A Feast of Reality

This past weekend I attended a wedding.

It was a natural thing, in harmony with the beauty of the world and the beauty of mankind. Therefore there was order to it, and the sweet solace of dwelling in a human way, in time, from one generation to another.

My nephew was marrying his lovely bride. He is handsome and she is winsome; and most of that is simply attributable to the fact that he is a man and she is a woman.

Not all men are taller than their brides, but my nephew is taller than his, so that when they danced, her head nestled softly against his shoulder and chest. Even small men have men’s bodies and faces, heavy of bone, often broad in the shoulders and hands, with thicker skin and the hair that may recede from the dome but that always shadows them by the cheek and chin, no matter how good the razor is. It lends them a cast of gravity. You could see that too in my nephew’s countenance during the brief moments between words and laughter, dancing and toasting.

That look, as it regards the bride, says, “I will love you and protect you. You can rely upon me.”

Not all women are slender, but my new niece is, with the roundness of shoulder and hips that suggests tenderness and fruitfulness. All women have the woman’s face, the shape that suggests an oval, not a lantern; a flower, not a block of granite. All have that smooth skin like a child’s, and the mysterious voice, which is mature and childlike at once, unlike the voice of a man, richer than the voice of a boy, yet still a girl’s voice.

There were men and women of all ages at the wedding, and they talked, told stories, drank wine and stronger stuff, danced (a lot), and laughed. If they were married, they leaned into one another, or held hands. The unattached young people flirted cheerfully. Some of the girls flirted with my nephew, like girls teasing a big brother. One of them began to “fight” with him on the dance floor, jabbing him with her fist, while he pretended to duck and to fight back. Then another girl pretended to intervene, and so he had two “opponents” to dance with.

She could do that because she was secure in her girlhood, and he was secure in his boyhood. For men never really cease to be boys, and women never really cease to be girls. No, not really – what would be the fun of that?

Because it was a wedding, the girls wore dresses and the boys wore suits. Because it was my nephew’s wedding, the dresses were attractive and the suits were – suits. The kinds of things they wore brought out the beauty of the kinds of beings they were, these boys and girls, these men and women.

When the wine’s flowing and people are celebrating that wondrous event, when despite and because of and across all their differences a man and a woman join in marriage, they do what comes most naturally. They don’t think about what a man is and what a woman is. They don’t have to. They simply are.

So those girls danced with a lilt in their step and a swing in their hips that is impossible for any boy to imitate without absurd caricature. If there wasn’t a boy to dance with, they danced with each other. Then sometimes one of the boys looking on would jump into the dance like a soldier leaping into a battle, and take a girl for his own, with bravado in his eye, and she’d go along for the fun of it.

It was all like that, in one way or another. The bride’s father walked her up to where the groom was waiting; she and not my nephew was then the focus of everyone’s attention. Why should that be? Why, if not that we sense that something momentous is drawing near, something that pertains to her in a deep and mysterious way? The bride is dear to us because she is the one who will bear the child in her womb. She and not he will feel the pangs of labor. She and not he will bring forth the new life in her blood.

When we see a new bride, in a gown that sets off the modest blush, we see the mother-to-be. We all do. If we hear, “They plan to have no children,” we are disappointed. We think we are witnessing an imposture. Into the mind of every man and woman in attendance came the inevitable thought: she and he will make love, and they will have a child.

And the married men and women thought of when their lives changed forever, and when they had their children. Indeed it is one of the fine pleasures of a wedding, to see the generations; as I saw my nephew’s first cousin, a kid I had last seen long ago when he was a sprouting teenager, now six-foot-five, with great square shoulders and a boyish grin.

There was a very small child at the reception, a little girl in a puffy skirt, with a bow in her hair. She was “dancing” too with the young men and women, learning in her very bones how to be happy as a girl, and smiling when one of the boys took her by the hands. My mother didn’t dance, because her knees won’t have it, and she has to walk with a cane. But she recalled her own wedding reception, a simpler affair, and I recalled my father, who I confidently believe dwells now with the Lord.

Everything real and true and fine and ordinary – reflecting the order of God’s creation – is our friend, and the closer we draw to it, the closer we draw to Him.

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Passing through a little village in Savoy, we happened upon a wedding procession. According to their custom, the bridegroom conducts his bride from her home to the Church. “This,” thought I, “is the Roman deduction in domum, in which the bridegroom led his bride to his Father’s house.” Neighbours threw flowers from the upper windows as they passed.

    Of course, what we were witnessing is much older than Rome, indeed, primordial. As the Nuptial Benediction reminds us, marriage is “ea benedictione donatur, quae sola nec per originalis peccati poenam, nec per diluvii establata sententiam – that blessing is given which alone was not forfeited in the punishment for original sin nor through the judgement of the flood.”

    Who would have thought the marriage of two strangers could be so moving?

  • Chris in Maryland

    A beautiful essay, and an equally beautiful 1st comment.

  • Sue

    Which is why I love Latin, for its truthful exposure of marriage as matrimony – “mother-making”! Homosexuals, contraceptors, and test-tube franken-fiddlers need not apply.

  • Jpac

    Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation….!

  • Beth

    Thank you! Goodness, truth and beauty!

  • Craig Payne

    I remember a comment written long ago by Joseph Sobran: that happiness, when it comes, does not come because we have frantically pursued it, but it comes like the tide lifting a boat. You feel a ripple of water under you and suddenly realize how happy you are.

    Thank you for sharing your happiness with us, in such a lovely essay.

  • John S.

    Thank you, Professor Esolen. And a belated thank you to Father Schall for his column yesterday.

  • MTDave

    A few weeks ago I was with our youth at the diocesan camp. The day’s business done, the mass celebrated, there was a dance on the patio under the full moon. I watched as one of our young men hung back with a few of his shyer friends at the fringes. I lost track of him as I chatted with the other chaperones, until he went by us, slightly startled, pulled by the hand into the dance by a young lady who didn’t want him to miss the fun.
    I stood there and grinned for the sheer joy of it, thinking that’s how it begins for all of us, one or the other inviting us into a dance that’s older and larger than any of us.

  • Myshkin

    Here’s a feast of reality for ya:

    The so-called Curia reform of Pope Bergoglio continues to concentrate power in his persona and the cardinals who make up the Council of Nine (which has no official standing in the Constitution of the Curia). And heads continue to roll for those seen as troublemakers for Bergoglio and deserving of the Argentinian guillotine.

    In his first months, pope Bergoglio immediately transferred to lower-ranking positions three of the most “Ratzingerian” of the Roman curia: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca.

    But now an even more eminent decapitation seems to be on the way.

    The next victim would be the Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who, from being prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura, would be demoted to the ecclesiastically very modest position of “cardinal patron” of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.

    Burke’s exile would be even more drastic than the one inflicted on Cardinal Piacenza, who, transferred from the important congregation for the clergy to the marginal apostolic penitentiary, nevertheless remained in the leadership of a curial dicastery. With the shakeup on the way, Burke would instead be completely removed from the curia and employed in a purely honorary position without any influence on the governance of the universal Church.

    This would be a move that seems completely without precedent.

    Burke is 66 years old, and therefore still in his ecclesiastical prime … With a very devout personality, he is also recognized as having the rare virtue of never having struck any deals to obtain ecclesiastical promotions or benefices.

    On December 16, the Pope crossed Burke off the membership of the congregation for bishops, to the hosannas of dissenting Catholics. But now Bergoglio seems right at the point of giving the go-ahead for the second and more grave demotion of one of the most untarnished personalities the Vatican curia knows.

    As I wrote before, expect this Pope to become more and more high-handed and clerical, doing things on his own, consulting only a small group of yes-clerics, destroying any ecclesial procedures or institutions that would limit his authority.

  • Manfred

    Thank you, Tony, but I am afraid Myshkin has let the light of reality in the door. A book will be published shortly entitled:”Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church”. Five cardinals wrote essays in this book, one of whom is Cdl Burke.
    The purpose of the book is to serve as a written witness to the constant teaching of the Church on the eve of the Synod on the Family. Burke, and the others, knows that Cdl Kasper and other Cdl.s, along very probably with Padre Bergoglio, will attempt a complete overthrow of the Church’s teachings on the permanency and indissolubility of marriage. It is for this book, IMHO, that this pope is using an old Argentinian trick and having Burke”disappeared”. He may be forbidden from taking part in the Synod!
    I cannot tell you how delighted I am by all of this as this is the only way the Civil War in the Church for the last fifty years could be resolved, i.e., by Schism. Bishop Schneider points out that this is the Fourth Epoch in the Church. St. Athanasius, who was the hero of the First Epoch, Arianism, is reputed to have said “The bishops have the churches while we have the Faith!” Stay tuned.

  • Myshkin

    What Manfred said!

  • Randall

    Professor Esolen, I read this two days late. I’ve been busy. But tears came to my eyes reading this. This is so beautiful and so right. God’s blessings on you.