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Over the weekend we were privileged to attend a wedding at an army base in Virginia -- a wedding that took place, as so many these days do not, in a church, with a priest and Mass. The flow of the Holy Spirit and the feeling that this was the "real deal" (as military folks like to say) permeated the liturgy, leaving everyone excited and uplifted and even the young attendees marveling at the sense of the Holy Spirit!

Jesus was there. You could feel it. He had His touch all over the place. It was more "fun" than the reception. This was because the priest related directly to the people and spoke in a way that didn't sound like a lecture.

It was also because those who were there were apparently praying. Meanwhile, the parents had demonstrated to their children the importance of Catholicism (living it, as opposed to forcing anything down their throats).

The songs were traditional ones (including the Ave Maria).

What a shame it is that so many Catholics these days marry outside of the church and thus don't experience that. There were 191,265 church-recognized marriages in the year ending January 1, 2009, more than 5,000 fewer than the year before.

A shame, or a tragedy?

What a shame too that we still don't recognize the damage done by compromise with the world in the way we conduct many regular Masses.

It would be interesting to see a study on the divorce rate among Catholics who marry inside the Church versus those who do not -- who stray to beaches, to neutral churches, to the chambers of a mayor.

We do have this statistic: the divorce rate among Catholics is 24 percent -- versus 34 percent for non-denominational Christians (which so many Catholics now call themselves, in settings with no sacraments). Overall, Catholics are substantially less likely than Protestants to get divorced (25 percent versus 39 percent).

The power of marriage was seen at Cana -- when a wedding became the venue for Christ's first public miracle (and established the role of His blessed mother).

Marriage is miraculous. Start with that knowledge. It allows for miracles. It allows for healing. It seals a relationship. It protects it against the constant onslaughts that every such union encounters.

The devil especially tries to disrupt marriages.

What God has joined together, let no man separate, says Scripture (Matthew 19:6) -- and this covenant is missing when the marriage is not within the protection of Mass by a priest -- who is far different in power and presentation than a justice of the peace!

Thus, such a marriage is more open to attack.

It is a difficult circumstance in that many Catholics who marry outside the Church do so because the spouse is not Catholic.

That's one thing, but another reason is that they are uncomfortable due to the way they have conducted their own lives -- and don't want the Church reminding them of immorality. A tragedy in our time: over fifty percent of first marriages are preceded by cohabitation.

That's the same percentage -- fifty percent -- as the divorce rate in the general population!

Young people today use marriage outside the Church as an opportunity to reject the Church and this must be addressed -- urgently. They don't understand the flow of the Holy Spirit -- have not yet felt it, for many reasons (some their fault, some the Church's) -- and they must be made to if we are going to bring the faith back to where it should be. Instead of focusing on attempts to be cool and worldly -- to reconcile with pop musicians or scientists -- we need simply to get back to our roots and through more powerful, lively use of the sacraments exhibit  what Jesus did at that wedding long ago: the Church's power to bring forth the miraculous (which is what a real marriage union is).

[Michael H. Brown retreat, Minnesota and New Jersey]

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