What does a couple look for in marriage? Perhaps those celebrating their significant anniversaries this year could cast their minds back and recall what was in their hearts as they embraced the Sacrament of Marriage. Indeed all married couples here today could consider what their hopes and expectations were as they walked down the aisle.
Could I hazard some guesses?
I would imagine that the love you felt for your prospective spouse was central. That love was intensified on the day and was accompanied no doubt by a great joy of the occasion. Your love was proclaimed unequivocally and your promise of lifelong fidelity captured the totality of that love.
Perhaps also there was a strong desire for the marriage to become the basis for a companionship throughout life, someone who would be there in the good times and in the bad. Someone who would always be by your side. This desire for companionship was experienced during the time of courtship as you shared your deepest self and found one who understood and shared your dreams.
It is not unlikely that there was hope that the marriage union would provide security and stability for your life ahead. The words, “I promise to be true to you” gave you a deep sense of confidence that you can face the challenges that lay ahead. This solemn promise of fidelity was most reassuring and comforting: there was someone who deeply believed in you and would stand by you and support you throughout life.
Then, of course, there was the wish to have children, to found a family. You saw your life ahead as being not just a couple but becoming a family. You hoped to have children and saw this the way for your future.
These were all probably present in one way or another, along with other hopes as well.
Marriage is a beautiful thing. It takes us to the depths of our humanity where love, joy and hope abide. A wedding is always an occasion of great celebration. It captures some of the most noble of human emotions and desires, and it expresses some of the most heartfelt of human experiences. A wedding is a time of hope and expectation. Everyone wishes the newly married couple well in their future together.
Marriage is a total thing. It is not something casual or embraced partially. The Catholic Catechism says, “Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter — appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility.” (CCC 164)
Marriage belongs to our human nature. It is how we are designed by the wise and provident Creator. It is a natural institution and universal across cultures. It is deeply and wonderfully human.
The Catholic marriage ceremony poses three questions to the couple. These questions capture the key meanings of marriage.
The first question is: “Have you come here to enter into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly”. Marriage is the total and unreserved gift of one person to another. Thus, it has to be free and wholehearted. I cannot give myself unless I want to. Married love is a self-giving and a surrender of the "I" to the other. It goes out toward the other. Married love goes beyond friendship. It doesn’t seek just the good of the other, but totally surrenders to the other. By this self-giving, both are enriched.
The second question asks: “Are you prepared as you follow the path of marriage to love and honour each other for as long as you both shall live”. A couple base their marriage in a mutuality of love and honour. Their relationship is nourished by the love they have for each other and they profess a desire to always hold the other in honour. Couples come to know the frailties of each other – none of us are perfect – but these human weaknesses will not deter the deep respect that a couple hold for one another. It is a truly blessed thing to know that someone truly believes in you and will always honour you.
Finally, the couple is asked: “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church”. The couple knows that their marriage is not just between themselves, they know that love gives life. Their love finds expression in the wonder of the birth of a child. They desire to have children and willingly assume the responsibility of nurturing them and drawing them along the path of faith.
Tertullian, an early Church Father, proclaimed the goodness of Christian marriage in these words: “How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father?...How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit." Noble words.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches a profound truth about marriage. It says, “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love,” (CCC 1639). Pope Benedict explored this question of the relationship between God and the experience of love when he taught,
"There is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity - a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence. … The love of man and woman tends to rise 'in ecstasy' towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing." (DCE 5)
Marriage draws a couple beyond the human experience beautiful as it is, to a new dimension. It is a sharing in divine love, because God is love. Marriage is a Sacrament. Marriage is a pathway into grace and holiness. Marriage touches those elements of humanity that are the image of God.
Today, let us celebrate the wonderful gift of marriage. Let us rejoice in those faithful couples whose anniversaries we commemorate today. Let us embrace the fullness of God’s great plan for human life found and experienced in Christian marriage.
Love draws us into the Divine.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, February 9, 2017
To view photos from the mass, please visit: https://flic.kr/s/aHskUuEVUT