September 28, 2015

Marriage: The Good Wine (a Catholic wedding homily)

Jesus changing water into wine
This wedding homily by Monsignor Cormac Burke originally appeared in the Nazareth Journal, 1995/2, pp. 18-20. Previously, it was posted on Big C Catholics in installments. At the request of readership, it is presented here in full. I highly recommend you visit Msgr. Burke's website for more such excellent content.

 "You have kept the good wine until now".

     In these words the steward expressed his amazement to the bridegroom at Cana. And his amazement was redoubled when he found the bridegroom just as surprised as he was. The words should, of course, have been addressed to Jesus, who had just let himself be persuaded by Our Lady to work the first of his miracles.

     After thirty years of hidden life, Jesus begins to reveal the divine power that is his by nature. Surely it can be no accident that he works his first miracle on the occasion of a human celebration, and in order to provide more of what would make people merrier still at a party already filled with merriment.

     Is it too much to suggest that Our Lord chose this moment because he wished to make it clear that he had come to bring men happiness; not just the ultimate and perfect happiness of heaven, but also the passing though real happiness of earth? He had come to give a divine touch to human things, so that man's store of happiness, even if at times in danger, need never run out.

     God became man not to destroy man, but to save him, not to limit or inhibit or frustrate man, but to show him the way to fulfilment and to freedom: to the final and limitless freedom and fulfilment of heaven, to be sure; but also to that relative but true freedom and happiness which God himself wants us to achieve on earth. Christianity, when all is said and done, does not devalue human things, but leads them to their true fulfilment (which can be so easily missed), and far beyond.

     Most people's dreams of happiness are dreams of human love. The instinct to look for happiness in love and marriage is rooted deep in the human heart, and has surely been placed there by God. Our Lord's choice of a marriage feast as the setting for his first miracle seems a good proof not only of the obvious fact that he is in favour of marriage (his own institution, after all!), but also that he wants people's hopes of happiness in marriage to be fulfilled. I am certain that Jesus rejoiced in the noble and pure love of the young couple at Cana, just as he most certainly blessed it with his presence. I am sure that this marriage, with Christ and his Blessed Mother present at its inception, was one of the very many happy marriages of history.

     But our Lord did more on this occasion. He worked an evident miracle in favour of this marriage. And he worked a deeper miracle still, in favour of all subsequent marriages.

     Water to wine is an evident miracle. God's deeper miracles are not always so evident. Wine to Blood is a miracle seen only by the eyes of faith. The appearance has not changed. But the reality has. The reality is divine. It is the Mystery of the Sacraments: God's hidden presence and action through human signs.

     The real miracle of Cana is our Lord's endowing human love with a new power: the power to be a sign and a cause of divine love.

     He wanted this couple, and all Christian couples, to be happy in loving one another. He wanted them to love him in loving one another. He wanted them to be saints, in loving one another. And so he raised their marriage to be a Sacrament.

     Christian teaching on marriage as a Sacrament means not only that husband and wife have God's help, to love each other more, and to love their children more. It also means that in loving each other and their children more, they are loving God more. Marriage is both a means and a challenge to growth in love. And growth in human love, in Christian marriage, effects (i.e. causes) growth in divine love. This is the sacramentality of marriage.

     Everyone marries in expectation of happiness. But you must have often reflected on the fact that many marriages do not work out as happy marriages. Will yours? Will you be faithful to one another, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, in happiness, to the very end? That is what you hope and pray for today.

     I would suggest three conditions which, if you fulfil them, will make your marriage happy.

     * Prayer: The first condition is that you pray a lot. "The family that prays together, stays together", so the saying goes. I feel certain that the couple married at Cana were a praying couple. Lay that sure foundation of prayer in your married life from the very start. The thought that your marriage is a sacrament, and therefore a source of grace, must be your mainstay. Not only do you want your marriage to be happy, but God wants it to be happy. If you learn to look to Him and pray to Him, your marriage will work out. But marriages do not work out without prayer.

     * Unconditional Love: The second condition is that you try to love each other always as God loves you. He loves each of you with your defects. This is the marvel of God's love. He doesn't love our defects, or love us because of our defects. He loves us because of our virtues, or at least because of our possibilities of virtues. But He loves us with our defects. If the moment were to come in which one of you were to begin to see, to think you see, more defects than virtues in the other, then you would have to go hurrying to take a refresher course in that school of love where God is always prepared.

     If many marriages today go "on the rocks" perhaps it's because the spouses expected too much of one another. Do not expect too much. Try to give without limit, even though you know you will never perfectly succeed in doing so. Therefore do not expect without limit. Only God can give without limit, and only God can satisfy unlimited expectations. He will do that, but only in heaven. Marriage is not heaven; though, if lived in a holy fashion it can be a foretaste and a preparation for heaven. When your partner fails to give what you expected, forgive. And when you fail to give what you thought you would always give, ask for forgiveness.

     * Fidelity: The third condition is that you always try to live your marriage in accordance with God's will. In a few moments you will exchange marriage vows, your mutual promises of life-long love and fidelity. These promises are not of your making, though you have freely chosen to make them. They are of God's making, for they express the nature of the marriage bond as He has made it. It is important to remember, for it is so often forgotten today that marriage was God's idea before it was ever man's. The nature of marriage is given by God, just as the promise of happiness marriage contains has been placed there by God. That is why the final condition for achieving that promised happiness is to live marriage according to its God-given nature.

     The marriage vow is a vow of fidelity unto death. Its bond can never be broken except by death. Our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed this in these solemn words: "What God has joined together let no man put asunder." The knowledge that you have freely and consciously accepted this life-long and unbreakable character of marriage, and are fully determined to maintain it, gives to each of you a deep trust in the quality of the love your partner feels for you. When people who believe in divorce get married, they can never have this assurance of an unconditional love on their partner's part. The very beginnings of their marriage rest on shaky foundations.

     In this Mass I pray with the Church that your marriage may be fruitful: that you may live to see your children's children to the third and fourth generation. Children are God's first gift and blessing to a married couple. Though many people today may seem to doubt this, may you never doubt it. Each child you receive from God is a sign of trust on his part, a vote of divine confidence in you. Observe that trust with gratitude, with a constant sense of the privilege of being sharers in God's creative work. If you receive your children in this way, each child will be not only the fruit of your love but also its pillar and mainstay.

     May each year that passes make you love each other even more deeply and tenderly than now. May the ups and downs of life, and the weaknesses of each of you, only serve, with God's grace, to make your love mature and firm and serene. And so your children will find in you parents who, loving each other and loving them with a strong, unwavering, tender, wise, generous and self-sacrificing love, reflect in some way the love God has for each of us his children.

     Mary was present at the Cana wedding party. She cared for the human happiness of this couple, even down to the small detail of wanting to spare them embarrassment for bad catering. How much more must she have cared for their love for each other throughout their married life. She was their friend. What an inspiration her love and friendship must have been to them in learning to love each other and their children more, more purely, more truly, more humanly, and in doing so, to learn to love God more. I feel no doubt that this marriage, so blessed from its very beginning, was a happy marriage indeed. But it was more: it was one of the many holy marriages of history; and that the couple of Cana, unknown to us by name, are high up among the saints in heaven.

     We have seen in the Gospel Mary's concern for the happiness of the young couple at Cana. Place yourselves under her protection and intercession, so that the good wine of your present love for each other and for God may never run out, may always remain good; and so that, by the grace and divine power of the Sacrament you are about to administer to one another, you may learn to turn all the little incidents that make up life, the apparently colorless and insipid water of everyday living, into the richest possible wine of love for each other, love for your children, and love for God.

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