Editor’s note: The following is Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s homily for World Marriage Day, Feb. 13, 2022:
A Ukrainian Hasidic rabbi, Levi Yitzhak, stated that he had discovered the meaning of love from a drunken peasant. The rabbi was visiting the owner of a tavern in the Polish countryside. As he walked in, he saw two peasants at a table. Both it might be said were “gloriously in their cups” or in more common parlance “feeling good!” Arms around each other, they were attesting how much each loved the other. Suddenly Ivan said, “Peter, tell me, what hurts me?” Bleary-eyed, Peter looked at Ivan: “How do I know what hurts you?” Ivan’s answer was swift: “If you don’t know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?”…“If you don’t know what hurts me, how can you say you love me?”
What a powerful question that underlies our celebration this afternoon! At this altar table where you and I gather to honor the Sacrament of Marriage, we are reminded of an essential element of Holy Communion: It cannot happen without body broken and blood poured out in total self-giving love. Listen again to words often used in marriage ceremonies spoken by the couple themselves in what is known as the exchange of consent or the marriage vows:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my wife/husband
To have and to hold, from this day forward
For better, for worse,
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish
Until death do us part.
Both the words “consent” and “vow” signify, “to dedicate to someone or to something.” In the Rite of Marriage, we see husband and wife dedicate themselves to each other; and the only way it will stick, so to speak, is to give themselves over to “a partnership of the whole of life which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (see Canon 1056.1). It is in this total self-giving of one to another that love is incarnated; that is, it takes on flesh and becomes a living sign of God’s presence in the world.
Brothers and sisters, in the words I just spoke I have given you the definition of a sacrament: “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace” or stated another way—“a living sign of God’s love and presence in the world today.” This is the true heart of the Sacrament of Marriage. Just like the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist that we gather now to share in, God’s love is made real in the flesh and blood of the married couple.
Now at this moment, some couples might be giving each other that glance and saying to themselves, “Who us?” And my response is, “Yeah, you!” Like the story of Peter and Ivan, you might acknowledge that reading each other’s mind hasn’t always been your gift! Nonetheless, in making such a concession, this is where you and I can turn our eyes to Jesus in today’s Sermon on the Plain and receive new meaning and perspective for our lives.
This Sunday’s Gospel (which is the Lucan version of the Sermon on the Mount) demonstrates for you and me how Jesus comes to meet us where we are at and gifts us with what we need in the moment. You might be wondering why two different titles for the same event. In truth, it all depends where one is standing on the mountain. I learned this fact when I hiked down the Mount of the Beatitudes a few years ago. Coming down from the top of the mountain one sees a broad plain between the hiker and the Sea of Galilee. However, if one stops on the path and looks up, there is where you see the mountain incline.
Yet, what one finds in St. Luke’s recording of the Beatitudes is the God who wants to dwell with us wherever one finds himself or herself on the path of life:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh” (Lk. 6:20-21).
In our poverty, not in our abundance, our God comes to fill us. Today, more than ever, I believe couples entering into marriage need to know this truth. So often, I hear young people saying that they can’t commit to life together until they have it all together. Unfortunately, this means marriage is seen only as an end result, rather than a life built together and with God as the architect. One of the cherished memories of my childhood is living in a house and home that was built throughout my parents’ nearly 62 years of marriage. I learned from them that a Sacrament and our Vocation in Life from God—is not a one-time event, but a lifetime journey.
I am sure that you here today can testify more readily than I to the truthfulness and sacrificial nature of these words. In an exhortation used in the pre–Vatican II marriage rite, it was stated: “Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. ‘Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’”
Let me conclude our breaking open of God’s word this afternoon with a poem by Michel Quoist titled Love is not already, you have to do it:
Love is not a ready-made garment,
But a piece of material to be cut and tailored.
It is not an apartment ready for occupation
but a house to be designed, built, furnished and repaired.
It is not a conquered peak,
but a daunting ascent with many obstacles and falls
made in the icy cold or the fierce heat.
It is not a safe anchorage in a harbor of happiness
but a voyage on the open seas in storm and tempest.
It is not a triumphant “yes,” an affirmation of success,
but “yes” repeated again and again throughout life
accompanied by “no” repeated as many times, but overcome.
It is not the sudden appearance of a new life,
perfect from the moment of its birth,
but the flowing of a river from its source, sometimes in flood and
sometimes only as a trickle of water,
but always on its way to the infinite sea.