One of the enjoyable and ministry enriching experiences that every priest is privileged to have is to preside at wedding celebrations. We priests have a special perspective as we look into the eyes of brides and grooms as they come before God’s Holy Altar – a perspective that is sometimes missed by the congregation. There is that special moment when the doors open and the groom sees his bride for the first time bedecked in her wedding day splendor. For some of the guys the emotion of the moment is just too much as they do everything possible to control their uncontrollable emotion. As they nervously kneel on display in front of their families and friends, we see the little gestures of endearment that each gives to the other as the special moment in their lives unfolds. The touch of a hand, the knowing look, the gentle wrestling to get the ring on the other’s finger, a loving embrace. Yes, these gestures all reflect the special joy and grace of this moment. However, the journey is just beginning. I often tell couples that not every day of their lives together will be the golden, joy-filled peak emotional experience of their wedding day! There will be challenges, there will be moments of heartache, there will be times where romance can indeed give way to disillusionment. Yet, that is indeed the case for all of us in the human journey of life – no matter what way of life God calls us to. However, my friends, we never face those moments alone. As the Body of Christ, we are called as a Church to give support and encouragement to all who selflessly give themselves to another in Holy Matrimony.
As we enter into Ordinary Time in our liturgical calendar and leave the Christmas Season to be celebrated again next year, it is providential that God’s word sets before us Scriptures that speak to us of the most fundamental reality that grounds our society – the gift and promise of marriage. Our Catholic theology beautifully tells us that in the ordinariness of love between a husband and a wife something profoundly important, something exceptionally extraordinary, is revealed and disclosed to us about the way that God himself loves us. We call marriage a sacrament in our Church, not because the Lord Jesus created marriage – which of course he did not – but rather he embraced this fundamental human reality and made it the opportunity for us to see through this human and profound love to the way that God himself loves us. For God’s love for us is permanent, faithful and life giving.
As a priest, I can only point to the contours of the mystery that marital love is for us as members of the Church. My knowledge is theoretical and for that reason only partial. That is why we hold up in our Church all couples who have given themselves to each other in Holy Matrimony as a living theology of the beauty and intimacy of God’s love for us, his holy people.
In many respects, Marriage is an endangered reality in our world and culture today. Most of us are aware of the tragic and painful reality of marital failure. While upholding the dignity and sanctity of Marriage, we are also a Church of healing and understanding for all whose lives have been painfully impacted by marital failure.
We must never forget the wise words of “Dear Abbey” who reminded us many years ago that the Church is not a “Museum for Saints, but a Hospital for Sinners!” And so, as we extol the beauty and grace of marriage together with a realistic understanding of its challenges, we pray and support within our Church who have had to face the crucible of marital failure. We pray that the Lord who knows “our heart of hearts” will grant our sisters and brothers the grace and courage to move through this difficult journey in life with dignity and integrity.
As we reflect on the gift and promise of Christian Marriage, let us remember this day all couples who share this wondrous sacrament, that the Lord will deepen the love given and received however many years ago. That through that love and intimacy, all of us might come to see a glimpse of the way the Lord himself loves us, his Holy People.