Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Marriage of Thomas and Marian

The Marriage of Our Lady and St. Joseph

I will

I am reasonably certain that Thomas and Marian were not motivated by patriotism in choosing the 4th of July weekend for their wedding. The real culprit, I suspect,  is the Rogers-Pierce cartel which is covertly seizing control of Camp Crucis for their own nefarious purposes.  It is, however, a rather good time to get married because the Declaration of Independence and the Sacrament of Marriage rest upon a common principle, namely consent.

‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’.

Similarly St. Thomas Aquinas taught, following the common teaching of the Church, matrimonium facit consensus – The alumni of  Coram Deo will not need a translation but for the rest of you: ‘consent makes a marriage’ that is, the whole essence of the Sacrament is in the mutual consent of the man and woman.

This is why the first thing that bride and groom have to say in the liturgical rite is “I will’. In the the Latin  from which the Prayer Book rite derived the word is volo.  The ‘I will’  is not the future tense of the verb, indicating something  which will occur later on,   but the present indicative meaning ‘I am at this moment exercising my will’. It is an assertion of their freedom. Nothing compels bride and groom to marry. Those two words – ‘I will’ are a rare public insistence on the freedom of the will, an objection to the prevailing determinism. Thomas and Marian insist before the world that they are not motivated by some early childhood trauma or by economic  or political considerations  or anything external to themselves but only by an act of free consent: ‘I will.’

I am quite frankly baffled by this parish’s love of the publishing of the banns. I have to be sure to publish the banns in a timely fashion when the bride and groom will be at Mass or their parents or some relative or other. It is a bit of free advertising, I guess.  But the idea of the banns is to ferret out some impediment to marriage.  

The reason that the Church has always done this is not so much because there is likely some tantalizing scandal to be found out, but to make sure that that bride and groom are acting as free agents. So important is this, after having published the banns three times,  we go through it again at the wedding itself, twice as a matter of fact. Sorry but all your chances of escape have now run out. No doubt there have been plenty of ‘shotgun weddings’ or royal marriages for political advantage or arranged marriages of one sort or another. The fact is these marriages  are invalid  pure and simple, unless the couple happens to assent or grace makes up what is lacking.

But strangely enough Bride and Groom  in boldly asserting their freedom, in the same breath renounce it: ‘in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, being faithful to each other as long as they both shall live’. They sign away their liberties by undertaking a life-long commitment  to each other.

This should not surprise us in the least.  It is part of our everyday experience that you cannot enter into any fruitful relationship without some abridgement of your own freedom, without some renunciation of your own will for the sake of the common good. This is true of our own democratic polity, even if it has more or less been forgotten lately. In politics these days there is no taking of prisoners. Still it is the law of all association and it is little wonder that it should hold true in those most intimate of all human associations, marriage, family, home. All the time husband and wife must sacrifice by a thousand little acts of consideration and this is  the mortar which holds together marriage, family and home.

Is it possible? Can human beings really live together under the same roof, day after day, month after month, year after year, without a hopeless clash of personalities? The answer of course is that mysterious thing we call love. Mysterious and  so easily misunderstood. The other theological virtues, faith and hope, are easily and conveniently defined. but the standard theological definition of love, while true, seems to beg the question:

Love  is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.

We want to know what love looks like and that is exactly what St. Paul famously shows us:

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.

So powerful is that description of love that it is hard to imagine that you would ever need more than this or   anything different from this.  

More than this? No. Different than this? No. That is not what we mean when we say you need the grace of this Sacrament. Grace is not something that comes from the outside and  says ‘you are doing all wrong, let me show you how to do it.”  Gratia non tollit sed perficit naturam,  St. Thomas tells us --Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it. Grace takes something that belongs to the earth and makes it glow with radiance of heaven. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Sacrament of Marriage. The love you two feel for each other is already sacramental;  it is the raw material, the uncut jewel, waiting for the divine action to polish it. Not more, not something different but that same love, only stronger, deeper, more supernaturally enduring.

The difficulty with all this is that we are very unclear presently about what freedom is. Mostly we think it means we can do whatever we want. But for Christians, although freedom  necessarily involves the possibility of doing evil as well as good, we are given our liberty and freedom by God so that we may chose the good, the service of God, which is perfect freedom. And, you two in accepting one another have accepted God’s will for you, his will that you be sanctified not apart but only together, by the way of married life, which is at once a revelation of love and an opportunity for service.

Your “I will’ echoes that perfect act of submission which our Lady ‘full of grace’ made when she said “let it be unto me according to thy word.” May her prayers and those of St. Joseph build your house for you, as they built a house for Jesus, a house for your children, a house sanctified by love and service. May their prayers and our prayers bring you to that eternal wedding feast, where there is no more parting and the love between you on earth will be finally perfectly known.

I will.

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