Ask any New Yorker, in our post 9-11 world, what “See something? Say something,” means and they’ll tell you. It’s actually a very simple idea that saves lives. See a package left unattended? Tell someone who can do something about it. See a backpack by itself on the floor of the train? Say something about it. See a suitcase standing alone against that building? Say something.
“See something? Say something” became a way of life for New Yorkers. Our subways are wallpapered with posters promoting Broadway shows, fine dining, fast food, and “See something? Say something” messages. New Yorkers who normally mind their own businesses as they hurry from place to place, now watch out for the well-being of those around them by keeping an eye out and reporting suspicious bags. Men and women who stride importantly through city streets, busily talking on cell phones, now pause and do a double take after seeing a bag leaning against a building. Individuals who rarely make eye contact, preferring instead to dwell in shadows seldom looking up to notice the color of the sky as it squeezes through colossal buildings of brick, stone, and glass, take responsibility for their fellow man by saying something when they saw something, and with good reason! Lives are at stake.
Are there false alarms? I’m sure there are. But were alive saved? You bet! “See something? Say something,” helps keep New Yorkers alert and avert tragedies. It reminded New Yorkers caught up in their own lives, friendly with those in their neighborhood but traveling across town, we are all united, we are all brother and sister, our safety relies on one another, our very lives are dependent on watching out for one another. I’m guessing other cities, malls, churches, schools, and hard and soft targets have similar policies. If something seems out of place, say something about it.
The Wedding Season
June begins the wedding season and many of us will attend those weddings. We will get dressed up. We will drive to the church. We will watch a beautiful bride in her white gown walk down the aisle to meet her prince charming. We will go to a reception after. We will enjoy good food and drink just a bit too much. We will dance out of rhythm and embarrass our children before we head home happy and exhausted by the fun and good times we’ve had.
Right before leaving we’ll seek out the bride and groom. We’ll tell the bride what a beautiful wedding her’s has been. We’ll tell the groom how much fun his wedding has been. We’ll kiss their cheeks and wish them good luck and best wishes, but we won’t say why we’re wishing them good luck and best wishes.
We won’t say we mean good luck because we see things they don’t in their relationship. We see things which cause us concern. Whether you’re young and in love or old and in love matters little. The heart can blind the eyes and make them unable to see what is right in front of them. Things which are obvious even to casual observers such as family histories and patterns played out by children without the faith or strength to break out of parental examples or attitudes of “loving” you because of what you do for me rather than unconditionally, sacrificially loving another for the person he or she is.
While we dress for a wedding, we may question or talk to our spouse about whether this couple will make it? You give them 10 years, 5 years, less than one. People disguise gossip among friends as concern. They ask that question behind the couple’s backs, to each other, in silence to themselves, but never to the bride’s face. The groomsmen see the way their friend looks at other women but say nothing. In fact, they encourage the stripper, the drinking, the elaborate bachelor party as one last hurrah knowing it won’t be. They talk among themselves but not to anyone who can do something about it. They see something, but they don’t say anything that might save lives.
The Bride & The Groom
It’s not always just among the wedding attendees either. The bride and groom may have their own concerns. Maybe they are afraid to voice those concerns aloud or they voice those concerns to others who shrug them off. Maybe the bride questions what she’s doing but it’s laughed off as rhetorical because the invitations have been sent out, reservations have been made, and it would be humiliating to back out now. Maybe it’s the groom questioning; he wants to make an honest woman of his girlfriend but is not sure he can commit and not sure she is ready either. Maybe it’s not that he doesn’t love her; it’s just… Maybe he asks how you really know and if you had doubts. He opens doors silently pleading for someone, anyone to tell him he can back out now if he needs to, but nobody does because it seems too late.
Nobody says anything because it’s not their place ot their tragedy to avert, and so, another marriage takes place. Another couple is joined together in sacred holy matrimony – except this time it doesn’t last. This time, it’s one of the 50% of marriages which will end after time has been invested, hearts have been given away, and children are born, and somehow that is often more respectable than backing out before the wedding ever took place.
Somehow people don’t feel cheated by wedding gifts used for 10 years together rather than a lifetime together. People, who don’t want the couple to back out an hour before the wedding, normalize backing out after 10, 20, or 30 years and many of those who thought it wasn’t their place to say anything now come forward to say something. Now that the tragedy of divorce has befallen, destroying the family, knocking down the bride and groom, crumbling parental pillars who are like the Twin Towers to children whose hearts are crushed beneath the rubble, now people feel the need to say something. Now people feel it is their business.
The abandoned spouse listens and feels a bit of vindication, seeing the abandoner as always having been immature or unworthy. The deserting spouse justifies his actions by saying he’s only doing what everyone else saw all along, but those boosts are temporary and fade quickly in smoke and under pressure. The pain of divorce reaches through the thin layers of cheap validation words spoken years later provide and a questioning of why friends and family didn’t speak up and spare you this pain add new layers of darkness.
The Catholic Church & the Priest
The couple splits up. The divorce is eventually finalized. Fingers are pointed. Shoulders are shrugged. If it’s lucky, the Catholic Church begins to prepare another annulment, but it’s more likely to simply wring its hands and watch as some parishioners melt away to congregations that are more accepting of divorce and remarriage and untruth and other parishioners turn their backs on religion, believing they can be spiritual instead and still others turn their backs on God believing He has turned His back on them.
The Church, with its overworked priests facing a rapidly changing world, puts band-aids on the amputation of a missing spouse. It looks for ways the Marriage might possibly have been invalid rather than looking for ways it was valid. It weakens the role of Defender of the Bond without requesting he meet with the couple and look for ways to bring a separated, civilly divorced couple back together again. Some Bishops push to make annulments easy, cheap, and commonplace or unnecessary altogether. It assumes anyone filing for an annulment has the best of intentions, and it grants the annulled Catholic his next wedding without probing too deeply.
The priest wants to marry the smiling couple seated in front of his desk. Maybe the couple already lives together and attends Mass each week. Maybe the groom is a childhood friend. Maybe the bride is the priest’s sister. Whatever the reason the Church marries another couple without asking too many questions. The Church fails to recognize the incongruity behind the fact that the annulment is so much harder and takes so much more effort than the Marriage. Priests sometimes don’t know those who come to them for Marriage. Other times they are so close they don’t want to see concerns. Even honorable priests fail to see and say something.
The Church ,with good intentioned desire to increase the number of marriages, does more harm than good by failing in this way. The few priests who do say something by telling couples that they’re not ready yet are criticized and ridiculed and passed by for priests who are willing to marry a couple without knowing their circumstances, without truly understanding the reasoning the other priests denied the ceremony, or with their own desire to see a certain couple married. This inconsistency deepens ambiguity within the church as people wonder what Marriage really means and what Truth really is when it fluctuates from priest to priest and from parish to parish.
The priests are the last line of defense for a couple about to enter an illegitimate marriage. The failure of our priests to see something, say something is the final weapon against Marriage. We see the effects in crumbled families, a shrinking Church population, and a questioning of our clergy, Church, and God Himself.
It takes a rare and brave priest to tell a couple they are not ready for Marriage yet. It is even more rare and special to have a priest offer to work with a couple not yet ready for marriage. It is common for a couple to go to a priest who marries them for better or worse without giving much thought to that phrase.
In those rare cases when a couple is denied marriage, they generally go to another priest to have the ceremony performed. The performing priest often overlooks or shrugs off points of concern creating ambiguity and a questioning of Truth. This ambiguity further weakens the priesthood, the Church, Marriage, and God and should not be taken lightly. The first priest saw something of concern and said something. The second priest walked right by letting the pressure build inside the package until it explodes 1, 10, or 30 years later seldom knowing or admitting his part in the consequences of what he’s put into motion.
What You Can Do
There’s a fine line between saying something and overstepping your bounds. It takes prayer, patience, Wisdom, and discernment to know the difference. Many times it is best to bite your tongue, hard, and not say anything at all, but remember all that is at stake here and seek open doors. Look for God providing you opportunities to bring the subject up or to ask open-ended questions that might free an about-to-be-married person to voice his or her on concerns.
It took a shift in the mindset of New Yorkers to understand the importance of See something, say something, but when they did, they remembered that we are all connected, that we truly are our Brother’s keepers, that we really do need one another to be strong and alert when we are not.
Whatever the feelings you have about the weddings you will attend, be sure to remember this is not about a ceremony or a party after. Marriage is about a sacred bond and a lifetime commitment. Pray for those involved.