Becoming the Sacrament of Christ’s Spousal Love, Nuptial Mass of Thomas and Courtney Horton, July 15, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan
Nuptial Mass for Thomas Zachary Horton and Courtney Lee McEachon
Extraordinary Form
July 15, 2017
Eph 5:22-33, Mt 19:3-6

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

The beautiful event we’re celebrating today has a long prehistory, one that goes back beyond Zach’s proposal to Courtney last September 10 on the beach of Palm Island, Florida, with Zach’s unintentionally finishing a capella the refrain of George Strait’s country classic, “Check Yes or No.” It goes back well before their first date, September 25, 2015, in Central Park, to greet Pope Francis as he passed through blessing them and the tens of thousands beside them. It extends far beyond the first time they met, at an Intercollegiate Studies Institute conference in Richmond, Virginia, in 2013, or the time they met again two years later, on the Feast of the Transfiguration in 2015, at a party to watch a presidential debate. It goes back even further than when their parents, Thomas and Janet, Joseph and Cynthia, got the joy-filled news to expect them two-and-a-half decades ago. The prehistory to their wedding extends back to even before God said “Let there be light.” And to understand the significance and beauty of this day, we need to see where it fits into God’s plan for them and for the world.

When Jesus, in the Gospel we just heard, was asked about the nature of marriage, he took it back to the “beginning,” when God made them “made them male and female.” In the Book of Genesis, at the beginning of time, when God created Adam, Adam had God all to himself in the garden. All of creation had been made for him to govern. He was perfectly in right relationship with God. Even though he seemed to have everything one could ask for, something — more specifically, someone — was missing. And after God had said in the first six phases of creation, “It was good,” “It was good,” “It was good,” “It was good,” “It was good,” “It was good,” and with the creation of the human person, “It was very good,” God finally thundered, “It is not good…for man to be alone.” So he created Eve, a fitting partner, symbolically out of his side, to show that they stand side-by-side, equal, before him. When Adam saw her, he exclaimed, “Finally this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!,” a Hebrew idiom saying that they shared strengths and weaknesses. As the text ends, as Jesus reiterates in the Gospel, we learn that this is the reason why a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh in love. The upshot of the Creation account is that God, who is love, has created the human person in his image and likeness … in love and for love. Since no one can love in a vacuum, God could not be solitary, because there needed to be a Lover and a Beloved, and in God the love between them was so strong as to take on personality. In creating the human person, therefore, God created not just a “him, male and female” but a “them,” a communion between man and woman, whose love for each other could be so strong as to “make love,” to generate new life, as a fruit of their loving communion of persons. From the first marriage of Adam and Eve, to your marriage today, Zach and Courtney, marriage was created by God to be a sacrament of love, to help you to grow to be more and more like God and at the same time more fully human. Today you have not only received a Sacrament. Today you have become a Sacrament, a visible sign, as St. John Paul II used to say, pointing to the invisible reality of the Trinitiarian loving communion of persons. You have been called, chosen and commissioned by God to be not just a living reminder of the fruitful, faithful, indissoluble love of God, to reflect efficaciously in your own marriage Christ’s love for his bride the Church, but to preach that Gospel of human love in the divine plan, in words and in body language, for as long as you both shall live.

St. Paul, in today’s first reading take from his Letter to the Ephesians, gives you challenging advice about how to put the truth of Christian marriage into practice. He says to young couples of every age, “Be subordinate” or subject, or submissive, “to one another out of reverence for Christ.” See the image of Christ in each other. Be like Christ for each other. Seek to love one another as Christ has loved you. He then gets specific. He tells husbands, “Love your wives even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to make her holy.” Zach, Christ who calls you to love Courtney in this way, will give you the strength you need to do it, to love her by laying down your life for her in ways big and small, ordinary and extraordinary, from showing up on time or even a little early to being willing to be crucified to save her life in this world and forever. St. Paul tells wives, “Be subordinate to [your] husbands as to the Lord.” In other words, Courtney, try to love Zach with the fervor with which you love Christ. Be patient with him. Compliment and encourage his poetry. Inspire him in his vocation to lay down his life by your loving receptivity, so that he may do so not as a burden but with joy.

What you have done today in getting married here at this beautiful, historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a courageous and counter-cultural act. Today, so many are afraid of making a commitment — especially a commitment that is for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, all the days of one’s life. Seeing so many relationships break down, many millennials today prefer to keep their options open, they refuse to entrust their future to another, they seek to receive some of the comfort and benefits that come from relationships that in many outward ways resemble marriage but without giving themselves totally to what God desires and true love entails. Many others are confused about what marriage is, with some thinking it’s just romantic symbolism, or a piece of paper, or a temporary union for as long as two shall love, or a changing reality whose meaning can be defined or redefined by the parties or the culture or the courts. You’re making a public act, in contrast to the zeitgeist, that marriage means something, and something essential to human happiness and flourishing. And you’ve been strengthened to do this by the great marriage preparation courses you received in Preston Hollow, Texas, and East Amherst, New York, in the schools of marital love of your parents, whom today not just you but the whole Church thanks in helping you get ready for today’s beautiful reality. Today you’re professing that you’re entering into not a contract but a covenant, a sacred commitment not jut to each other but to God, consecrating your love in a special way within the love of the God who created you, brought you together, and who today has himself made a sacred commitment to you to accompany you for richer or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and health all your days. You’re publicly professing your faith that you desire not just to make the other happy, but to be God’s instrument to help make the other holy. You’re avowing that the gift you ultimately want to give each other is not merely a beautiful ring, or the exchange of last name, or even the gift of yourself, however total; rather, you’re publicly affirming that that you are seeking to give God to each other, to help the other grow in God’s image and likeness. You’re professing that you want your bond truly to be a holy matrimony, one that will lead you, hand-in-hand, we pray, down the nave of a sanctuary far more beautiful even than St. Patrick’s for a Nuptial Mass and Banquet that will know no end.

And that’s why it’s so fitting that immediately after the exchange of your marriage vows, you and all of us are now celebrating this Nuptial Mass. There’s great meaning to the fact that over the altar here in this Cathedral — like in so many of the most historic Churches in Christianity — there’s an exquisite baldachin. The early Christians used to illustrate the reality between marriage and the Mass in their architecture, covering the altars with a canopy just like ancient beds were covered, to communicate that the altar is the marriage bed of the union between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church. Catholics believe that it’s here on this altar that we, the Bride of Christ, in the supreme act of love, receive within ourselves, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the divine Bridegroom, becoming one-flesh with him and being made capable of bearing fruit with him in acts of love. This is the means by which Christ will regularly renew you, Courtney and Zach, in the indissoluble one flesh union he has formed of you today. This is the way by which you will receive within Christ’s love for you and become more capable of sharing that love with each other. This is the channel Jesus provides to strengthen you to continue in your courageous and even counter-cultural witness to the Sacrament of Marriage in its fullness. Today around this marriage bed of Christ’s union with the Church and with you, inspired by your faith, your family, your friends, so many fortuitous visitors to St. Patrick’s this afternoon, and all the angels and saints join me in praying that the Lord who has begun this good work in you and brought you here to this altar will nourish your sacred vocation and bring it to completion. We ask the Lord never to stop blessing you with his holy, spousal love and, through the way that you share that love with each other, never to stop blessing us all. Praised be Jesus Christ!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading for the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave [his] father and [his] mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

The continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”