Keeping God at the Center of Marriage
Saturday May 12,2001 Wedding Mass
Reading I (Gen 2:18-24) Reading II (Eph 5:2a, 21-33)
Gospel (St. Matthew 5:1-12)
This homily was given at a wedding Mass
at the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Today in the readings, you have chosen much. I could preach for hours on these readings. In fact, just next week, I will be giving a retreat on the Beatitudes and will preach for eight hours just on the Gospel reading for today. I will not bother you with that though. In the readings, you have chosen points that are difficult for people to understand: The creation of the man and the woman, the unity of man and woman, the roles of a husband and a wife. I want to compliment you for choosing this reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. Very few people choose this reading because they do not understand it. They think that it is a degrading thing; consequently, it bears much comment. But before we get to that, we want to go back to the beginning where St. Paul sends us at the end of the reading when he talks about how a husband and a wife become one flesh in marriage.
That is precisely what God did in the Garden; we see that from the first reading as well. So we go back to the Garden, to the creation of the human person. We need to be able to recognize what God had done in the Garden, and what it is He is going to do today. In the Garden, we hear that He first creates Adam and places him in the Garden of Eden. He creates all the animals and brings each one to Adam so that Adam could name them. We must understand, at this point, Adam did not know that he was the only human person. He had just been created; he had just been put in the garden; he had no experience of anything else and no knowledge that he was alone. As God brings all the animals, it almost sounds as though God thinks He is going to find a helpmate suitable for Adam in the animals because He says, "I will make a helpmate suitable for him." God knew that that would not work, but Adam did not. The only way Adam would find that he was the only person capable of loving on the face of the earth was to name all the animals and recognize that they are not persons, and that they cannot love.
God brings all the animals and Adam names each one. In that naming of all the animals, he recognizes that none of them indeed is a person. None of them could love. He was made to love and be loved; he was made in the image of God (Who is Love), and he had no one on a human level with which to share his love. It is with that kind of a backdrop, then, that we can understand Adam's exuberance when he wakes up. Not only does he find the most beautiful and perfect creature in all of God's creation, but he finds another human person. One made from his flesh and his bones. One made from him, equal to him in every way, and yet different from him so that the two would complement one another completely.
What God did in the Garden is that He started by making one, and He took that one and He made two. Today He is reversing the order. A number of years ago, God created your souls. He created them to be specific, unique, and separate. Today, He is going to reverse the order of creation. Today, He is going to work a miracle. Today, He is going to unite into one the two that He created to be separate initially. There is a new creation that is going to happen this afternoon, right here in just a few moments. The miracle is not only going to take place before your eyes; the miracle will take place in your souls. They will be joined together in an unbreakable bond. The only thing that will end a marriage is death. And because it is a spiritual union, it does not matter if the two of you would be on opposite sides of the world - you will still be perfectly and completely united because your souls are joined together. We have to even understand the implications of that for marriage. It is to say that when one does something that is worthy of merit and grace, the other is going to lifted up and built up by it. But when one sins, the other is also going to be dragged down by it. The purpose of Christian marriage is to make two saints out of you, and then to raise little saints for God from your children.
Today, what you are going to vow, in just a couple of moments, is that you will love one another every day for the rest of your lives. Now people do not understand what love is all about. That brings us right to that second reading, because St. Paul tells us that wives are to be submissive to their husbands and husbands are to love their wives. That sounds to the American mind like St. Paul is saying, "Wives, be slaves; husbands, be nice to your wives." That is not what he is saying at all. What St. Paul is doing is he looked at the next chapter from Genesis (chapter 3) and he sees what the problems are that we have from Original Sin. He sees the weaknesses that are in the male and female because of Original Sin. He knows fully well that women have very little difficulty loving their husbands. He also knows fully well that men have very little difficulty submitting to their wives. But he knows that wives have difficulty submitting to their husbands and husbands have difficulty loving their wives. He is not asking anything of one that he is not asking of the other. What he is asking is that you will live the vows that you will make, that you will truly love one another. You will give yourselves totally to one another, not only today in the height of all the emotion of the marriage day, but everyday, and every moment of everyday, because that is what you are vowing.
What that love looks like is the real question. I suspect if we took a poll of the people here we would get a whole range of answers, but they would usually revolve around love being a nice feeling. It is "this warmth we have in our heart when we are together" and all that other nice stuff. Well, that is real fun, but after the honeymoon, maybe a couple of months into the marriage, it is not going to feel quite that way anymore - except that you should love one another more in a couple of months from now than you do today. Even if the emotions are not as high, even if the things surrounding you are not as wonderful as they are today, there needs to be a greater love. Indeed, everyday there needs to be a greater love for one another.
Love never remains the same. It either grows or it decreases. There should never be a day when you wake up in the morning and you look across the bed you would say, "You know, I do not love this person as much today as I did yesterday." When that does happen in marriages, what people tend to do is they point the finger at the other person. They say, "If that one was doing what he (or she) promised, if they were making me happier, I would be able to love them. If I were getting this, I would be able to love them." Now, you are not going to make a conditional vow today: "I will love you only as long as I feel loved. I will love you as long as I have my needs met." It is nothing like that. Unconditionally, you are telling one another that you will love one another everyday for the rest of your lives. Regardless of whether the other one is fulfilling his or her vow, you are going to be answerable to God for your vow and how you live it.
When we look then at this point (let's start with that one) of a husband loving his wife, what is that going to look like? Jesus tells us what that looks like. He gives us a new commandment and He says, "Love one another as I have loved you." There in the mosaic above the altar [the mosaic is of the Crucifixion] is the love of Jesus Christ demonstrated clearly for all of us. And you have chosen today to make your marriage vows on top of the crucifix to be able to show that love that Jesus has for you, that you have for Him, and that through Him you have for one another. It means to lay down your life constantly, to pour yourself out as St. Paul says, "like a libation," to empty yourself for the good of your wife, to seek only her good, to do nothing that would be selfish. That is a challenge. We do not expect that you will be able to love your wife perfectly today, but hopefully by the end of your life you will have achieved that goal, to be able to seek only her good at all times.
Now with that in mind, for a wife to be submissive to her husband is not difficult when you know that you are being loved. When you know that what he wants is your good. When you know that what he wants is truly what is the best for you - you may not always agree that it is the best for you, but you know that is what he wants. Therefore, it is easy to be submissive, to be able to say "yes' for the good of the family.
St. Paul tells us that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. If the husband is the head, then the wife is the heart, and the two must be united. A heart that is off all by itself gets caught up in emotions and caught in the self and is not able to love the way it is supposed to. A head that is caught up in itself is nothing but pride and it is again caught up in self. So a head that looks in love for his wife and a heart that thinks in love for her husband, the two once again are one. The two complement one another in this way, perfect one another, and build one another up. Both are seeking the good of the other, both are in love with one another.
Now to go to the Gospel then for just a moment, we have to be able to take this ideal that Jesus places before us, that St. Paul puts before us, and the Church puts before us of what marriage is to be. Then we listen to the Beatitudes. I would just like to highlight one that will inevitably arise if you live your marriage the way that you are going to vow to God that you will do it. "Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on My account." If you live your married life giving yourselves totally, people will not understand. People will think that you are odd. You will have many children and in our society that is not politically correct. Praise God for that. That is what Jesus said, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great." If everyone around you in the neighborhood into which you move thinks that you are just wonderful and you are doing great and that you are just the two nicest people that they have ever met, then you are not living your marriage the way you are vowing to. If the people around you think that you are kind of strange, that there is something wrong with this Catholic couple over there - they have got all these kids; they are always together and trying to do things with one another; they want to pray together and they want to be saints together - they will think that you are very strange and they will speak badly of you. "Rejoice and be glad," Jesus said, when that happens. Then you know you are doing something right. I am not suggesting going out of your way to be odd or different, but just live the life that Jesus tells us to live. This is not something, as we all know, that can be done alone. Look at Genesis, chapter 3, and Original Sin and the punishments due to sin. But, in Jesus Christ, redeemed manhood and redeemed womanhood is possible, only in Jesus Christ.
That is why you are coming here today before Jesus Christ, before His Priest, to make your vows in His Church. You are making a vow to one another and you are asking God to work this miracle, but you are promising to the Lord that He will be the center of your marriage. Everyday, not only do you need to take time for one another, but you need to take time for God. You must pray. You must keep God at the center of your married life, and if He is that center of your life, then He will build you up. What He is uniting today will become more and more the perfect unity everyday until the day when God when calls you home. When He looks at you, He will see His image reflected so perfectly. Not only does marriage symbolize the union of Christ and His Church (as St. Paul talked about), it also symbolizes the Trinity: the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three Persons Who are One. Today there are three, the two of you and God, and He will make the two of you one. The goal of this life is to become not only one with one another, but one with God so that on the day He calls you home, He will find two people who have learned to love so perfectly that they will be brought into the absolute intimacy of the life of the Trinity to love one another and to love God forever.