by Rev. Albert F. Ernst, O.S.F.S.
Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. Our attention was called to the strong and reverent stewardship of St. Joseph. The selfless love of the sweetest of all mothers, Mary, and the loving obedience of the Child Jesus. There, a father learned that true greatness does not depend on earthly success and riches. For Joseph, the guardian of Him to whom the earth and its fullness belongs, stood at a bench and handled the tools of a carpenter. These children learned the lesson of obedience from the divine Child whom the winds and seas obeyed and yet who was subject for thirty years to a village tradesman and a Virgin. These mothers learned that men are prepared for great missions by noble women and that of all women there is no model like the woman who was pure enough and beautiful enough to be the Mother of God.
Today's Gospel speaks about a similar topic. It tells us about a wedding that took place in Cana of Galilee. This Gospel is of interest for several reasons. One, it tells about the first miracle performed by our Lord. Two, it shows us that He performed the miracle at the request of Mary, His Mother; and three, it gives us a clue as to our Lord's attitude toward marriage. This morning I thought I would express a few ideas about marriage hoping that I might say something that will increase your love, respect and admiration for this great sacrament.
The mere fact that our Lord attended the marriage is significant. His very presence implied approval. However, His presence not only implied approval but also brought a blessing, a divine blessing. Marriage brings this blessing to the young man and lady who have the love and the courage to deliberately surrender oneself, body and soul to the keeping of another while life shall last. Such deliberate surrender of oneself is the matrimonial contract. The moment when such a surrender takes place, shortly before the Nuptial Mass, is an undeniably solemn moment which requires a strong heart. The strong heart is needed, not so much to carry the couple through their wedding day or the early days and weeks and months of their married life, but for when the time comes that the actualities of life will put the union to a test, not once, but over and over again. A moment comes when the bonds once meant to be as firm as cables, now seem as frail as silken cords. The time comes when affection, which once was delicate, now begins to take things for granted.
Of course, the love of husband for wife and wife for husband has its moments of joy, transports and ecstasies but it also has its winter of disillusionment. One, the husband after a few years of married life, makes the startling discovery that his wife is no longer the goddess he thought she was, and the wife in turn realizes that he is no longer her strong Apollo. Two, the day soon comes when under the magic but corroding touch of time, she loses the rose in her cheeks which not even art can restore and he gives up or forfeits the strong resolve he made to sacrifice everything for his beloved - forgetting to send flowers or candy on her birthday, or perhaps, even forgetting the birthday. Her childish prattle which once made him laugh, now begins to get on his nerves, and his repetition of old wise crack becomes as intolerable to her as his habit of spilling cigarette ashes on the carpet.
At times such as these, strong hearts are needed. Our Lord knew this. That is why He blessed the couple at Cana on their wedding day. That too, is why He raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. As Jesus looked out into the future, He saw that married people would need special help. He found a way to give them this help. He found a way to give them the help necessary to bear up under their difficulties, to have the strength and courage to be real Christians, true and loyal husbands and wives, good fathers and mothers. This help is present in the sacrament of Matrimony. This sacrament produces sacramental grace and entitles to all the special graces needed for the whole long length of married life. The grace to walk the baby patiently at night, the grace to bit one's tongue in the midst of a family quarrel, or the grace to deal with the other party in marriage with a charity and kindness that far surpasses the demands of justice.
Marriage is a sacrament. It is a great sacrament, and we must look upon it as such at all times. As a sacrament, Matrimony is as holy as is Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. Holy Mother Church shows Her high appreciation of Matrimony by endowing its reception with a special solemnity. Baptism is usually administered outside the sanctuary in the baptistery of the church or even in a hospital. Reconciliation may be received in the Confessional, and Anointing of the Sick frequently occurs outside of the church building. When a person receives Holy Communion or Confirmation, he approaches, but does not enter the sanctuary. But with marriage, provided it is celebrated in connection with Holy Mass, the Church throws open the gates of the sanctuary and introduces the candidates into the Holy of Holies, the very spot where we offer the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Have you ever thought of that? For centuries only two sacraments have been administered in the sanctuary, Holy Orders and Matrimony.
There is another point. Why is Holy Matrimony celebrated in connection with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which as we all know is a representation of our Lord's death on the cross? For this significant reason, that our Lord's death on Calvary was at the same time the greatest tragedy and the highest triumph of love. From it the candidates for marriage are to learn, at the very moment of their marriage, that their life will be full of great love but that it will also be one of tremendous sacrifice for which its virtuous endurance will draw on all the resources of their love. This very endurance of their mutual love will best show its genuiness and will celebrate its finest triumphs.
For true love reaches its peak, its zenith, not in the sweet exchange of vows and professions of love, nor of labors and hardships, but in the glad submission to sacrifices for the sake of the one you love. The sooner the candidates of Matrimony and those already married know this, and the more they realize and are inbred with this correct view of true love, the less disappointed and disillusioned they will likely be later on, and the happier and more blessed will be their married life. So, candidates for marriage ought to give this matter careful thought. Married people should make it a part of their lives, and all of us ought to show a greater appreciation and respect for this noble sacrament and for the people who receive it, particularly our parents.