood of renewed love and vitality back to the relationship to renew the sacramental bond. It is during these times of intense difficulty that spouses can experience what is truly meant by those seemingly prophetic words in the Marriage Crucifix Ritual “You may kiss the Cross.”
We found much joy in raising our 4 children and we also found that distraction, temptations and tough times were greatest during that time. When there were so many needs to be met it was difficult to stay focused and there were days when we were just grateful to have survived one more day. Our Fontana family prayer grew out of that time, “May God grant us the wisdom to discover the right, the will to choose it and the strength to make it endure. Thank you God for one more day. Yay God!”
We now get to witness our children raising their children and passing on the light of our Catholic faith to them. We pray for them and their spouses on a regular basis. We pray that they will keep their hands on the Cross-bow as they shoot for a Bullseye Marriage. We pray for the protection of Mary’s mantle over them each day. We are grateful beyond words for this journey we have walked together for these last 40 years and the honor of getting to know our grandchildren in the years to come! We praise God every day for each day on earth to know, love and serve God. We pray that our thoughts, our words and our actions, show God’s love to ourselves, our family and everyone we meet today!
AMEN! AMEN! WE SAY TO YOU, MARRIAGE IS WORTH THE EFFORT!
Keep your hands on the Cross-bow and as you shoot for a Sacramental relationship
may you have many Bullseye Moments!