This year, my husband Bill and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, as did four of my roommates from my senior year at Marquette University. The five of us and our husbands, along with two other Marquette couples and a total of 14 children, gathered in the middle of the Marquette campus at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel for a Mass and renewal of vows.
As Marquette students, we had often attended 10 p.m. daily Mass together at the chapel. A small stone building, the chapel was built in France in the 1400s and brought to Marquette stone by stone. St. Joan of Arc has a capacity of 50 or 60, depending on how close together you sit on the wooden benches. If you’re a student rushing to Mass a few minutes late from a long night studying at the library, you’ll sit on the stone floor.
Now, thirteen years out of college, we were back in the tiny chapel. And the theme seemed to be sippy cups.
As we prayed together, sang and broke bread, there was the constant underlying noise of small children. A book being dropped. A pacifier being thrown. A question being asked in a loud stage whisper. And occasionally, a wriggling, crying toddler who was quickly scooped up and taken outside the chapel for a few minutes.
We listened and prayed as we could, and the children participated in the liturgy as they were able. Jacob and Jeremiah, both 8, proclaimed the second reading together, and a few of the preschoolers brought up the gifts. It was not the quiet, reflective Joan of Arc Mass of our college days, nor was it nearly as formal or well-organized as our weddings. Instead, the liturgy bore witness to our mode of worship and of living right now — noisy and messy and full of interruptions, with the vows and the Eucharist in the middle of it all.
And I couldn’t help but think, as I stood with my friends and made those promises to my husband once again, that we all understood so much more of what we were promising this time around. We knew about arguments and tears; about loss of jobs and late nights with sick children; we even understood more about the true duration of a lifelong promise. There were no flowing white dresses to give us the illusion that we were beginning a fairy tale. And because of these things, I believe that our 10-year anniversary vows held more weight than our original ones could have hoped for. Having experienced both the joy and the sorrow of marriage, we were coming back for more.
As our children watched, the older ones from their chairs, the younger ones in our arms, we vowed once again to be true to each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health; we vowed to love and honor each other all the days of our lives.
And then, our children, who somehow managed to make living those vows both more wonderful and more difficult than I could have imagined as a young bride, clapped for us as we kissed.