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January 17, 2016

SACRAMENT OF MARRIAGE

Two men were talking about their wives.

Larry: “We had a tough quarrel yesterday but finally she came crawling to me on her hands and knees.”

Ken: “What did she say?”

Larry: “She said, “Larry, you come out from under that bed and fight like a man!”

This Sunday we continue to celebrate the “Epiphany” (manifestation) of the Lord again.  Jesus reveals himself to us continually, sometimes in monumental, awesome ways.  Sometimes he reveals himself in the quiet events of our daily lives.  Today’s first reading and Gospel reading speak about marriage.  The first reading from Isaiah prophesies the day that God’s love will be experienced like the new love of marriage, the love of a bridegroom for his bride.  The epiphany of the Gospel reading takes place at a marriage feast.  The Lord reveals himself in the typical, ordinary events of a loving, Christian marriage.

We have had many wonderful examples of marriage in our parish.  There are spouses who have devoted their retired years to taking care of their spouse.  We have young husbands and wives who understand the hurt of their spouse and who care for them even though it is often at the expense of their own desires and even needs.

We have an elderly gentleman in the parish whose wife suffered from facial cancer and who cared for her to the end, helping her keep her dignity.  We have wives whose lives consist in caring for their husbands with dementia.  We have young couples who work hard to understand the hurts in the backgrounds of their spouse and sacrifice their own desires and even needs to be present and loving for their spouse.  These and the myriad examples of sacrificial love are ways in which Christ continues to manifest his presence at or in a marriage.

How different this type of marriage is as we see marriages portrayed in many of our television shows or by many of those whom we call “celebrities.”  To these, marriage consists in what an individual is going to get, not in what an individual is allowed to give.  Their marriages are basically selfish.  When the husband or wife is no longer having their needs met, they seek an end to the marriage that really never existed in the first place.  At least it never existed as a Christian, sacramental marriage.  The essence of a sacramental marriage is forming a life of giving, a life of true love. 

It is a wonderful paradox in life that the more someone takes, the less he or she has and the more someone gives, the more he or she has. You who are married certainly understand this in the context of your own marriage.  Having someone to give to is infinitely more important, infinitely more mature than having someone whom a person can take from. 

One of the sad occurrences of our society is that many people enter into a trial marriage before the real thing.  They start living together to see if they will be happy, and then, when they feel all is well, they decide to marry.  The sad part of this is that they choose cohabitation to see if their needs will be met by the relationship.  Most of the time the marriage that follows breaks up.  Why?  Aside from this factor or that factor, the root problem is this: If a person enters into a relationship to see if he or she will be happy, then he or she is more concerned with getting than giving.  For some it is impossible to move from that selfish motivation to the Christian motivation of being in the relationship to become more Christ-like, of being in the relationship to give. 

Someone may ask, “How is a guy or girl to know that this person is right for him or her?”   No one can predict the future.  Certainly, an intelligent couple will wait out the period of infatuation and learn to love each other through a courtship and an engagement.  But even more important than courtship and engagement is faith, faith and trust in Jesus that if the man and woman do the right thing, love each other in a selfless way rather than a selfish way, that the presence of the Lord will help them form a community of love in their house.  Through that love, due to the presence of Christ’s love, their house becomes a Christian home.

It all sounds too idealistic, doesn’t it?  None of this takes into account this one’s moods or that one’s sloppiness.  Human beings, with human limitations, need ideals.  You need to have the ideal of a Christian marriage as a goal for your marriage.

How about children? The needs and wants of children continually draw the attention of husbands and wives away from each other.  Yes, that is true.  But children should have their needs (not their wants) met, even if this takes a tremendous amount of work and limits the amount of time husbands and wives can share together.  At the same time, you are being good parents when you also set aside time for each other, time when you are away from the kids. 

The little ones’ bedtimes give you some evening time together.  Put them to bed not only because they need sleep, but you need them to give their mom and dad time to themselves.  And consider setting aside a time every few weeks when you can go out together without the kids as an opportunity to reconnect and renew your love. It is probably difficult for most of our young families to set this up: get a baby sitter, choose what you want to do, and relax and enjoy your evening out without constantly worrying about the kids.  Sometimes you might think that it is not worth the hassle.  But if you put up with the myriad of tasks just so you can go out for an evening because you know your spouse needs this, then you are in fact, loving your spouse in a sacrificial way and allowing Christ to find another presence in your love for each other, in your marriage.

It is time well spent when couples seek ways to be really loving, to be really Christian. It is time well spent for any priest when he sees so many of you caring for each other, and giving witness to the presence of Christ in your love. You, loving couples, have become epiphanies of the Lord.