Married love: A physical and spiritual transformation…
(CUSA) – If marriage is lived as though it were a possession rather than a vocation it inevitably will fail since all possessions eventually fail to provide genuine human value.
If it is lived instead with a goal of selflessness and unity then it will bear fruit now and forever. —Ed.
Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Until not that long ago, it was traditional at an English wedding, be it Catholic or Protestant, for the groom to say, as he placed the ring on his bride’s finger, “With this ring, I thee wed; with my body, I thee worship.”
Historians of the English language tell us that the word “worship” did not have the same connotation in earlier days that it does now, but those rather startling words underscore an important truth spoken of in our first reading: married love is not just a meeting of minds, it involves the gift of one’s whole self, body and soul.
When the man and woman first met, Adam said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” So important is this bodily aspect of marriage that Jesus quoted the line which follows when he spoke of God’s intention for marriage from the beginning of creation: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”
Speaking of this mystery, the English preacher Ronald Knox observed in one of his wedding sermons:
Just as you cannot say with confidence, ‘Here body ends and soul begins,’ you cannot say with confidence, speaking of two lovers, ‘Here was a physical, and here was a spiritual attraction.’ The two threads are intertwined; the body becomes the vehicle of the soul’s initiative, touch of hand, glance of eye, can express meaning between lovers more eloquently than speech.
Certainly this union of both bodies and souls finds a unique expression in the intimacy of what, in a more genteel way is sometimes referred to as “the marital embrace”, but it marks every aspect of your life together as a couple.
It is expressed in romantic ardor, but also in the day-to-day work of keeping a house and raising a family; it is there “in sickness and in health”, as you age together and share the aches and pains of getting old.
There is a simple yet eloquent word which expresses the total gift of yourselves that you made to one another on your wedding day: sacrifice.
In fact, if you were married before the Second Vatican Council, you would have heard the following words, written by Msgr. Charles Ramm, for many years the Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral:
Henceforth you 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.
In giving yourselves to the vocation of marriage, you were fulfilling in a unique way the admonition from St. Paul in our second reading: “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”
This sacrificial self-offering between husband and wife is at the heart of every marriage, but our faith teaches us that in Christian marriage this sacrifice is also a sacrament. What does this mean?
It is customary for Catholics to exchange their wedding vows before the altar. It is there that Christ, speaking through his priest, says, “This is my Body, given for you.”
In a very real way, at the Last Supper Jesus was saying to his Bride, the Church: “With my Body, I thee wed. I give myself over to you completely, to my final breath and my last drop of blood.” That is the great mystery made present every time we celebrate the Eucharist: every Mass is a Nuptial Mass.
When you two exchanged your vows twenty-five, fifty, or more years ago, you were responding to Our Lord’s invitation: “Do this in memory of me.” And by your response you were saying to each other, “This is my body, given for you.”
Consciously or not (and I suspect most of you had lots of other things running through your mind that day!), you were standing before the altar upon which Christ gives himself entirely to us, and asking for the grace to imitate in your own weak, limited way, his donation in your gift to one another.
You were asking, in St. Paul’s words, that in your marriage you would not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you would discern what, in God’s will, is good and pleasing and perfect.
You were, when you come to think of it, asking Jesus to perform a miracle: to transfigure by his divine love the love you felt for one another. And Christ performed the miracle: he changed the water of your human love into the wine of his divine love. We need water to survive, but wine is the source of joy.
Human love may make the world go ‘round, but divine love is the touch of the Creator himself. Were you audacious in asking for such a wedding present from him? No, for he told his followers at that same Last Supper: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” Christ says to his Bride, “This is my Body, given for you”; you say to one another, “This is my body, given for you”; and so married love becomes a sacrament.
Now, we are told that at Cana Our Lord did not only change water into wine – he changed it into very good wine. God is never satisfied with the minimum; he gives only the best, and he gives it lavishly.
As you come together today before this altar to celebrate your anniversary, it is my hope that when you look back on the deep love you felt for one another on your wedding day, and compare it with the love you feel for one another after these many years, you can say to the Lord, and to one another, “You have kept the good wine until now.”