Every now and then I hear something and it just makes me stop and think.
A few months ago I heard this priest talking about the divorce rate and a wedding tradition in a small town in Croatia. Seems that in the small town of Kerzegovina (population 13,000) the divorce rate is very low (some claim there has never been a divorce). I haven’t checked the stats on this so I can’t confirm nor deny the accuracy of this claim.
Supposing this fact is true, one wonders what’s going on in this town. How have they kept divorce from infiltrating their community and destroying the hearts and hopes of men, women and children? There are some who believe the marriage covenant in this community is strengthened by a perspective on marriage expressed in a unique wedding tradition commonly practiced in this Catholic community.
In the small town of Herzegovina, when a Catholic couple is married, they are told:
You have found your cross. It is a cross to be loved, to be carried, a cross not to be thrown away, but to be cherished.
In Herzegovina, the cross represents the greatest love. During the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom place their hands together on a crucifix. Then they kiss, not each other, but the cross. The crucifix they kiss at their wedding then becomes a focal point of their home. It’s a reminder that if one should abandon the other, they cannot do so without abandoning Jesus Crucified.
Ok, I have to admit, it’s not all that “romantic.” But then anyone who has been married for a while knows that contrary to our cultural traditions and stereotypes, marriage isn’t only about the romance and “feel good” stuff. No, marriage is about so much more.
So, this tradition made me think. Instead of allowing the world to teach our children that marriage is about finding someone who makes you happy, who “completes you,” and who adores you, what if we teach them that the primary purpose in marriage (like any vocation in life) is loving and serving God by loving and serving those around you (in this case, your family). What if we focused on marriage as a means of becoming more like Jesus and committing to helping your spouse to love Jesus and others too instead of seeing it as a means of “self-fulfillment.
Instead of thinking of marriage as a “right” (i.e. my right to be happy and to not be alone, my right to fulfill my physical and emotional desires, my right to have children, my right to be loved), what if more people saw marriage as a true covenant; a covenant in which one surrenders their “rights” just like Jesus did when he came to fulfill the Father’s covenant with us. A covenant fulfilled when Jesus came to carry the cross for us.
Again, I know this is not so “romantic” in the traditional sense of the word. But then given the statistics of marriage and divorce among Christians perhaps it’s time to redefine “true romance.” Maybe the self-serving romantic fairy tale of marriage we’ve been handed by our culture is another one of the enemy’s lies we’ve believed.
What if the real image of marriage we should hold onto is that of each spouse carrying a cross for the love of their life, like Jesus did for us?
Hmmmm….I can’t help but wonder if our brothers and sisters over there in Herzegovina might not be onto something.
*Note: A few disclaimers and qualifiers…
- Marriage, divorce and re-marriage are touchy subjects. Please don’t read into this any judgmental overtones. These are the musings of an a “idealist” who often has high expectations of herself and the world around her; one of my strengths and my weaknesses. That being said, this post is not a diatribe against those who find themself divorced. It’s really about the hope of what Christian marriages can become.
- I should also make the disclaimer that in no way am I suggesting that all of marriage is about “carrying a cross” and there is no place for “romance,” emotional and physical fulfillment, joy and contentment. I’m just suggesting the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of “self-love” in marriage instead of an other-centered, self-giving love that Jesus calls us to show one another.