Jelena Vasilj's wedding

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..brethren, exercise yourselves in charity! (St. Augustine)

With the musical version of the Litany, the Saints were called to witness at the wedding celebration between Jelena Vasilj and Massimiliano Valente on 24th August 2002 in the Shrine of the Queen of Peace at Medjugorje.

Over 500 guests (mostly from abroad) filled St. James church to join the parishioners to pray for this new family. "From his shrine may the Lord bless you.." read Fra Dragan Rucic at the start of the Mass. A choir of splend-id voices from Vicenza (Italy), and several soloists, helped make the cele-bration more sacred and solemn.

"Wine and music gladden the heart, but love of wisdom is better than both. The flute and the harp make pleasant melody, but a pleasant voice is better than both. A friend or a companion never meets one amiss, but a wife with her husband is better than both" (Eccles 40:20- 23). With the choice of this reading, the bride and groom wished to underline the value of a holy marriage when it is founded on God. Precisely because the marital union is founded on God, sponsal love is a responsible love. "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love" (1 Jn 4:7-21).

The main theme of Charity was picked up again in the Gospel: "As the Father has loved me, so I have you loved you; abide in my love;" and in the homily the celebrant invited the couple to practise charity by verifying the quality of their love continually, for even if it is as strong and pure as crystal it will shatter if it falls. His recommendation was to use St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:1) to verify their love: "Replace the word charity with your names; so that you will say: Jelena is patient; Massimiliano is generous; Jelena is never envious, Massimiliano never boasts...". They smiled radiantly, and it was clear throughout that they were accepting the mission of forming a family with great joy and responsibility.

Witnesses for the bride and groom were Paolo and Marija (Pavlovic) Lunetti, who will soon be parents again for the fourth time.

"We know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God" (1 Jn 4:16).

This was the Gospel passage that Jelena chose to announce her marriage to Massimiliano. The message in it is essential: God is love. This certainty must be at the base of every vocation so that it might bear fruits of holiness.

In an interview, Jelena and Massimiliano talk about their call to exercise charity within the dimensions of a family.

Constant Call to use Charity

Jelena, here you are before one of the most important events of your life: marriage; which had a beginning, and a time of preparation. How has it been?

Jelena - There was a moment in my life - before I met Massimiliano - when I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in life. At the start I was sure I wanted to marry, then I went through a reflective period during which I considered religious life. I do think that both vocations are beautiful, and the fact that I chose marriage doesn't mean that I think less of the other. I also believe that we have to consecrate ourselves to God in any case, whether we are single or married; and married life is not less committing than a religious vocation. Both vocations involve a donation of self. Discovering this was a surprise for me, too.

After you realized that you wanted to marry, how did your life change?

Jelena - Above all, I felt that the special presence of Massimiliano helped me grow up. It was as if, without him, I hadn't finished growing up. This can happen when you're alone, but in a couple, if you don't grow the relationship becomes impossible. In a relationship you're called constantly to exercise charity, to give of yourself. As our journey together advanced, I realized that this vocation helped me mature.

What were the ingredients you used to help this maturation continue?

Jelena - To be frank, prayer; particularly personal prayer. There are things that only God can give us through prayer. I was depending a lot on Massimiliano to help me resolve my problems and free me of my fears, but he wouldn't satisfy my egoistic expectations, so I understood that I needed to mature. Without prayer a relationship decidedly degenerates; you use each other as you would a crutch, and it becomes a handicap for both.

Prayer is also the only true personal space we have. Women today often think that having one's own time means going out with their girlfriends. Their husbands are someone to lean on, someone who can resolve their problems. This way, instead of accompanying each other they try to merge and end up suffocating each other. The relationship then breaks. Prayer is a personal journey, but it is also one you undertake together. It is important to continually invoke God's life in your marriage, because it will be the life they will give.

I also think purity is very important in a marriage, because when we live according to our senses, we are more easily subject to disagreements and quarrels. Protecting one's purity isn't something you do up to marriage but must continue even after. Satan can't wind his way into something that is kept pure, so that those who maintain their state of purity have peace. The devil uses lust to his advantage. I don't mean that a couple might necessarily sin against purity, but that Satan uses this means, because other sins come as a consequence of this weakness.

Scripture compares the soul to a bride adorned with jewels ready to encounter her groom. Being united to God the Groom has always been your soul's desire. Now that the Groom has taken on the appearance of the young man you are about to marry, will something change?

Jelena - In truth, there is only one Groom: Jesus Christ, then there is a husband. My soul is bound to Christ as much as it is to Massimiliano. Precisely for this there is a sacrament, because it is Christ who binds us; it is Christ who marries us. Perhaps I'll be able to respond better to this once I am married, but I already feel that this sacrament contains a special grace which will introduce me even more profoundly into the mystery of God. It is all part of God's plan of salvation. Far from being an appendix, marriage is part of the core of the mystery of God. In fact, every couple imitates the Holy Trinity in its fullness of communion. It is dangerous to think of marriage as belonging to just the two of us - as we would forget that it is Christ who creates the attraction between us.

God gave you a gift for the sake of all mankind, and you have always made it available for others. Do you think this grace can continue to be for all after your marrige? Many fear that the visionaries, once married, will be too busy to think of others.

Jelena - My first pilgrim is Massimiliano. Charity never changes, so it is impossible to exercise yourself in charity towards pilgrims and deprive those closest to you of it. Our only task is to love. If this means having to spend time with many, then there's no problem. I don't think anything will change since my husband receives the same love that I give to others through listening to my testimony. I think it's schizophrenic to think of a public mission which doesn't have a hidden, fertile mission.

Massimiliano, would you like to tell us of your meeting with Jelena, and your life together so far, and of what will be?

Massimiliano - When we met some-thing peculiar happened. After my conversion ten years ago I also went through a period of discernment regarding my vocation; and we discovered that we could accompany each other in our spiritual life without excluding the call to respond to God. We started off differently; and our spirituality was different, but this turned out to be kind of complementary, and this was positive. Jelena has been fundamental to my spiritual growth. If I think how it was just a few years ago with respect to now I can barely recognize myself.

Do you agree with what Jelena said were the "ingredients" for the period of engagement?

Massimiliano - Yes; even though I wouldn't like to give the idea that there were standards. Nonetheless, I would like to add that a couple should have a good spiritual guide. I feel that if we hadn't had one, we might not be here today.

Do you think having a "public person" as your wife might impede you from living a normal married life?

Massimiliano - For me, Jelena is mostly a "private person" because her public side involves my life only marginally and I participate only relatively. It is definitely something which helps her in difficult moments, but the gift isn't enough on its own. It would be wrong to think that once you receive such a gift, it is sufficient for you and can be managed without a life of prayer and faith. The same thing goes for a couple. The importance of the mission given to Jelena by God doesn't release her from her duty of practising the virtues. I have always tried to live this side of Jelena by being of help to her and by being realistic, for it must never impede us from practising the virtue of Charity.

Jelena, you have always transmitted to others the value of contemplation. How compatible to you think this is with one's family commitments?

Jelena - Being tempted by commitments happens when we think of ourselves as having only bodies. When we realize that we are body and spirit, we behave differently. I must admit that even in my life there have been moments in which I prayed little, and thanks to God I was able to get over them. Now, when I don't pray I don't feel well, so I hope that both of us will always feel the need to pray. Only prayer can give us the strength to truly love. Without God's help you always put yourself first, and this would be disastrous. Without prayer we woud be lost. Besides your guests, Heaven will also be present at your wedding.

Which Saints do you feel are close to you in this moment?

Jelena - Our Lady, of course; who is our true Mother, and guide. I feel her presence very strongly at this particular moment in my life. On a more practical side, the Saints have made us feel their presence, and have even sent gifts. St. Augustine gave us the choir; Padre Pio the photographer... They are not just present in our devotions, but also in the special times of our life.

Massimiliano - St. Frances of Rome who was called to sanctify herself through matrimony and who also founded the Order of Oblates. Then a servant of God, Umberto Mori, father of a family who distinguished himself as a Christian in the world of labour. Then, of course, Blessed Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, whose writings were very important to my formation as a Christian. They helped me understand the meaning of holiness in one's everyday life.

(Interviewed by Sr. Stefania Consoli)


For God to live in your hearts, you must love.