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I Cannot Attend Your Wedding, Because of Love

May 11, AD2017

Many Catholics struggle with how to handle situations where family and friends, who are Baptized Catholics but do not practice, choose to celebrate events in their lives that are not in alignment with Scripture and Church teaching. Such situations include marriages outside of the faith, non-religious secular marriages, and remarriages, among other things. Becoming more common is Catholics being invited to attend same-sex “weddings.” While it is clear what an informed Catholic should believe regarding such situations – we defer to Scripture and Church teaching – what to do when invited is not as clear as the Church Herself has not explicitly laid out a clear prescription.

Applying Church Teaching Regarding Marriage

I am not going to spend much time on how the Church views marriage because that information is readily available. But the essence is thus: A marriage is a covenant between one man, one woman, and God. Even if only one of the parties is a Baptized Catholic, the marriage is still not only governed by Divine law, but also Canon Law (Can. 1059).

The difficulty in situations where one is marrying outside of the Church is not so much about the law itself, but rather on how to apply it when family and friends are involved. Devout Catholics want to follow their faith, but they too want to express love for their family member or friend. They may want to converse with said loved one, and express that they are concerned for their soul and eternal salvation. But they also might understand that the person may have little interest in hearing about their abandoned Catholic faith, and that it may potentially create great conflict to discuss it. And then there is what one of my relatives refers to as “family harmony.” Sometimes we do uncomfortable things in the interest of keeping the peace, and not damaging family relationships. We will often hear rationalizations for attending such events, and sometimes even engage in them ourselves, saying such things as, “It’s my son,” or “It’s my only niece,” or “We’ve been friends for 25 years.”

On an intellectual level, it may be easy for some to make a decision, but it is indeed tougher for those who have faced it personally. I too have struggled with this decision on a few occasions, and admittedly did not handle those situations as well as I could have. In most of the cases, I just simply did not attend the event, without providing much of an explanation. I was not spiritually close to the couples, was convinced my opinion would have had no impact, and did not want to cast a pall over their inevitable celebration. Not attending created some initial hurt feelings, but looking back, while I would alter my methods, I would not change my decision.

Insight from Authorities

Over the last few years, I have spoken to priests about the best way to handle these difficult situations, and I have read much from Catholic authorities and authors. Most seem to agree that attending such weddings or events sends the wrong message to both the couple and others in attendance. Yet more clarity came to me after some prayer and reflection, and after watching A Man for All Seasons, a depiction about then Sir Thomas More (now Saint), who was beheaded for standing up for his Catholic principles. One exchange from the movie struck me.

In this exchange, the Duke of Norfolk is imploring Sir Thomas to accept the unlawful annulment of Henry VIII, and celebrate Henry’s new wife, Ann Boleyn.

The Duke of Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!

Sir Thomas More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

Thomas More’s response is nothing short of brilliant. If someone wants you to ignore your conscience to appease them, and you are condemned for it, will they join you in hell after that condemnation? Not likely. It illustrates perfectly what people are in fact asking those of us to do who have conviction of conscience regarding such matters. Albeit it is often done unwittingly, without malice, and in situations where they are doing something perhaps in line with their own values. But nonetheless, it is in opposition to the informed conscience of a practicing Catholic who wants to avoid potential scandal.

Quoting Saint Thomas More probably will not help in situations where someone has rejected or dissociated from their faith, or all faith. But as a practical matter, when someone is asking us to respect their choices, should they not also respect ours? Respect is not a one-way street simply because one person is doing the inviting. It should be two-sided, all the time, in any genuine relationship. In fact, to put the shoe on the other foot, one could feel the mere invitation to such an event is disrespectful, if the person inviting knows the recipient has religious objections to attending such an event in the first place. Though that may well be the case, expressing an objection in such terms is not likely going to provide a helpful response to one’s upset loved ones.

Rejection of Loved One, Or Love of Christ?

I would like to state categorically that not going such an event has nothing to do with rejection of the persons themselves, be it friend or family member. It has nothing to do with hate, bigotry, nor politics. And it is not a rejection of their expressed love, nor does it mean that I do not wish them all the best in the future. In all such cases, in fact, I hope they find true joy. And in the situations I have experienced, I care for the people very much, and hope to accompany them back Home to the Church someday. Instead, what it means when I cannot attend a celebration to which I am invited, as a matter of my faith, is simply that I am putting my faith and trust in Christ first, where it belongs. As He is the center of my life, I do not wish to displease Him. My faith is integral to every part of my life, all day long, not just Sundays and when I need help. Every important decision I make I try to make as though I am making it with and for Christ, and I do so in an effort to truly follow Him and His teachings. Therefore I cannot do something that would cause me to disrespect Christ. That is true even if you, based on your own conscience, do not believe that is what you are doing. For me, celebrating an event absent Christ, or worse, in an intentional display of indifference to Christ and His teachings, would be an affront to Him.

Christ simply comes first, before me, and even before my children (yes, they know). It is a matter of conscience for me, as it was for Saint Thomas More. As More says to his daughter in the film, “When a man takes an oath, he is holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he need not hope to find himself again.” We are nothing without our morals and principles, and when we bend the rules, it is often irreparable.

There are a couple immediate responses a Catholic might hear when expressing an unwillingness to attend such an event. The first is that though the person in question was Baptized as an infant, they have never really followed the faith, and do not consider themselves Catholic. While that may well be true, it does not change Divine nor Canon Laws regarding marriage. In other words, we cannot bend Christ’s will, and the will of His Church, to fit the situation as a matter of convenience. Another response is that other Catholics attend such events all the time. That also may be true, and is a matter for the individual consciences of those Catholics, to the extent they are informed, and does not apply universally to all Catholics. In the absence of definitive Church teaching, people need to make decisions based on their own informed consciences, not based on what others may do.

It may be very difficult for family members to understand another’s deeply held religious beliefs, but so as to not be hypocritical, they must try. Not attending an event to which one believes his or her attendance will disrespect God is not an instance where anyone should take offense. One can disagree, and under the circumstances will likely do so, but it should not be deemed a personal offense nor rejection. If one wants me to accept their indifference to their Baptism and faith as not being disrespectful or an insult toward me, and by extension Christ Himself, they should thus appreciate that my discomfort in attending is not in any way an insult toward them. Instead, it is merely the application and following of one’s deeply held beliefs, and should be accepted as such. If you want me to accept that you love your betrothed with all your heart, and have the best of intentions, then you must also accept that my love for Christ is just as strong, genuine, and well-intentioned.

Ultimately, It Is Because I Love You

There is still more to this decision than a mere love for and desire not to displease Christ, though. It is also because I love you, friend, or family member. But how can that be? As Aquinas said, “To love is to will the good of another.” I truly want what is good for you and your life, so that you may indeed find your eternal reward in Heaven. And that means, as hard as it is, that I have to love you truly, when at times that may be exceedingly uncomfortable and inconvenient for me. In fact, I submit that I may be loving you better than those who may care little of your faith, or your soul. They love you by their understanding of love, of course, but real love is not expressed by doing or going along with whatever a loved one wants. Instead, it is often best shown by refusing to accept things where that loved one will be hurting themselves, be it physically or spiritually. For example, we do not give a bottle of Scotch to an alcoholic sister on her birthday, even if it would make her happy. As parents, we intervene constantly when our kids are about to hurt themselves. Though we usually cover other’s physical needs well, too often we overlook their spiritual health.

Marrying outside of what Jesus wills for us in marriage puts us in a state of sin. It distances us from Him, and necessarily the Sacraments. It is not something a “judgmental” Church imposes on us, but rather the result of something we ourselves choose when we put our desires before Christ’s. And though it would be so much easier to go along to get along, I cannot accept a false peace for the sake of harmony. Please understand that as a matter of elevating my love for our Creator above all else, as we are all called to do, I cannot attend any ceremony where I believe I will be disrespecting God by witnessing something of which He would unequivocally disapprove. Thus, I will do my best to compassionately and lovingly inform you, in an effort to guide you back onto the right path. Ultimately, doing so is the greatest form of love I can express toward you, and the highest form of charity. But if I do not succeed, and you pursue a path away from Christ and His Church, I will nonetheless still love you, pray for you, and still even lay down my life for you. I do not have to like your choices to love you dearly and unconditionally. But neither should you have to like mine to love me.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

David is a cradle Catholic, but finally immersed himself into his faith a few decades later. He takes his vocation as a single dad seriously, despite having what he claims is a sense of humor. When he's not parenting, he is selling Arizona real estate, volunteering at various Catholic charities, studying his faith, writing, or spending time outdoors. He is currently studying at the Kino Catechetical Institute, in Phoenix. David is a member of the Order of Malta Auxiliary, and a 3rd Degree Knight of Columbus. He attends Mass almost daily and Adoration regularly.

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  • Carlos

    Great article. My only complaint (like hearing someone scratch a blackboard) is the improper use of the word disrespect (as in verb form.)

  • Todd

    Eli was punished along with his sons because he did not do to enough to
    condemn their actions, nor help them to change their ways. His
    convictions were meant to be more in line with God and he obviously
    dropped the ball. As a result, God said that no sacrifice would be able
    to help make up for this.

    Love should not be misconstrued as a
    means of going along to get along, but rather, as a means to go towards
    God and lead others to Him in the process. Jesus said, “Do you think I
    have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather
    division. From now on a household of five will be divided three against
    two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a
    son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter
    against her mother…” (Luke 12:51-53). God’s love is unconditional. So,
    too, must be ours, even if it divides a family. You either accept God
    (and His statutes) or you reject Him for the sake of good order.

  • I love that quote from ‘A Man for All Seasons’, my favorite film of all time! 😀

  • adam aquinas

    There is nothing in Canon Law which prevents anyone, Catholic or not, from attending a marriage which the Catholic Church does not consider valid … Canon law defines a valid marriage, but is silent about Catholics attending one that is not.
    It is wrong and shameful no disrespect the choice of a couple not entering a “valid” marriage because of a perverted notion of “love”. Love, especially that of a parent, is unconditioned. To place conditions on love belies the very concept of love itself. You make no point by not attending other than conveying a monolithic. Not to attend the the “not Catholic valid” marriage of a child is plain wrong and spiteful and tantamount to disowning them, which is evil. So my position is clear … this action is in no way imaginable an expression of love but conveys your shame….

    • You should really read the piece, or at least more carefully.

    • adam aquinas

      Yes, I did! It is no act of love to attend a marriage ceremony outside the definition of a valid Catholic marriage. My response is directed also to those parents whose conditioned love would allow them to avoid a moment of joy in their kids lives … there is an imperative to support out kids even if we do not agree with their decisions. It is a betrayal of love and a betrayal that I am sure that Christ would disapprove of…..

    • Seven Sorrows

      Pretty sure you’re missing the point. David is saying that love is not blind and follows from the intellect and reason, and in that sense is most certainly conditional. So when the intellect and reason tell us that God is the supreme good above which we can prefer no other, than we must place the things of God above the things of man.

      A bad Catholic wedding is not a thing of God, and even though we might love our family member or friend, we cannot condone or support him in a union contrary to what God has ordained. We cannot pretend it’s fine because it’s not. It contradicts God’s eternal law and his goodness. To support him would be true betrayal of our greatest love.

      And I am very certain Christ would approve of David’s well founded, informed and deep love for truth, because Christ is much more interested in our love of God than our love of man. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate (renounce) father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple”

  • TheActualTruth

    If a family member refused to attend my wedding (a Catholic wedding by the way) due to whatever religious beliefs they happen to have, I would not be offended. I’d just feel sorry for them and regard their religion as something kooky and to be avoided at all cost. That kind of “love” is not very appealing to those who do not share the same religious beliefs.

    To be clear, I am not trying to defend unlawful marriages but simply to point out that what some people regard as an act of love can cause the recipient to write off the religious beliefs that caused that act of “love” as both noxious and kooky, inducing pity rather than respect.

    • Sure, that’s entirely possible. But we’re not doing it for their respect, of course, but to honor our consciences and Christ. Honestly, I’d rather people NOT go to my wedding if they belived it to be invalid. Their celebration would be contrived and false.

  • GG

    Very well done. I experienced this with my sister and was prepared to lose her if necessary. I did face backlash and some family and friends judging me but, in the end, I did not lose my sister and things mostly worked out. Ultimately, you have to put God first and that is it.

  • Thank you David! I have always had this conviction too and sadly, with one of my own children. Please pray for Elizabeth, to recognize that our decision not to attend her ‘wedding’ was out of love.

  • Caine

    Good article. I’m afraid that our country is quickly headed in the opposite direction when it comes to matters of conscience. When a Christian baker is fined hundreds of thousands of dollars because they don’t want to participate in a gay marriage or a county clerk is fired from her position for not signing a lesbian’s marriage license, I think we know where we’re headed.

    • Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us, that we may hold fast to what we know is true…always in humility and charity.

    • Carrie Granger

      Kim Davis is free to follow her conscience by not accepting a paycheck from the tax payer to do a state job. Gay marriage is legal. Her signature on marriage licences confirms that the applicants meet the legal requirements to enter into a legal marriage. It is not confirmation of her approval of the morality of the marriage.

      Her feelings regarding the morality of any given marriage has no bearing on the legal right of the applicants to enter into that marriage.

      The author of this article’s feelings on the morality of a baptized catholic entering into a secular marriage has no bearing on the legal right of that secular baptised catholic to enter into that marriage.

      That secular baptised catholic may feel offended by the author’s refusal to attend their marriage, but those feelings have no bearing on the author’s legal right to decline to attend any given marriage.

      However, if a person’s feelings were to prevent them from doing their job, it would be perverse for that person to demand to be allowed to remain in a job they have no intention of doing properly, and to receive a paycheck for failing to do their job.

    • MaryB435

      Everything Hitler did was “legal”, too. Didn’t make it right. You may now be feeling quite proud of yourself–thinking that you’re “winning”. But just remember, when you’re going the wrong way, it’s no advantage to get there first.

    • Carrie Granger

      You may choose not to obey the many corrupt laws in our horribly confused culture, but when you are punished for breaking the law, you are not being persecuted as a Christian, you are simply subject to the same laws every citizen is bound by. I am not proud of myself for freedom from religion, I am glad and relieved by it. Where you see yourself on the righteous side of a battle for freedom and morality, I see a class of people, motivated by political ideology, trying to subjugate others to their will. Your idea of freedom is the right to control others and impose your will on them. Moralising and crying persecution doesn’t validate your claim to supremacy, it illuminates it as contemptible.

    • MaryB435

      Poor Carrie–It appears as though you think you should obey every foolish law that happens to appear in this confused culture. Don’t you have any principles other than “might makes right”? That’s a very bad principle. Do you understand WHY that is?

    • Caine

      Carrie, you should watch, “A Man for All Seasons.” St. Thomas More was Chancellor of England at the time he was beheaded for not supporting the King’s decision. The King had the legal authority to make laws. That would be the equivalent of the VP of the US openly not supporting POTUS.

    • Abortion, slavery, the Holocaust – all things legal at one time, but all immoral. We don’t make morality based on laws; we’re supposed to make laws based on morality. But I’m not sure what any of this has to do with my article.

    • Caine

      David, Carrie took issue with my earlier comment about the Christian bakers who didn’t want to make a cake specifically for a gay wedding because the bakers viewed it as participating or endorsing it. A judge ordered them to pay around 100k to 200k in damages for discrimination.

    • Ok. Thnx.