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Reflection on Marriage

by Father Martin T. Kelly

We organists play for many, many weddings and hear a number of homilies, both from the resident clergy (often again and again) and from visitors. Here's a really good one!

Wedding Dear friends in Christ: As you know, you are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious, a union which was established by God Himself. Before Vatican II, that is how the priest began his instruction to every couple just before they exchanged consent. Most sacred and most serious… During the past quarter-century, the very need for marriage has been called into question. Recently, there has been a rediscovery of the importance of the family in society. Much will depend on how far the current attempt to redine the family will go. But we have reason to hope that more and more people are beginning to recognize the truth.

This afternoon the two of you come here to establish between yourselves a community of life and of love, to be bound in the holy sacrament of Matrimony. This occasion gives all of us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of marriage, on the beauty of a marital commitment, on the depth of its meaning — understanding that it is not a mere social convention, not a mutually convenient arrangement, not merely a legal relationaship recognized by organized society.

Rather, it is something that involves the human person profoundly, and involves the totality of one's self in a way that cannot be equaled on this earth by any other type of commitment between two persons.

It is not easy to reflect on this when the groom has heard every wedding homily I've got. [Editor's note: The groom was the parish organist.]

In the first reading you chose for this celebration [Tobit 8:5-7], we see Tobias and Sarah. What we are not told is that Sarah has been married seven times already, that all seven husbands died within hours of the ceremony. Tobias knows this. But marriage is most sacred and most serious. And he goes ahead as planned. This speaks for his courage, for his love, for his commitment, all of which are more powerful than fear.

As soon as the wedding banquet is over, the father-in-law orders his servants to begin digging a grave, expecting the inevitable. And on their first night as husband and wife, we see Tobias and Sarah turning to God in faith. We have their beautiful prayer that recalls the words of Genesis: "It is not good for man to be alone."

A union most sacred and most serious … established by God Himself. The words of Genesis remind us this union was part of God's plan for humanity from the very beginning.

The old instruction goes on: This union then is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. The future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.

A marital commitment requires a spouse to put himself or herself on the line, with nothing held in reserve. It is the ultimate exposure of oneself as a person, made in trust — a commitment that calls for a response in kind. It deserves nothing less.

Without a mutual response there is no true commitment, only deception. Without exposure that is total and unconditional, without trust and devotion that are total and unconditional, there is no beauty. There is only a commitment that can be more or less shallow, but always shallow.

Most sacred because instituted by God Himself; most serious because it involves everything.

What a marvelous thing it is to be part of such a community of life and of love, to know that whatever admixture of joy and sorrow a husband and wife may experience over a lifetime, nothing can destroy that total, unconditional, mutual giving of self. It is something that can only be withdrawn by a spouse himself or herself.

What a thing it is for a spouse to know that he is loved in a way that he cannot be loved by any other human person — and to know at the same time that he is doing God's will; to know that a true marital relationship will always have an enduring value, will always bear fruit even in the worst of circumstances, precisely because it is a union established by God Himself.

But there is an aspect of true marital relationship that cannot be overlooked. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth, you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this common life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy.

True love and sacrifice are inextricably intertwined, mutually inclusive. Tobias and Sarah recognize this. "I do not take my wife for any lustful motive; I do it in singleness of heart." "Singleness of heart," a sacrifical love, based not on his own well-being and gratification, but on the well-being of his spouse.

And the old instruction gives us a model for sacrifical love, a guide for every spouse: We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His Only begotten Son; and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. 'Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'

Most sacred and most serious. It can all seem so daunting, both the beauty and the challenge. Yet you are here before God and these witnesses and all the most important people in your lives to make just that commitment.

"Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority …" These are the closing words of the Gospel [Mt 7:21, 24-25] you chose for this afternoon. The beauty and the challenge of a marital commitment seem so far beyond human capacity — and they are and would always be so, if it were not for Jesus. Always, always it is Jesus who provides light, clarity, and strength.

You come here this afternoon to this church. You have heard the words of Jesus, and you come to found your marriage, as you have founded your lives, on rock, not on sand, but on rock, the "stone rejected by the builders," but the cornerstone of the entire edifice that is the Body of Christ. That is why you are able to make the commitment. That is the way — the only way — you will be able to live it.

Most sacred and most serious … because instituted by God Himself. And we know that marriage which is good in and of itself precisely because it has been instituted by God Himself has been raised by Jesus Christ to the dignity of a sacrament among the baptized.

A sacrament. As long as we're using old expressions today, let's use another: "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." An outward sign. We are all familiar with Saint Paul's reflection on marriage as a living sign in this world, a visible sign of the love of Christ for His Church, of His inseparability from the Church. But in the second reading today from Revelation [Rev 19:1, 5-9], we learn that the sacramental married love of husband and wife is a visible sign in this world of the love of Christ for those who have been redeemed — a visible sign of the eternal heavenly union between Christ and the community of the redeemed; of the eschatological banquet — a visible reminder of where we are ultimately meant to be: "Happy are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb."

All of this, marital love; all of this and, moreover, capable of overflowing and bringing into the world new life, life summoned to that heavenly wedding feast.

Marriage, most solemn and most serious. Matrimony, instituted by Christ to give grace. That is how you will be able to live it. There is the rock. there is the strength — the empowering share in the life of the Trinity that makes you capable of things beyond the reach of unassisted human nature. To be not just a sign of Christ's love, but through the grace of the sacrament to make that love present in the world in a visible way. To make it visible to a world that needs to see. You come here in faith and hope. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs; He will pledge you the life-long support of His graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive.

Father Martin T. Kelly was pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Nashua, NH until his death in 2011. This homily was delivered May 27, 1995.

Article compiled June 2016

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