08 October 2016

A Wedding Homily - 8 October 2016 - The "still more excellent way" of the Cross

Wedding of Allison Stupavsky and Austin Menz

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We have come together this afternoon, in this church dedicated to the honor of God and of Saint Anthony of Padua, to witness the exchange of consent of Austin and Allison. We have come together to celebrate with them as today they “establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life,” which, by its very nature, “is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children.” They will begin this partnership in this church because marriage has “been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (canon 1055).

On behalf of Austin and Allison, I greet you, their family and friends, and welcome you in the name of Christ. I thank you for the love, support, and encouragement which you give to them by your presence today and which you have shared with them in the previous days, weeks, and years. I am confident they will be able to count on you in the days, weeks, and years ahead for this same love, support, and encouragement. Now, my friends, before we witness the exchange of their promises to live their lives together in committed love, I ask you to allow me to speak directly to the couple; you, of course, are welcome to listen in.

Austin and Allison, we, your family and friends, and I, the Church’s minister, are truly happy to be here with you today. You have invited us to share in this joyful day, this day that is itself a precious gift from the Lord Jesus Christ who calls each of us to himself and is yet another sign of his “still more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). This way is the way of authentic love, of a love that “does not seek its own interests,” but is instead ever concerned about the good of the one who is loved (I Corinthians 13:5). In this, we see that love is – more than anything else – a choice. The emotion of love comes and goes; sometimes we feel loved and sometimes we do not, but our emotions are not always reliable or consonant with the reality of a given situation. This is why the highest form of love is not an emotion but, rather, an act of the will.

It is to this still more excellent way that you have discerned the Lord Jesus calling you to join your lives together in holy matrimony. Saint Anthony of Padua once wisely noted that “although marriage is a good thing in itself, it does bring with it considerable danger.”[1] What does he mean? In the bonds of marriage, a husband is bound to care more about his wife than he cares about himself. Likewise, in the bonds of marriage, a wife is bound to care more about her husband than she cares about herself. Because a sacred bond joins those united in holy matrimony, marriage brings the considerable danger of more opportunities to sin by not living up to the promises made between husband and wife before God and his Church. But this considerable danger is why Jesus raised the natural state of marriage to a sacrament, to infuse it with his grace and to provide a supernatural aid to those called to live the still more excellent way of love in marriage.

There is a temptation today to over-romanticize marriage, to think that it will automatically bring a life of bliss without any difficulties whatever. The reality, however, as any honest couple will tell you, is not quite so picture perfect. Marriage is difficult and requires compromise, patience, and gentleness. Like the Christian life in general, marriage is simple, but it is not easy. Marriage is simple because, at its core, it involves only one thing, namely, that every day each spouse must desire the good of the other above his or her own good and labor to obtain that good for the beloved. In this, marriage daily requires self-denial and, for this very reason, is not easy.

The great J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, reflected on the reality of marriage in a letter he wrote to his son Michael in 1941. Then, after twenty-five of his fifty-five years of marriage to his beloved Edith, Tolkien wrote these words:

Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification… No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that – even those brought up ‘in the Church’.[2]

Tolkien here speaks of a danger for the groom in marriage, but lest some think marriage brings no danger for the bride, we might note the temptation of the wife always to be right. Marriage, for her, too, requires deliberate conscious exercise of the will, that is, self-denial. I do not want the two of you to be unaware of this.

We see something of this in Saint Anthony of Padua’s commentary on the opening line of the Gospel passage you have chosen for us today. Jesus warns us rather sternly, saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Saint Anthony said that “to say truly, Lord, is to believe with one’s heart, confess with one’s mouth, and attest by one’s deeds. To have one without the other is a denial.”[3] We might paraphrase the Lord’s words this way; “Not everyone who says, ‘I do,’ will enter a happy, blissful marriage.” If you wish to, as the fairy tales say, “live happily ever after,” you must daily believe in the love Jesus has for his Bride, the Church; you must confess his – and your - love for your spouse; and you must attest to this love – both yours and Christ’s – by your deeds. To simply say “I do” without believing in the power of grace to strengthen your promise, without repeatedly confessing your love, and without demonstrating your love with outward signs is a denial of your promise. How, then, can you ensure you do this each day of your married life?

Jesus says to us today, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Matthew 7:24). He spoke these words at the conclusion of his great Sermon on the Mount, something of a guidebook, if you will, for following faithfully after him. Later, he summarizes the Sermon on the Mount with these words: “[H]e who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).

If you, Austin and Allison, would have your marriage survive the rains and floods and winds of this world intact, if you would have your shared home not collapse, if you would survive the dangers that marriage brings, then you must be joined together at the Cross of our Lord and build your life together upon its foundation. It is as Saint Bruno said, “While the world changes, the Cross stands firm.” We see the tremendous love Jesus has for his Bride displayed most fully on the Cross. It is this same love that you must reflect for each other and for the world. Through your married love, you must become sacramental signs of Jesus’ love for every person by daily believing in it; by dialing confessing it; and by daily attesting to it.

To become such a sign of love, to become a sign of this still more excellent way, is not easy. This is why Saint Anthony of Padua called marriage “a good thing in itself,” even as he cautioned of its dangers. Tertullian focused more on the goodness and beauty of marriage, saying,

How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? ...How wonderful the bond between two believers with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.[4]

If you join yourselves to the Lord’s Cross, your marriage, too, will stand firm. You will keep your promises and, having been found faithful to each other, the Lord Jesus will welcome you both into the Kingdom of heaven. Then, in the end, you will know that “love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8). Amen.

[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost, 10. In Saint Anthony of Padua: Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. II: From the First Sunday After Pentecost to the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua, Italy: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 46.
[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 6-8 March 1941. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 51.
[3] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, 11. In Saint Anthony of Padua: Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. II, 198.
[4] Tertullian, Ad uxorem, II.VIII.6-8. In Pope Saint John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 13.

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