Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Spirit Rejoices: Immaculate Mary & God Rests in Reason

{sweet sounds for your Mass and reception}

I fully disclose that my first-ever music suggestion for your wedding Mass might be a little biased.  Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the official patroness of my college, and at 4 minutes to the hour, the bells at the adjacent National Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes play a number of hymns depending on the season, but most often Immaculate Mary.  I associate this simple hymn with knowing I needed to hustle to class, the feeling of comfort and routine I got from the ever-consistent bells, and yes, school spirit.  If you have a special devotion to Mary, and especially if you're including a dedication to her during your nuptial Mass, I can't think of a more fitting song for a processional or recessional.  What an awesome reminder that to get close to her Son, particularly in your marriage, you have to start and end with her.  My school added extra, specific verses (as a result, I must admit I don't have the real ones memorized), but the original is tried and true.   I had trouble finding a nice-sounding version to put here, but you know how it goes.  The great thing is that it sounds equally lovely with a big organ and choir or with a single string instrument and more spare voices.

Grotto of Lourdes, Our Lady of Lourdes, Saint Bernadette, Mount St. Mary's University Grotto, Catholic Wedding Planning, Immaculate Mary, Catholic wedding planning, Catholic wedding blog, Catholic brides
the Lady herself, with St. Bernadette
  Here, as well, is my first dance pick for today.  As first dances go, choosing a song can be super tricky business.  I remember wanting nothing mushy, nothing un-danceable, nothing too weird or obscure.  And, it had to be meaningful for the two of us and our relationship.  Maybe you guys have had a song for ages, which could make things terrifically easy, or maybe not.  Or, if you have a song and just want something different for your wedding, here you are with the rest of us.  One of ours, for instance, was Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," which everyone knows, of course, as the laughingstock of the song world and the subject of the highly satisfying prank known as the Rick Roll.  Dance floor material?  Oh yes.  But first dance?  I was never gonna say yes to that (I couldn't resist).

Anyway.  What I love is the idea of choosing one of your favorite better-known artists and dancing to one of their lesser-known songs.  Almost everyone knows Jason Mraz as a clever, usually highly caffeinated-sounding guy.  God Rests in Reason couldn't be farther from his typical music.  Borrowing lines from Kahlil Gibran's philosophical classic The Prophet, this song speaks to seeing the image and likeness of God in your beloved.  With lines like
you may wear a wound that truly spoke to you
Believe in all that voice and follow through...
Love possesses nothing
Nor would it ever be possessed
Love is sufficient unto love
And you can figure out the rest,
how can you not swoon a little?  Although Gibran was raised in a Christian family, The Prophet is most often read as New Age spirituality today, which seems a shame.  Still, when I read the lyrics to this song I can't really find anything contrary to the Catholic faith, and when Jason sings about being drawn to "everlasting love," it's hard to imagine something other than being drawn to God, who is Love Himself, with your husband.  Listen to the song here:

What do you want to walk up the aisle to and dance to?

Next up: Bring a little Spring into your end-of-Winter wedding

Monday, February 27, 2012

Don't Talk About the End

Not a week into Lent, I'm already fighting my promise to give up the snooze button.  Still, in the last few years I've begun to see that fasting isn't about achieving perfection as much as opening ourselves up to grace and fortitude when we fall short.  During my engagement and now in my marriage, Lenten fasts have taken on a deeper meaning, because what is marriage but constantly denying myself for another person's sake?  If my marriage is meant to sanctify me over a lifetime, I've been trying lately to view these 40 days as an opportunity to remember that.

Married or not, dying to yourself is no easy feat.  When there's someone else in the picture with you, especially your spouse, it feels even harder sometimes.  I hate doing dishes.  I put off laundry until we're down to our last few pairs of socks and undies.  I get more snappish during arguments that I used to, somehow thinking that since my husband loves me unconditionally, I can say whatever I want to him (so not true).  I'm sure there are plenty of times to sacrifice that I completely bypass every day, but knowing that my marriage is meant to teach me how in such a constant way is hugely humbling. So far, my first married Lent is teaching me to look for ways to put myself aside for the Lord through Andrew, and to be at peace with the fact that it will be a long road, one that ends in Heaven.  Knowing this, it's less scary to think of failure.  How amazing is it that in spite failure after failure, we are so loved and are given the grace to keep at it?  A fiance, a husband, or anyone in your life, really, is a chance to be Love to someone else.

Jon Foreman, Learning How to Die, Lent, Dying to self, authentic love, Catholic wedding planning, Catholic wedding blog, Catholic bridessacrifice, marriage prep, love

I absolutely love the solo music Jon Foreman, the lead singer from Switchfoot, has done in the last few years.  In his song "Learning How to Die," he speaks so honestly to a fear of things ending, worrying that he hasn't spent his prior time well enough (that's his own handwriting right there!).  "Don't talk about the end," he says.  The end of our lives?  The end of a relationship?  This is what he's told to remember, though:

All along, thought I was learning how to take
How to bend not how to break
How to laugh not how to cry
But really
I've been learning how to die.

Sacrifice is learning how to die.  Love, marriage, all of it is.  And somehow also we're taught how to
live, to live outside of ourselves.  Total gift.

Listen to the song here!

Are your Lenten promises changing your relationship?

Next up: Honoring thy Mother and finding faith and reason in love

Friday, February 24, 2012

Love Notes: Date Night Movies

{small ways to show great love}

With cold weather finally on its way out, I, for one, am craving a nice long outdoor date.  Bike rides and picnics and hiking?  Yes please.  Realistically speaking, though, I'm pretty sure it'll be at least another month before all that's possible.  Meanwhile, a good old-fashioned movie night is a pretty nice alternative.

If you're like me, you have a hard time finding a romantic flick that satisfies, let alone one you can convince a male to watch with you.  I usually feel frustrated that I don't react the way I'm supposed to (i.e. giggling, sighing, and wishing it was my own life) to most love stories on film.  To me, a movie couple who doesn't share a good conversation or their share of difficulties together before falling into bed or having everything wrap up neatly just doesn't light my fire.  Moral issues notwithstanding, I guess it's a lack of character development that makes me fail to care about the people I'm watching onscreen.  I think the best love stories are ones where you can sense someone's failures, their desires for more, and their willingness to really put things on the line for another person.  I guess sacrifice is romantic.  Virtue.  Conversation.  You know, all the things we look for in real life.  Anyway, here are a few of my faves.  Grab yourselves a copy, take a break from wedding planning, and feel the love.

Authentic love, movie love stories, Catholic wedding planning, Slumdog Millionaire
 Slumdog Millionaire: If you missed this in theaters a few years ago, run and watch it now.  This is my absolute favorite love story in the movies.  Follow Jamal, an earnest teenager who grew up in poverty and somehow lands a spot on the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?  The movie spans from his agonizing childhood to his years as a young adult in search of his longtime sweetheart.  Somehow, through years of witnessing cruelty and manipulation, Jamal's innocence is preserved, and that's the kind of fortitude this movie is about.  It's about a love with high stakes: the two people involved suffer horribly for each other, but they never lose hope.  These two show that there's redemption in suffering and that love isn't about perfection, but about finding beauty in another imperfect person's scars.  Oh man.  Good stuff.

Benny and Joon, Authentic Love, Movie love stories, Catholic wedding planning
Benny and Joon: C.S. Lewis said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one...but in that casket, safe dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."  This sweet but unsentimental movie is all about opening your heart and letting love cast out fear.  Watching a mentally off woman grow in affection for an eccentric guy who does the kind of physical comedy you see in old movies, you get the sense that they both live in different realities than the rest of us.  They're forced to face what's real as they fall in love- who couldn't use a reminder that love takes courage and vulnerability?  Even as Sam and Joon wrestle with their personal struggles and are faced with choices that will affect each other, they have an amazing childlike, but not naive, faith in each other that is amazing to behold.  Speaking of reality...

Authentic love, movie love stories, Dan in Real Life, Catholic wedding planning, real romance
Dan in Real Life: Real life is complicated.  Loss, family, healing...this story of a widower who meets the woman of his dreams amidst a huge complication covers all the hard stuff while somehow still leaving you completely happy.  The couple in this movie, Dan and Marie, begin falling for each other during a long chat over coffee (I told you I like conversation in movies) before discovering there's a big obstacle to the possibility of being together.  They try and mostly succeed at being virtuous in an impossible situation, which is remarkably admirable.  All of the characters' virtues are ultimately rewarded, but in surprising ways. Don't you think that's so rare onscreen?  Also, it's hilarious.  I mean, look at Steve Carell dancing in this picture.

Authentic love, Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything, Lloyd and Diane, movie love stories, real romance, Catholic wedding planning
Say Anything: We've all seen some reference to or parody of a guy hoisting a boom box over his head. That's THIS movie!  If the boom box is now a cliche, I promise you nothing else about this movie is.  Lloyd Dobler, our leading man, is a total original.  He's a kickboxing, completely endearing high school grad who's had his eye on Diane, the class valedictorian, for months.  The thing is, these superficial differences hardly factor in as they get to know each other.  And you actually get to watch them get to know each other!  They go to a party, drive stick shift, show some old people a movie...we get to see them fall in love and root for them, which is so, so rare and awesome.  What's more, this movie is incredibly honest about life- sex has consequences, telling the truth has consequences, and Diane's relationship with her dad is loyal but complicated.  Everything's so real.  Lloyd says he's looking for "a dare-to-be-great situation."  I dare you not to love him.

What are your favorite movie romances?

Next up: Death brings us alive again.  For real.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lectio: Men, Women, and The Mystery of Love

{recommended reading}

Catholic, love, marriage, Edward Sri, Catholic wedding planning, Catholic brides, Love and Responsibility, John Paul II, Sex

Even for this lifelong reader, it always seemed like an exaggeration that a book could change someone's life.  That was until I read this unpacking of Love and Responsibility, Pope John Paul II's discussion of relationships, sexuality, and real love.  I value this book so much that in the past few years, I've bought and given away six copies.  This incredible book, which walks through each section of the late, great JPII's work, opened my eyes to what makes for an authentically loving relationship in a way I'd never experienced before.  The first time I read it, I was, to say the least, caught in a bad romance.  My boyfriend and I were very physical with each other, which posed a host of problems in itself, but the even thornier part of our relationship was the emotional and spiritual side of things.  He'd say things like, "Look, I want to sacrifice for you," but rarely followed through.  When he did, he'd view his efforts as some kind of collateral for things he felt entitled to.  We were so inwardly focused- we treated our relationship like this ongoing project in holiness, but I can see now what a misguided sense of spirituality there really was.  I kept so many things inside, nervous to disrupt the waters between us and afraid to share anything with my friends.  Every day,  I was just so anxious.  When Andrew and I started dating, I was initially shocked at how easy everything seemed; this boy was sacrificial asking nothing in return, and instead of pulling me away from the other relationships in my life, I watched them all flourish.  That's one of the biggest truths I took away from this book: that true love brings peace, because it's not inwardly focused on myself, but outwardly on another person and on the Lord.  The human person has immense dignity and value, and should be treated as nothing less.  People are meant to be loved, and things are meant to be used.  It's amazing how such a simple statement can encompass so much truth about dating and marriage and has the potential to heal so many wounds in our culture.

Reading Men, Women, and The Mystery of Love helped me rediscover the kind of love I knew I was made for at a time in my life when I'd chosen to settle for something less.  I fully believe, though, that even a thriving relationship can benefit from the Pope's points and Dr. Sri's explanations.  Some spiritual books can be pretty lofty, but my favorite thing about this is how practical it is.  Over and over, I'm amazed at how deeply in tune JPII was with human nature.  He covers so many relatable situations, like the pitfalls of over-idealizing another person (I'm totally guilty of this- you know, like when you meet a guy who's cute, funny, and holy and immediately start planning your wedding to him), the difference between loving and using someone (ditto), and the battle between feeling love for someone and willing yourself to love him when the feelings are gone (who doesn't struggle with this at some point?  So many times while reading this, I felt like it was narrating my dating life).  Dr. Sri makes these insights crystal clear and writes a series of questions for reflection at the end of each chapter.  This man has such a gift for clarifying the Pope's words.  Given the book's discussions of friendship, selflessness, purity, and family life, I can hardly imagine better reading material for your engagement.  Of course we fall, and of course it's difficult, but I've learned that letting myself be schooled in love is very slowly, steadily bringing me closer to who I'm supposed to be.

Okay, now that you're done reading this, go get yourself a copy.  I'm serious.  There is truth, beauty, and wonder in these pages.

Next up: Love on film

Monday, February 20, 2012

Your Soul Shines Through

authentic beauty, truth, grace, perfection, catholic wedding, catholic bride

It goes without saying that as women, we receive hundreds of messages every single day about how we're supposed to look.  We need to wear this to look attractive to a guy, say that to make him want us, put on whatever makeup to cover every flaw.

Here's the thing, though.  Beauty isn't something we put on in the morning, it something we already possess.  Can you imagine what it would be like if the fashion industry realized this?  Femininity is anything but a selling point; it's nothing more or less than who we are.  Like so many other girls, I've become obsessed with Pinterest lately.  Recently, I've noticed lots of girls compiling fitness inspirations, which is just fine, except that instead of actual fitness tips, these boards seem to mostly contain images of women with impossibly thin or muscular bodies.  I've felt a sadness looking at them that sticks with me afterwards, I think because it feels like we've fallen a little for one of the biggest lies we're told: the lie that we will never be good enough or pretty enough. 

For years, I was blessed not to struggle with self-image.  When I got engaged and started reading tons of bridal magazines and websites, however, I'd suddenly start wishing I could be a little skinnier, have my skin be a little clearer, make my teeth a little whiter.  I knew, really knew, that it was all unnecessary and that these messages were total lies, but even for someone who's always been pretty secure with herself, the pressure to be beautiful felt impossible to ignore sometimes.  It seems like for brides-to-be, all of the normal pressures we face are ratcheted up a hundredfold.  It's not wrong to want to look pretty, of course, but at a time when all eyes will soon be on you for a whole day, I found it doesn't take much to make you too hard on yourself.  

I consider myself wonderfully lucky to be loved by a man who is so sincerely affirming.  He constantly tells me I'm beautiful, and I know he means it (variation: a few days ago he said, "you're pretty as all get out").  Hopefully you're loved this way, too- that's one of the reasons you're marrying him, right?  No matter how great our love is on this earth, it doesn't always feel like enough.  That, of course, is because it's not enough.  Luckily, the Lord unceasingly delights not only in our feminine beauty, but in our humanity, which includes the parts of ourselves we don't like.  He loves everything about us, not just the "good" parts (inside and out), and what a grace that is.  About a year ago, I had an opportunity to dive deeper into my basic understanding of John Paul II's Theology of the Body, which begins with the Pope's meditations on how men and women are created.  I contemplated the fact that women are created to inspire love, not lust, in men, which is so contrary to what we usually hear.  God's love for every human person is written right into our bodies and into His plan for marriage, which is crazy, true, good, and beautiful when you sit and think about it.  These truths were a huge consolation to me during times when I struggled with the impossible ideal, the idol really, of bridal perfection.  Let them console you, too!  Thank Him for the gift of your femininity and ask Him for the grace to help you see your beauty when you're tempted to reject it.

Blessed Mother, beauty, truth, authentic beauty, grace, Catholic wedding, catholic bride

I just read an amazing article about the beauty and virtue of women that mentions this painting by the Renaissance painter Fra Angelico.  A professor wrote that " Angelico's Madonna, the fairness of her soul, the substantial form, shines through the fineness of her features."  I know.  I KNOW!  Her virtuous, holy soul shines through her very features; through her body!  That, ladies, is real beauty.  A woman who knows her dignity in the eyes of God and man is radiant on the outside because of the radiance in her soul.  That's the kind of look to aspire to.