A Wedding Day


A marriage is a day of great joy. We remember the wedding feast of Cana described in the Gospel of St John. Our Lord and his disciples were there together with Mary his mother. That is to say, the future Church around Christ her head was present at that wedding. So too our Lord and the Church joins with a couple on their day of joy, when they give themselves to each other to love and care for one another till death do them part. That is the commitment they undertake for their future whether it be in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. It is love they promise one for another, not necessarily riches, fame, status, but real love, a love that will care, a love that is truly generous and prepared to make real sacrifices. They promise to one another the gift of love despite any disappointments, any changes of hopes and plans they may have to make. It is to be a love that is undying, a love that will not fail.

   I once knew a well off man who married at the age of 51. He was in excellent health, led an active life, and had plenty to look forward to. He was not a Catholic and his wife was. His wife was many years his junior, and was an excellent Catholic woman. A year after they were married they had a son, and then a year later she was struck down with a paralysis that left her confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. What did he do? He immediately resigned his very successful career and devoted himself to her care and to the raising of his son. He proved to be a wonderful husband, spending almost all his married life as a carer of his wife and as a very good father. He raised his son as a Catholic even though he was not one himself, sending his son to a very good Catholic school. He died finally at the age of 93, some eleven years after his wife had died. He became a Catholic a few weeks before he died at the prompting of his daughter-in-law and mother of his grandchildren. His lived to see his only son married with several children, one of whom eventually became a priest. He was a shining example of one who promised to love and honour his wife through sickness and health right to the end.

   I knew another couple who were married during the Second World War. They were both Catholics, and he was a soldier who fought on various fronts. He returned a changed man, somewhat violent, no longer practising his Catholic Faith, a terrible burden on his wife and six children. But all her long life his wife was patient and uncomplaining, giving to him her love and loyalty, praying for him and living out her Catholic Faith in all constancy. She lived to see him return to the practise of his Faith and more or less a changed man again. He died well, and all this was due to her constant love. On her wedding day she promised her love in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. Christian marriage involves a solemn undertaking to love till death.

   Christian marriage involves the promise to love to the point of constant sacrifice. The Church teaches that when a man and a woman marry, the model of their love is to be the love that Christ has for us his Church. St Paul writes that Christ loved me and gave himself up for me. Christ loves each of us and gave himself up for us. He died for us. His love for us was and is unshakeable, undying, unbreakable. It had no limit. It was the perfect sacrifice. If we want a picture of the love that ought exist between a husband and a wife, we ought look upon the crucifix. We cannot possibly fathom the depths of the sufferings Christ endured for us, because he bore on his shoulders the sins of the world, expiating for them all, including the sins each of one of us. He did this out of love and that love is the model of spousal love.

   So then, if Christ’s love for us is the model for the mutual love that should inspire every husband and wife, then it is most important that the spouses contemplate the person of Jesus so as to be able to imitate him in their married love. They ought  resolve to model their individual lives and their marriage on the person and the life of Christ our Lord. They ought resolve to get to know Christ through daily prayer, spiritual reading, and participating seriously in the life of the Church, of which Christ is the head. That is to say, they should embark on a truly spiritual life, with the goal of growing in the friendship of Jesus and in obedience to his commands and his way. That way is taught to us by the Church her teaching and preaching, and nourished by the daily reading of the Gospel and of Scripture, and sustained by the grace we receive in the Sacraments. The foundation of a happy marriage, a marriage that leads to true joy in this life and to eternal happiness in the next is to be found in living the Catholic Faith well each day, putting into practice the teachings of the Church and having the goal of personal sanctity.

  Usually a Catholic wedding is celebrated within Mass. Mass is a great mystery, and is a far greater thing than its mere appearances. The Church teaches that at Mass the sacrifice Christ made of himself to the Father on behalf of all of us at Calvary is made present. How this can be we do not know, but that is the fact. We are able to unite ourselves with Christ in his self-gift to the Father. How very appropriate then is it to have the marriage during this solemn action! The couple ought unite themselves to Jesus during the the Mass, asking him for the grace to remain united to him in all the events of their married life. Their goal should be union with Jesus in everything, and making Jesus their model in everything, of raising their children in the way the Church teaches will be pleasing to God. To do this they will have to help each other live a generous spiritual life, a life pleasing to God. In that way they will reach heaven and bring others with them. Life is short, eternity is long. Let them use every day to reach their heavenly homeland.


A further reflection on the Sacrament of matrimony:

The life of man is characterised by joys and sorrows, great occasions and ordinary humdrum ones. The humdrum ones fill up most of our lives, and many would think that the difficulties and sorrows outweigh the joys. Whatever be the case, a wedding day is a day of joy. God unites a Catholic couple to his divine Son in a most special way. This is so because the very love of a married couple for one another is made by God to be the means of helping one another to grow in holiness. How is this? This is so because God makes their love for one another a sacrament, that is to say, the sign and channel for one another of God’s grace.

  The first great gift which God gives a married couple is their very love for one another. The husband should look on his wife as God’s gift to him, a life-long gift to help him through life into heaven. The wife should look on her husband as God’s gift to her, a life-long gift to help her through life into heaven. And each should look on the other and on their marriage as a great responsibility. God unites them to one another in an indissoluble bond, a bond which no-one, not even they themselves will ever be authorized to break. What God joins, no one may break asunder. They become as if they were one. And this is above all God’s doing. It is His gift to them.

  But there is more. God transforms their love for one another and makes it something greater than it would have been were God not involved in their marriage. He makes their love for one another a share in his own love for them and for us. That is to say, their love for one another becomes sacramental, manifesting to each other and bestowing on each other God’s love for them. Due to God’s action, their love becomes not just a purely human love, but a sacred love, for it bears within it the grace of God himself. And this will be the case all their lives, provided they remain in the state of grace. This grace of God, which their love for one another will show and convey, will assist them in their loving commitment to one another and to God himself.  And so the sacrament of matrimony will give them an impetus towards heaven. When married they give and receive their mutual love irrevocably, and God transforms this love into a channel of grace.

   But receiving a great gift imposes a great duty. Marriage is a wonderful blessing, but it is also a great responsibility.

   The first responsibility is to remain in the state of grace. That is to say, the first duty incumbent on both husband and wife is to strive to know, love and serve God here on earth. Their first responsibility is to remain in God’s friendship and to grow in it, striving to avoid all that displeases him. They have the duty to help one another to do this. They must help one another remain in the state of grace and grow in it. This means knowing well the Church’s teaching on married life and being very faithful to it.

   Every one must remain in the state of grace. It is what God made us for. God made us to know, love and serve him here on earth, so as to see and enjoy him for ever in heaven. That applies to every human person. The problem is that due to the sin of our first parents, every one of us is born in the condition of sin, a condition which would render this great purpose of our lives unattainable, were we left to our own fallen resources. For this reason God sent his divine Son to die for us, and by his death to merit the grace of redemption. We can now attain heaven by seeking and growing in holiness. This is possible only by the grace of Christ which we must seek, obtain, and live by. This grace comes to us in the Sacraments, one of which is the Sacrament of Matrimony. A baptized couple who strives to love one another in Christ will be a channel of grace for each other. What they must also do is take all the other means of grace available to every Christian.

  We know what those means of grace are. The first means is to live a life of prayer. If we do not pray we shall not reach heaven. So we must make a point of setting some time aside each day for prayer. Morning and night prayers, and short prayers often during the day, and hopefully some prayer together such as the Rosary. Then some regular spiritual reading to nourish this life of prayer. It could be reading the Gospel, the lives of the saints, or a reliable book explaining the Church’s teaching. But then there are the sacraments, taking great care to receive the Sacraments regularly and worthily. This means Mass and Holy Communion at least every Sunday, but really as often as possible - the ideal being every day. It also means going to Confession regularly and well. I would recommend Confession at least every month, best of all every week. And every time we go to Confession we should aim at making it the occasion for a conversion. The grace of God is available in this sacrament to enable this to happen. So, prayer and the Sacraments.

   Then there must be a sincere commitment to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities inherent in the married state. It means each striving to be a very good spouse, and being open to the blessing of children, and then raising their children with a deep love for their Catholic Faith. In relation to this, every married couple should make the decision to know well the Church’s teaching, to love their Catholic Faith, to live by it, and to bear witness to it before others. We should be prepared even to die for our Catholic Faith.

   Let us ask God for a deep appreciation of the Sacrament of matrimony


A further reflection on Christian Marriage

There are many things we are in danger of taking for granted. One is the ordinary individual.  Consider the incalculable number of human beings that make up the seemingly unending river of mankind. We do not know when our first parents appeared, nor do we know when human history will end. A constant temptation when thinking of this surging sea of mankind is to think that the ordinary individual does not matter. I read in one biography of Mao Ts Tung that he did not care much about individual Chinese because there were so very many of them. That is to say, for him the individual did not matter. But every individual has an instinctive sense that he does indeed matter. There is an undying intuition in the heart of every person that he is of absolute value and that his value does not consist in his being regarded by his society as outstanding or useful. Indeed, one could argue that the advance of civilization has hinged not on the development of technology, agriculture, literature or the arts, even though these are very much associated with civilization. Rather, civilization hinges on the degree to which each ordinary unknown, obscure man and woman is deemed to be inestimably valuable. Some philosophers of history have criticized the emphasis on outstanding persons. They have said that the deepest force at work in history has been the great body of ordinary men and women. That point can be argued, but what is indisputable is the value of each individual and how he uses his capacity to choose freely. No matter how ordinary we are, we matter greatly, and what we each of us chooses, matters greatly.

The overwhelming number of human beings are what we might call ordinary. They do not stand out and that is in no way a point against them because very many who do stand out are and have been despicable. Being outstanding does not necessarily mean being good or beautiful. There was a famous book written many years ago by Schumacher, called Small is Beautiful. He was speaking of work, but by implication his point applies to the small, ordinary and obscure person. It applies to the ordinary, common and obscure family that lives its life doing the ordinary round with all its small achievements and failures - small, that is, in the eyes of society. Schumacher’s point is that smallness and seeming ordinariness can be something very beautiful. It all depends on how such a life is lived and how such a work is done. Where can we search for a shining example of this immensely important point, so very important because it applies in the nature of the case to so very many people? There is a superb instance of ordinariness in human history, an instance of the small being of shining and unending beauty. It is a unique case that has provided unending fascination and inspiration to those who care to contemplate it. It is the model for each of the countless ordinary individuals and families who constitute the ever-renewing ocean of humanity. Who am I speaking of? I am speaking of an obscure family in an obscure backwater village in a peripheral fringe of the Roman Empire. That family was very ordinary indeed in the sense that in the eyes of its society it did not stand out at all. It did what families and individuals beyond number did and do, and yet it was beautiful beyond compare. In its case, small was beautiful indeed, beautiful beyond imagining in the sight of God.

I am speaking of the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. For some three decades this family lived in obscurity. Mary toiled away at her homemaking chores while Joseph and Jesus his divine foster-son worked at carpentry and building. Theirs was an ordinary life in a very ordinary village, but what grandeur was theirs! Hidden in their home life was a world of holiness and moral beauty no one could possibly estimate. All three lived in God utterly and all three lived in a union of love for one another that is indescribable. Jesus their son was God, the God of holiness and love who had become man. Holiness was not God’s gift to him, it was his possession by nature. He was its very source inasmuch as his spirit was the very Spirit of God. The divine Spirit of holiness proceeded from him and the Father. He was all-holy, and here he was living an ordinary family life. Consider his mother. His mother was endowed by God with a holiness that filled her and which increased day by day. By God’s gift and the merits of her Son’s future sacrifice she was full of grace such that no sin ever touched her. She received grace upon grace. Consider the love, then, between Jesus and his mother. It was the purest imaginable. But then, consider too the love between Joseph and his wife Mary, and that between Joseph and his foster-son Jesus. It is surely the fondest thing of all to imagine their life together, day after day, evening after evening, doing their duties together, sharing their joys and their concerns. Think of the holy death of Joseph, with Jesus and Mary by his side as he breathed his last. Think of the funeral procession  with Joseph being taken out for burial, and Jesus and Mary returning together to their home to take up life without their beloved and holy household head. For thirty years this family and in particular Jesus the Saviour of mankind lived an ordinary life, the kind of life lived by the overwhelming percentage of the vast family of mankind. It was not larger than life, as we say. No, it was small, very small. It was an ordinary life. But it was beautiful with a beauty beyond compare and that was because they loved God with their whole heart and lived perfectly obedient to his will.

The holy family of Nazareth is the most beautiful thing in human history and out of it came the Redeemer and his redemption of the world. It is the paradigm of the good that issues from a truly Christian family. The holy family of Nazareth is the model for every human family. Every married couple ought return again and again in their hearts to this all-holy family for their spiritual nourishment and their renewal as a married couple. As Saint Josemaria Escriva was fond of pointing out, holiness involves beginning again and again in an ongoing and persevering conversion. The Christian family begins again and again in two senses. Firstly it renews its inspiration by gazing repeatedly on its grand model, and that model is the Holy Family. It ought contemplate the Holy Family all through life, beginning during the months of preparation for marriage, and continuing thereafter to the very end. This contemplation is a prayerful gaze on Jesus, Mary and Joseph, remembering their life together and in their presence prayerfully asking their help in being like them. Their great work  is to become like them in all the ordinariness of everyday life. But also and together with this ongoing contemplation the Christian couple actually shares in the life of the Holy Family by grace. Grace filled the Holy Family of Nazareth and in this Sacrament of Matrimony the spouses share in this grace that filled the life of the Holy Family. By this grace they are empowered to grow in imitation of the Holy Family. By this grace that comes to them in the Sacrament of Matrimony the couple is able to put on the likeness of that which is their model of family life. They are not left in their own incapacity. They are not left to their own resources. At the moment of their exchange of marriage vows Christ comes to them in a new way by the power of the Holy Spirit and endows them anew with the life of grace, and this grace constitutes a share in the life of the Holy Family. The task ahead is to become like the Holy Family and in this will lie their beauty.

There is an old piece of advice for every couple. It is at the end of the day to ask, what have I done today for my marriage, and then the next morning to ask, what shall I do today for my marriage. Most people, most families, life an ordinary life. The Holy Family lived an ordinary life. The Holy Family lived in the midst of their ordinariness a life of incalculable yet hidden beauty. That beauty sprang from the life of grace. The calling of every Christian couple is, however ordinary they may be, to become more and more like the Holy Family, and more and more filled with the grace that filled the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph during those years at Nazareth. May the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and may Mary and Joseph aid Anna and Gui in the one thing necessary, which is to know the will of God and to put it into practice. In this way, as our Lord once said, they will be brother and sister to him both now and hereafter.