Readings: Gen 1:26-28.31; Rom 12:1-2; Matt 5:1-2
The fact that God ordained marriage as a sacrament, while made explicit in the teaching of Jesus, goes all the way back to the beginning of the world. It is important to note that woman and man together make up the divine image. They do this precisely because they complement one another, making up two halves of a whole, as it were. This is even true of celibate vocations in the Church, which is Christ’s Bride, to whom priests, religious sisters and brothers, and even some unmarried deacons, pledge their troth as you are pledging your to each other today and doing so sacramentally, here in the bosom of the Church.
Another aspect our first reading highlights is the fundamental equality of women and men in marriage as husband and wife. Because the sacrament of marriage is meant to concretely show forth the great love Christ has for His Bride, the Church, a husband is to love his wife even as Christ loved the Church, being willing even to lay down his life for her. Laying down your lives out of love for each other, putting your spouse and her/his concerns before your own, constitutes the very nature of marriage. It is also the basic condition of Christian discipleship, as St. Paul made clear in our second reading, what it means to say that you are a Christian in any meaningful sense. As our first reading from Genesis also indicates, there is no way two people become more selflessly one than by being fruitful and multiplying, having children, the raising and educating of whom require the selfless cooperation of husband and wife, who, through having children, also become mother and father.
The Church teaches us that marriage, by its very nature, is given us by God and raised to the dignity of a sacrament for “the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of [children]” (Canon 1055 §1). The selflessness you are called to live out in your marriage, which today becomes your primary vocation, that is, the calling God has placed on your lives, is summarized well by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans, where you are exhorted this very day to offer your entire selves to God as a sacrifice, an act of worship. This is what your marriage is to be, in imitation of Christ, a sacrificial act of worship, which is why, when you make your vows in a few minutes, you promise to stick with each other no matter what may happen, good or bad. As those here who are married can tell you, it won’t take very long for you to have reasons to bail on your marriage. So, you must look for reasons to remain faithful to the promises you make to each other today.
The Gospel just proclaimed was the Beatitudes, which are best described as the dispositions and attitudes we are to seek, foster, and cultivate as followers of Jesus Christ. In a setting like this these words can sound awfully sentimental, but they are among the most challenging words Jesus ever spoke. After all, if we are honest with ourselves, we are not normally disposed to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to be merciful, to be peacemakers, especially when we feel we have been wronged. The ability to forgive and to seek forgiveness, often over and over again for the same thing, is absolutely essential for your marriage to last a lifetime, as God intended.
Marriage, which will not always be as easy as it seems to you today precisely because it is now your path to salvation, is challenging and difficult at times. The challenge of living out this sacrament, which only begins today, will only be fulfilled at the end of your lives. Nonetheless, as Christians, we know that love is not merely as strong as death, but that by Christ’s resurrection, love has conquered death. He wants you to be together forever.
You may not grasp this fully right now, but marriage is more than either one of you can handle on your own, or that the two of you can handle together. God our loving Father, by virtue of the sacrament He confers on you today, will pour His amazing grace on you through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because He loves us, God doesn’t violate our freedom, but always seeks our willing cooperation in bringing about our holiness. So, you must make it your constant practice to seek God’s wisdom and guidance everyday through prayer.
Very often the word “intimacy” is used as a euphemism for the physical aspect of marriage. I would submit, after years of preparing couples for marriage and counseling married couples, that the final frontier of intimacy is spiritual. So, this very night, I challenge to begin (if you have not already) the practice of praying together, of opening up your hearts to God in front of each other. All prayer begins with gratitude. So, let all of your prayers together begin with recalling this beautiful summer day and what we are doing right now in this magnificent cathedral, as well as the wonderful celebration that will take place for the rest of this day, and give God thanks for the gift of each other, for your wonderful family and friends, who surround you today, for giving you the gift of each other. Then implore His help so that this path on which you embark today will lead you both to your destiny.