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A Sacramental Marriage

alec vanderboom

I married my husband, Jon, on June 2, 2001. We honeymooned for a week in Vancouver, Canada.

During our engagement, I worked as a poverty law attorney. I had to ask for three continuances on my trial dates. The trial dates all concerned divorces.

“This is ironic”, I thought as I carefully typed “Please grant me a continuance on the above captioned matter as the Plaintiff’s Attorney, Ms. Abigail Rupp, is unable to attend the final hearing because she will be on her honeymoon outside of the State of Ohio” three times on my law firm’s letterhead.

I did a lot of divorce work that spring of 2001. “I hope this doesn’t happen to Jon and I someday,” I thought as I watched a woman jump on the back of her soon to be ex-husband and pummel his neck in a court hallway during a break in the divorce proceedings. “Once these angry people had said vows,” I thought. “Probably in a church. Now they were causing a ruckus in a public place. At least neither one is one of my client!” I pushed the uncomfortable comparisons away as a courthouse clerk called a security guard to break-up the melee.

On my last court appearance before my wedding, my favorite Magistrate, who had heard dozens of my Domestic Violence Abuse Restraining Order cases, waved at me from the bench. “I hear you are getting married Ms. Rupp.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

The Magistrate took off his glasses and punctuated his serious words with jabs at me. “If that new husband of yours ever tries anything funny with you, I mean ANYTHING, you race up here and see me!”

I started to laugh. “Yes, Your Honor. Jon’s a gentleman, your Honor. You don’t need to worry”

“I mean it Ms. Rupp. You don’t know how many young ladies that I’ve had up here," (he jabbed at the witness chair). "Those ladies who cry and say they never saw it coming. Never. Saw. It. Coming!”

“Yes, sir.” I nodded with more seriousness.

I started my marriage with mental images of my former clients. Wives who got beaten with ten-pound electric fans. Wives with husbands who left them at age 40 to date nineteen-year-old girls. Wives whose husbands got on drugs or got into gambling or who committed serious theft. Wives who universally said, “I have no idea how this happened. My husband changed. He wasn’t like this when we dated.”

“That’s not going to happen to Jon and I,” I thought regarding divorce in general. “We’re different.”

I whistled in the dark.

Fast forward to July 2002, when I first told a lawyer friend that I was newly pregnant with baby Hannah. “So your going to have a baby?” she said. “Now you and Jon have to work together for at least 18 years,” she said.

I looked at her with confused eyes.

“Because of the child support and visitation schedule. Even if you split, you can’t really be out of each other lives until the baby turns eighteen” my friend clarified.

“Um, that’s okay,” I said “Because I want to stay married to Jon for eighteen years. More than eighteen years, I hope.”

My friend nodded her head as if to say “You poor sap.”

It’s as if the whole world expected Jon and I to break up one day.

When I got engaged to Jon in September of 2000, I thought I was pretty committed.

“I’m going to stay with him for life, unless he becomes a cocaine addict or a compulsive gambler.”

Those two things seemed pretty remote. They were small loopholes in my overly tidy lawyer mind.

I thought it was pretty big of me to let go of the “I’m automatically out of the marriage if my husband ever crosses the line with adultery” which was the mantra I’d use to mentally reassure myself during every sad Lifetime movie starting at age 13.

“I’m in here for pretty much ever and ever, unless something goes terribly wrong” I told myself during our nine-month engagement. “I’ll give my marriage my best try. Divorce is only an option for rare cases. Still, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.” I thought."There doesn't seem to be any way to predict which marriages go sour at the start of a relationship."

I didn’t know that God had other plans.

I didn’t know that my 6 foot 4 inch guy with his goofy grin happened to hide a giant fishhook in his heart.

God put Jon in my life in order to yank me into the Catholic Church. That “yank” from my comfortable “I’ve got this whole religion thing figured out” into a new reality of the mystical body of Christ led to some major changes.

No contraception.

No missing Sunday Mass.

No divorce.

I first learned about the “No Divorce Rule” from a Catholic Deacon in Rochester, New York. That fishhook had yanked me on a nine-hour drive in February, through dual snowstorms in Cleveland and Erie, to stand blinking in a ‘dispensation marriage interview’ inside a sacristy of a Catholic church.

I went along with the quaint “we need multiple meetings with the prospective bride and groom in person, even though the bride lives nine hours away and has an extremely demanding job” – out of religious tolerance.

My fiancé was Roman Catholic. I was Methodist. (Protestant, a reform branch of the Anglican Church.) Before granting approval for our marriage, his church demanded multiple in person meetings, a pre-cana retreat, verified baptism cards and weekly church attendance. My friendly pastor, listened to our funny “how we met story”, handed us a taped copy of “Men Are From Mars/ Women from Venus” tape and then started to ask if we wanted a unity candle.

Clearly all this Roman Catholic marriage prep was “excessive” and “really, really strange.”

And yet oddly reassuring.

“We make entering into marriage hard because this is it for him,” the Deacon said pointing to Jon. “Once you both have a valid, sacramental marriage, Jon can never remarry. If he does, he can not receive Communion.”

“Wow, a serious no divorce rule,” I thought.

[The “No Divorce Rule” is how I categorized it in my unformed mind. It’s really a “no remarriage because only you get one shot with a valid sacramental marriage” rule.]

That rule gave me comfort. I like the reassurance that if Jon left me at 40 to marry a nineteen year old (as happened to one of the families that I babysat for in middle school) that a priest in a black shirt and white collar would proclaim “NO COMMUNION FOR YOU, go back to your original wife!

I warmed up to the Deacon in spite of the odd, non-heated sacristy and sailed through the rest of the marriage interview. I particularly loved the “This is an odd question, but one we must ask. Did either of you participate in the death or demise of a previous spouse?”

I got shivers of recognition. “That question is in interview because of Mary Queen of Scots” I said in my happy, I love history voice. I explained the royal struggle over her deceitful second husband.

The Deacon was a little taken back.

“Wow this Church is old!” I remember thinking. I had such respect. I realized that this "institution" learned about a troubling aspect of the human heart back in Medieval Europe and now diligently screens new marriage candidates in the 21st century.

Our Deacon ended up being a convert from the Baptist faith. (God had me drive through two snowstorms for a reason!) He was the first one who explained to me the beauty of the Eucharist as the real presence of Christ. He gave me dignity as a Protestant Sister of the Faith, equal in the sacrament of Baptism. The deacon explained the Protestant Reform for the first time not in glowing terms of “healthy reform” to me but in the painful realities of the heart.

“We want Jon to promise to raise his children Catholic because he is being fed at Two Tables. You are fed with the Table of the Word also. You are nourished with the same Holy Scripture. Yet as a Catholic, Jon is nourished with a second Table, the Table of the Eucharist. We want his and your future children to be fed at two tables as well.”

“We are all one family in Christ,” the deacon said. “When Luther and the other Reformers broke away from the Catholic Church it was like a painful divorce in a family. No matter what, we are still related. We are still one.”

The Deacons voice cracked during this statement. “Divorce.” The Church got Divorced just like families got divorced. “It hurts,” I thought. “The church wants all of us divorced Protestants to return home someday."

After this realization, I went along with the various requirements of the Catholic church more cheerfully. I received the most beautiful love letter from my husband during our Saturday Pre-Cana retreat. I helped Jon locate a Catholic priest in the town where we were going to be married.

The Catholic priest in my hometown of West Virginia said he liked “Remote control weddings.” He didn’t like to preside at inter-faith ceremonies. “I just push all the dispensation buttons from far away, like on a remote control.” He did insist on meeting us in person, which required now a 12-hour trip on Jon’s part. Our interview lasted exactly four minutes. Afterwards, the priest took us outside and talked to us about carpenter bees.

“Well, that was odd,” I said. “At least it’s over."

"That’s the last check-mark for the Catholic Church,” Jon responded. We held hands down the priest’s driveway and drove to the florist who designed my prom corsage to pick out blue cornflowers and yellow freesia for my wedding bouquet.

Of course, our wedding day was just the beginning. That “remote control” priest sent in the official paperwork and also slipped a wedding invitation to a happy woman rarely invited to Protestant services, Our Blessed Mother.

Our Lady sat in the back. I didn’t acknowledge her. Our Lady didn't mind. She still gave us some Wedding of Cana wine, an engraved invitation to become her special friend, and gigantic pile of wedding gifts which Jon and I are still unwrapping.

The surprise find in November 2008 was a joint call to become lay Carmelites.

(To understand how rare and precious this gift is you have to realize that there are only 26,000 Lay Carmelite women in the WORLD and 3,000 Lay Carmelite men in the whole wide world! To discover that my husband is a fellow Carmelite and moreover desired to start his novitiate on the same month that I started mine is so rare, it's almost mathematically impossible.)

I’m still unwrapping all our Catholic wedding gifts. I’m still learning that my marriage has cosmic significance. How my faithfulness to my husband, reflects the faithfulness of Christ’s church to Christ. How my little daily acts of sacrifice can heal the whole world.

I’ll never get written up in my Law School Alumni Magazine in my current work as a common wife and homemaker. There are no gold medals for finding lost wallets or fixing frayed buttonholes. There are no silver trophies for my discovery that the dented can shelf at Safeway contains Manning's All Natural Hominy for only 59 cents per can.

There’s only the simple peace that comes from living a steady marriage commitment in a midst of the broken world.

Considering all the heartache that I’ve witnessed and personally experienced, I think that’s more than a fair wage for my daily labor.