Marriage: A Living Sacrifice
Deacon Longo preached this homily at his sister’s wedding. Although the homily is addressed to the particular couple the message it contains is universal.
Mass readings: Sirach 26: 1-4, 13-16; Psalm 34: 2-9; Romans 12: 1-2, 9-18; Mark 10: 6-9.
Kathryn and Eric, you made it – fully intact. No one broke any bones last night, and no one needed to be bailed out of jail. I’d say you’re off to a great start! And here you are before God and His Church to bestow vows upon each other.
The great preacher Ronald Knox points out that when we burn with love for another we feel as if our love is eternal, and yet we still desire to put it in record. It’s as if we fear that someday we may need a reminder of the passionate love that blossomed in our youth.
Today, Christ and His Church will hear your vows, and He will take you at your word. The words shyly whispered at the altar are graven, irrevocably, on the walls of heaven. For Better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.
In fact, it is through these very vows that God will make you one flesh, that he will bestow on you the great sacrament of marriage.
Know and have faith in this sacrament that there is grace, and not only the grace to survive the suffering and trials you will face, but abundant grace, the grace that brings joy in the midst of suffering.
What is the grace which comes in marriage? Why is it that so many marriages, even those in the Church, fail? Well, because we are fallen; we are broken, and we sin – hurting even those we love the most.
These things are true; yet Jesus still boldly rebukes the Pharisees in the gospel who seek a compromise. Jesus answers them saying the two become one flesh, therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate. How can Jesus give such a bold command when he knows that we are imperfect? He can give the command in spite of our weakness because he is also the one who gives us the strength to withstand all tribulation. It is Jesus’ love for the Church that you image in your love for one another, and your strength to image this love has its source in his dying on the cross and rising to new life. Jesus died for his spouse, the Church, and now Eric and Kathryn, he calls you to imitate him in your life together.
Does this mean you must actually die for your spouse? You may be called someday to sacrifice yourself in some heroic act. However, it is more likely that you will spend your life giving yourself daily, in small, but meaningful sacrifices. This is the more humble and in many ways more difficult path.
Now since you two found each other a bit late in the game, it happens that both of you have been living by yourselves for some time, and because of this you are fiercely independent. You have your own habits and quirks and as you well know, not all of these will be sustainable in your lives together- throw a child or 4 into that mix and there may be times you long for the quiet solitude of the old days.
This is standard. However, in your vows to each other and to Christ, he returns a promise to you- the promise that you will be sanctified in so far as you go outside yourself to serve one another in Charity. Your second reading from St. Paul says it well- “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, give preference to one another, rejoice in hope, persevere in tribulation, and be devoted in prayer.”
I would like to emphasize this last command, to be devoted in prayer, because it is key to entering into the grace given in the sacrament of matrimony. There is no need for a show of hands, but of you couples here- how many of you pray together often? Those of you who do this know it increases intimacy. This is because you are in conversation with the only one who knows you better than you know each other, the only one who loves you more than you love each other, and your asking him to make you saints! He is faithful; he will do it.
Nevertheless, being saints does not only mean you sacrifice for one another, it also means going out of yourselves to serve the poor. What exactly this will look like for you only Jesus knows, but St. Paul gives you the principles in the second reading you chose when he says, practice hospitality, associate with the lowly, be at peace with all men.” The poor of Butte, Montana are numerous, and the spiritually poor even more numerous- there is a great mission in store for you!
This includes the mission to evangelize, which will no doubt be difficult, especially in the midst of a growing secular culture in Montana. Yet when we look through the whole history of the Church, seeing the incredible diversity of saints we realize how our Lord equips his disciples exactly for the particular mission to which he has called them. In this age, one in which marriage and the family are being attacked from all sides, he has equipped you with the virtues, and in a few moments will be equipping you with the grace, to witness boldly in the world. He sends you forth as a lamb among wolves, yet he is with you always to guide you.
I love you both. Katie, you chose to wait instead of settle for some tool and you couldn’t have chosen a better guy than Eric. And I know that even though you both wanted a simple wedding, you have been poring over every detail for a year out of love for your family. It is beautiful, and that is because you two are ready for whatever comes at you. What a witness you two are to me and to the Church. Remember the vows you give to one another today, remember the passion which compels you to engrave these vows on the walls of heaven, and most of all trust that with the grace God gives you today, you are not only capable of enduring any trail, but of growing more passionately in love with one another.
The Yes which springs from your lips under this impulse of love ties a bond, and though the audible sound passes away, this bond is perpetual. Amen.