But this particular kind of choice is unique from all other choices. Promises are about our futures. When we promise, we express our faith on our power to do what we intend to do when the time comes to fulfill it. We predict and assert our firm intention to keep it, no matter the circumstances. When we promise in the here and now, we are not just expressing our present state of mind, but we are binding ourselves in a future course.
Every promise that we take binds us to some future action. When I publicly pronounced my vows on the 31st of May in 1989, I gave my word that I would fulfill them. As witnesses to my vows, they expected my life would center on them.
This is the same in marriage. When the couple declares to everyone in a formal and official way, such as the Rite of Marriage, the couple forges a new relationship with others. And this new relationship is ritualized in the wedding ceremony.
In the long march to the altar, the bride is “given away” by her parents to the groom. Likewise, the parents of the groom “gives away” their son to the bride. In a Filipino Catholic wedding, the couple pays their respects to their parents before they head to the altar. The gesture ritualizes a goodbye. From that time on, the couple’s primary obligation is not anymore to their parents, but to the family they will raise.
In the same manner, their friends and families become conscious that their relationships will also change. The couple’s lives will now revolve around their domestic obligations. They cannot anymore live like single and unattached individuals. They cannot expect them to be present in their nite-outs when they have their own family concerns. Marriage is indeed an end to one’s single lifestyle, as it is also the commencement of a new life.
Moreover, promises empowers us. When we give our word to someone we love, we tell them that we are in charge of our lives. We promise because we determine our future. We give our word freely. And thus we choose to use our freedom to project ourselves into what is ahead.
In the beginning of the marriage rite, you will hear this dialogue:
Priest: May I now ask you to answer truthfully the following questions?
Priest: Angelica, did you come here of your own free will to bind yourself forever in the love and service of your husband?
Bride: Yes, Father.
Priest: Peter, did you come here of your own free will to bind yourself forever in the love and service of your wife?
Groom: Yes, Father.Priest: Are you both ready to raise as good Christians the children whom God will give you?
Both: Yes, Father.
And thus, a promise is one guarantee to free ourselves in order to determine our lives rather than be determined. In a marriage, we freely decide to be determined by our partners as well as our children. Profoundly, when each individual decides to commit themselves to their partners forever, their future lives become intertwined. The binding of their futures has been made possible by their determination and intention. And thus it is the couple who chooses; not the priest nor the congregation who attends the mass.
Our promises ensure our survival. It makes our lives meaningful and peaceful because of the order it brings. Civilized societies bind themselves to an agreement. As Filipino citizens, we promise to uphold our Constitution. Christianity revolves around the covenant God has made to us. Our contracts are promises we have to keep. And thus, following traffic lights is one way to keep that promise that comes with our citizenship.
That is why promises are sacred. It is sacred because God Himself made them. He tries to fulfill them because it is essential to relationships. This is the rationale behind laws against breaches of contract and separations. We protect this value that is essential to human relationships and its future.
Therefore, people who do not keep their promises are those who are imprisoned in the past or the present; they are always at the mercy and whim of the moment. They are the most unfree: they allow other external or internal factors such as fear, to determine them. And thus those who break promises prove their weakness: they are locked in the present and imprisoned by their fears. It is a tragedy that they have not fully utilized their will — the faculty that distinguishes human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom. Amoebas, lions and apes cannot project themselves to the future.
But those who promise, like couples in marriage, believe in their power to determine themselves. Promises bind people; our meaningful relationships rest on our words of faithfulness no matter what comes to challenge them.
The thing is, a promise is said in a few seconds, but it throws us into eternity. Check how many seconds it will take to say this paragraph, which is the formula of the marriage vows:
“Grant us O Lord,
to be one heart and one soul
from this day forward
for better, for worse;
for richer, for poorer;
in sickness and in health;
until death do us part.”
Once the couple pronounces this formula, they are officially married. What comes after, such as the rings, arrhae, unity candle, cord and veil ceremonies are simply symbols that ritualize and mark their union.