Caritas Christi diffusa est in cordibus nostris (The Love of Christ is poured out in our hearts.). In the name of the Father...
During my lifetime, the divine institution of Christian Marriage has changed within society from being something that most people took for granted to being something that is now counter-cultural. Some truths of our faith that it would not have occurred to us to have to defend now need to be explained and defended. For example, the most basic fact of human creation “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. Now there is an increasing pressure to see our maleness or femaleness as contingent, something that can be changed at will.
Pope John Paul of beloved memory reflected on the mystery of human creation and our maleness and femaleness over several years in his General Audience addresses. We may well applaud the intention of Pope Benedict to unfold this providential teaching so much needed in our world today.
Here, at the celebration of 25 years of marriage of my good friends Jamie and Joanna, we make before God and underlying everything that we do today, a solemn affirmation of the goodness of our created nature male and female, in the Church and in society. Christian marriage today more than ever can be seen as a concerned not only with the happiness of the couple but also with the very foundation of our society. Therefore, on your behalf, I wish not only to congratulate Jamie and Joanna but also to thank them for being married.
I was a server at their wedding. I was training for the priesthood at the time so boy, did I know how to serve Mass! After the entrance of the bride, the bridegroom was still in his place in the bench rather than having moved to the chair placed for him next to the Bride. As a hardened middle-aged parish priest, I now know that this is an easy and common mistake for Bridegrooms to make. They are so geared up to be on their best behaviour that they figure it is better not to move unless directed. As a seminarian, of course, I knew the perfect way to correct matters. With hands correctly joined, I bowed to Jamie and discreetly whispered “If you want to get married, you had better join your Bride.” Well, of course he did and we are all here today, 25 years older and wiser – maybe.
As I have grown more familiar with the traditional Roman rite, I have found many useful ways in which the new rite can be enhanced. One of these is at a wedding where there is a somewhat bland introduction with the rubric that the priest should use “these or similar words”. Taking my permission from this, I read the instruction for couples from the old pocket ritual. It is an excellent summary of the theology of marriage with language befitting an occasion that all the relatives and friends know is supremely significant. So, I tell them:
Here today, before the altar, in the presence not only of your relatives and friends but of the angels of God and the whole court of heaven, your two lives are to be united in a bond that will endure as long as life shall last.I do call upon those Holy Angels today to visit, protect, keep and defend you in your marriage and in all your work.
The instruction carries on with a paragraph which always raises a smile and shows the Church’s realistic approach to human affairs:
Have no fears but rather great confidence. Fulfil your religious duties, your prayer, your reception of the Sacraments. Learn to love each other, but also to understand each other, sometimes to put up with each other.The “sometimes” is a gentle and optimistic reminder for the young couple. Couples who have been married 25 years might well substitute “often put up with each other.”
But the phrase that is most important in my view is “learn to love each other”. The received view seems to suggest that a couple must be “in love” and as compatible as possible and therefore carry on in their marriage like a cricket ball hit from the crease – if there is enough momentum, it will go for four. If not, then sadly, we have to think again.
But the Christian view of love in marriage is one of constant learning and willing. Love is something that you do, not something that happens to you. Christian love is also something that has the effect of making the world a better place. Joanna and Jamie have shown their love and support for each other in the different apostolates that they have engaged in to the benefit of the Church and of very many people.
Another piece of wisdom from the marriage instruction is:
Keep a place for Our Lord in your home. Where he is, there is no room for the evil things that can destroy your happiness and drive God’s grace away.We believe in the reality of evil and that Satan does indeed hate good Christian marriages. He will do what he can to destroy your happiness and certainly to undermine the life of grace. So we pray today that Our Blessed Lord will continue to be in your home. I would also add as the instruction does,
Ask his holy Mother and St Joseph that they may be with you as well. Model your lives and your home upon theirs; and may their prayers obtain for you many years of happy life together.Certainly, I am sure that I would echo the wishes of everyone here today if I pray: may the Lord grant them many years – and even more years. Ad multos annos, plurimosque annos, vivant!