As many readers may have noted from my last style post, the Fourth of July is a big holiday in our family—one worth preparing at least four outfits for. So last year, Anthony and I decided to take advantage of our favorite weekend of the year and get married on July 3, 2015. As we approached our first anniversary (that year went fast) I reflected on the joy that marriage has brought to my life. The week before our first anniversary and the Fourth of July, on Sunday, June 26th, the Catholic Mass readings conveniently spoke of freedom, particularly the second reading from Galatians. In his homily that day, Fr. Kevin Feeney reflected on our country's upcoming Independence Day and the meaning of freedom as it relates to the institution colloquially associated with the ol' ball and chain—marriage. With his timely homily and the juxtaposition of our upcoming first anniversary and Independence Day, I pondered the perceived paradox of the freedom of marriage.
Many young adults—spurred on by a culture of relativism, “you do you,” instant gratification, and lack of commitment—intentionally put off marriage in attempt to experience independence. They don’t want to be tied down by marriage, by commitment, by another person. We are trained to equate freedom with selfishness, pursuing our own desires and dreams. Talking with an acquaintance as a junior in college, we stumbled upon the topic of marriage—a heavy topic for people who just had met. Having dated my now husband, Anthony, for two years at that point, and having discerned marriage as our vocation, I expressed my desire and intent to marry Anthony someday soon. A few years my senior, this relative stranger was completely baffled by the idea that I, a millennial in the prime of her social life and sexual potential, would want to “get tied down” with someone. He asked genuinely, “But don’t you want to experience. . . life? Why would you want to get married so soon?” Why would you want to give up your freedom? he seemed to say.
Our independence is not only valued as a nation, but as a society. We pride ourselves in being a democratic nation, but modern society also revels in the idea of sexual freedom, open relationships, or no emotional relationships at all. We find it empowering to be able to date or be in relation with someone but not owe them anything, not to be legally or even emotionally tied to them, to see who cares less if someone walks away, to experience this type of so-called freedom. However, this type of behavior is not actually freeing at all. Contrary to what our culture expresses, this type of behavior confines its participants as slaves of the flesh.
“For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love." (Galatians 5:13)
True freedom, Fr. Feeney noted, involves giving ourselves away. In the vows I made on my wedding day, I gave myself to my husband and in turn, I received him: "I, Kelsey, take you, Anthony, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life." Marriage, the act of complete emotional, physical, and spiritual commitment, is actually the ultimate display of freedom. In giving of myself wholly to my husband, I am free to be myself; moreover, I am free to be who Christ intended me to be. In promising to be there "in good times and in bad" my husband receives me as I am, freeing me of the pressure to be perfect, to put on a good face, or play the game of love right. I am free to be my genuine, weird self around him, to burp loudly (sorry, Dad) and to bare my blemished face. I am not tied down by fear of judgment or insecurities, but rather I am free to be vulnerable with Anthony—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I am free to live by the Holy Spirit, not bound by the desires of the flesh: “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Galations 5:18). If you are guided by the Spirit, St. Paul wrote, you are truly free.
I came to realize the juxtaposition of our wedding date and the Fourth of July are significant not only because we were able to have our family and friends in our favorite place—Harbor Springs—for both our wedding and the old-time American town's quintessential holiday festivities. But the proximity of the two dates also reflects the close relationship of marriage and freedom. As I heard in those readings on that Sunday in June and as Jesus exemplified so perfectly on the cross, to be truly free we have to give ourselves away, to rise we must first die. In living for someone else, as in the sacrament of marriage, therein lies true freedom.
With a little grace,
Happy first anniversary to the most important person in my life, my husband. Your love has truly given me an unparalleled sense of freedom, self, and encouragement, which has resulted in a new career and the start of this journal. I can't wait to see where our marriage leads us this next year. I love you!