Marriage: A sacrament for life
For Katherine Capadano and Jacob Nordhues – who will be married May 9 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha – "marriage is more than a day, a piece of paper or an exchange of goods and services," Capadano said.
It’s a sacrament – a source of grace, a share in the life of the Trinity and a sign to the world of Jesus’ selfless love for his church, she said.
And what otherwise might seem nearly impossible – staying committed to each other for life, through all its difficulties and challenges – is possible because of God’s presence in the relationship, said Capadano, currently a missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla.
"We realize we need the Lord’s help in marriage," she said. "If it were a purely human endeavor, it wouldn’t last."
Capadano and Nordhues, who have participated in marriage preparation programs through the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Family Life Office, echo church teaching in their understanding of marriage.
"In a sacramental marriage, God’s love becomes present to the spouses in their total union and also flows through them to their family and community," according to a document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Christ himself instituted the sacrament of marriage and entrusted it to his church to give grace and be "a sign to the world of Christ’s love for his church," said Peter Kennedy, manager of Family Life Ministries in the archdiocese.
And as a sacrament, marriage does what it symbolizes: mirroring Christ’s faithful, sacrificing love and giving couples the grace of that love, said Jesuit Father Andrew Alexander, director of the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton University in Omaha.
Although the Lord can be present in other non-sacramental relationships, his presence in a sacrament is special and a powerful source of grace, he said.
"Two people could commit to each other in a park somewhere, and that could be a beautiful thing. But when there’s a sacrament, God guarantees his presence in the relationship," Father Alexander said. "God doesn’t abandon them."
"It’s really a gift, a source of holiness," Capadano said of the sacrament. Her brother, Father Matthew Capadano, a chaplain and teacher at Scotus Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Columbus, will preside at her wedding.
Deacon Bill Hill, who serves St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, said he tells engaged couples preparing for marriage that the love they have for each other is a gift from God, founded on the love he has for them. In the sacrament, they will promise to love each other the same way God loves them – unconditionally.
"Whatever you do, God is there for you," Deacon Hill said. In the same way, husbands and wives need to be there for each other, he said.
The sacrament "is not a one-time event," he reminds engaged couples. They are obliged to practice their faith throughout their lives, including having children baptized and raised in the Catholic faith, Deacon Hill said.
And as they live the sacrament, husbands and wives can turn to God for help with any problem, and he will help them through it, Deacon Hill said.
Being nourished by the Eucharist and other sacraments is especially important, Father Alexander said.
"The Eucharist is not only a gift, but an example of love," he said. "The more people are nourished, the better they can love their spouses the same way – self-giving and broken."
People who live holy, sacramental marriages are witnesses of divine love, Father Alexander said. "I think the place where we learn what marriage as a sacrament looks like is where we see people who do it well."
And the most devoted, loving couples and families are the ones who pray and are "making a place for God" in their relationship, he said.
Capadano said she and Nordhues have been blessed with models of holy, lifelong marriage: their parents, Harry and Mary Capadano of St. Cecilia Parish and Bob and Jeannette Nordhues of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Grand Island.
Father Alexander said his parents, the late Deacon Fred and Grace Alexander of Omaha, also witnessed to the beauty of Christian marriage.
"I watched my mother take care of my father for the last 15 years of his life," despite her own multiple health problems, he said. "I learned more about love and marriage than in a theology class."
Marriage is noble, even heroic, when two people come together not just for mutual fulfillment, but to be fruitful, he said.
And that kind of selflessness is crucial in marriage, Kennedy said.
While many influences can threaten marriage – such as contraception, divorce and cohabitation – the underlying and greatest threat is selfishness, he said.
"Without a doubt, marriage can be the most rewarding endeavor of a person’s life, but it can also be the most difficult," Kennedy said. "Giving oneself completely to someone else, sacrificing all of the things that one sacrifices for spouse and children, is a genuinely noble thing. In order for a marriage to work, I can hold nothing back from the other, not finances, not time, not even my own body."
Couples "don’t fall into love," Father Alexander said, "they build it with hundreds of small sacrifices." They imitate Jesus’ loving service, shown when he washed his disciples’ feet.
"It’s easy to be attracted to each other, that’s usually about me," he said. "But when they reverence each other, they see something sacred about each other."