Marital Love in the Divine Plan, Wedding of Connor Roberts and Maria McLaughlin, December 30, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. William’s Parish, St. Simons, Georgia
Homily for the Matrimony of William Connor Roberts and Maria Christine McLaughlin
December 30, 2017
Gen 1:26-28.31, Ps 128, 1 Cor 12:31-13:8, Jn 15:9-17


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


The following text guided the homily: 

The beautiful event we’re celebrating today has a long prehistory, one that goes back beyond Connor’s proposal to Maria on a cold New England Day last March after pizza and cannoli’s in Boston’s famous North End. It goes back well before their first date, March 25, 2016, at IHOP on Soldier’s Field Road. It extends far beyond the first time they met, on September 3, 2014, during Calculus class on their first day of classes at Harvard. It goes back even further than the days, more than two decades ago, when their parents, Barry and Lynn, and Sean and Laura, got the joyful news that they were expecting. As Mrs. Robert said last night at the wedding rehearsal dinner, Connor and Maria come from a “lot of love on both sides,” a love that extends beyond their grandparents and great grandparents, down the roots of their family trees, stretching back all the way to before the beginning when God said “Let there be light.”

As we heard in the first reading that our bride and groom chose, from the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God had a plan for them and for us, when he said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” and God created us in his image, male and female, and blessed us, giving us the capacity to be fertile and multiply, giving us the privilege as creatures to participate in his power as Creator to bring new life and to share in his dominion over the rest of creation. The upshot of the Genesis account is that God, who is love (1 John 4:16), 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. There needed to be a lover and a beloved and their mutual love was so strong that it could take on personality, what we see in the eternal loving communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In creating the human person, therefore, God created not just a “him,” or a “her,” but a “them,” “male and female.” He created a loving 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, Connor and Maria, marriage was created by God to be a covenant, a sacrament of love, to help you to grow more and more into the divine image and at the same time more fully and truly human.

That’s why what is happening today is so important. Today, as Christians have believed and taught from the first centuries, you are not only receiving a Sacrament— a sign and means of intimate communion with God — but are becoming a Sacrament, a visible sign, as Pope 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 for his people, and 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.

We are celebrating your nuptials within the context of the Octave of Christmas. At the Vigil Mass for Christmas, the Church pondered Isaiah’s words about God’s love that would take flesh in Jesus, the Word-of-God-made-man. Isaiah said, “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you” (Is 62:5). The Prophet Hosea echoed that same prophecy, when he proclaimed, “I will espouse you to me forever. I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord (Hos 2:21-22). The whole mystery of Christmas not only can be read, but has been read from the earliest ages of the Church in a spousal key. And the marriage of Christians is meant to share in and reflect this great loving covenant between God and his people. That’s why St. Paul would write in his Letter to the Ephesians that the marriage of Christians participates in and flows from Christ’s spousal covenant. Commenting on the words from Genesis that Jesus himself would invoke in the Gospel, “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,” St. Paul said, “This is a great mystery, and I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32). In other words, the marriage between Christians is an image of Christ’s marriage to the Church of his disciples, and not the other way around. And St. Paul challenged the first Christians, and young spouses of every age, therefore, to “be subordinate” or subject, or submissive, “to one another out of reverence for Christ,” to see the image of Christ in each other, to be like Christ for each other, to seek to love each 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.” Connor, Christ who calls you to love Maria in this way, will give you the strength you need to love according to this standard, to love her by laying down your life for her in ways big and small, ordinary and extraordinary. St. Paul similarly tells wives, “Be subordinate to [your] husbands as to the Lord.” In other words, Maria, try to love Connor with the fervor with which you love Christ. Inspire him in his vocation and mission to lay down his life for you, for your family, for Christ by your loving receptivity, so that he may do so not as a burden but with joy.

This is the standard of love to which Jesus calls you in the Gospel you chose. He tells you, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and reminds you, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And I rejoice that you are already striving to love each other by this standard, to love each other with the very love of God. You pray together. You read Sacred Scripture and other good spiritual reading together. You talk about and to God together. In our conversations in preparation for marriage, you told me, Maria, “All love is sacrificial, wanting the best for the other, and caring for them, but marital love is different because it mimics God’s love, meaning that spouses always put each other first.” You added, “Marriage is a sacrament because it confers graces that will allow us both to draw closer to God. By putting the other first, we will be living out what Jesus says in the Gospel when he says that you must die to self in order to live. By becoming one flesh and living in selfless love as a married couple, we can grow closer to God and understand the love He has for the Church.” Connor, you told me, with similar depth and beauty, “Marriage is an outstanding model for the unconditional commitment that Christ makes to man. Regardless of human fault, Christ offers forgiveness and love. Without the understanding that you will need to forgive and that your spouse is faulted, no marriage can last.” Commenting on how God freely gives us graces that we can never truly deserve, you said, “Maria has been and is a gift, and the opportunity to give myself and commit to her and love beyond earthly influences is an outstanding gift for which I am thankful.” And you concluded, “To me, marriage is a commitment to love Maria with everything I am, to be faithful to her, to raise children with her and teach those children about God, to put her above myself and protect her, and to provide for her in the best way that I can so that she can continue to live a happy and faithful life.”

The type of love to which Christ in marriage calls you is demanding. Every couple in this Church today will be happy to tell you just how demanding it is! It calls you not merely to the type of extraordinary heroism in which you would lay down your life for each other, but also to the daily heroism in little things to which St. Paul summons you in his Letter to the Corinthians, which you chose for us to hear earlier. True love, he said, is patient, kind, not jealous or pompous, arrogant or rude, self-seeking or quick-tempered, it doesn’t brood over injury or rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth, and bears, believes, hopes and endures all things. Love, in short, is virtuous, and seeks to imitate Christ’s patience, kindness, humility, meekness, joy in the truth and holy perseverance. This type of love is worth more, he says, than speaking in prophetic tongues or having the faith to translate mountains into the sea. If you don’t have this type of love, St. Paul says, in the final analysis you will have and be nothing more than clashing cymbals. In 21st century terms, if you have everything else — great health, great careers, great friends, great portfolios and everything else that some materially equate with happiness — but don’t have this type of Christ like love, you will lack the most important thing of all. But if you have it, then, together, even if you don’t have anything else, you will be able to help each other endure all the way into eternity.

And I rejoice that you have found this in each other. Maria, you’ve written extensively about how “hardworking, loving and virtuous Connor is,” how just being around him has stopped you from complaining as much as you once did, because you find it impossible to do around him, who helps you to see life through another’s shoes and how to transcend pettiness. Connor you have said how much you admire Maria’s priorities and holy habits, that even though she is like so many other Harvard students in having high goals, drive and talent, you found her the most grounded person you had ever met, with her priorities being “simple and good: faith, family and friends.” You have praised how she makes you even more giving and grateful by the way she brings you sandwiches and cookies when you need them, how she thanks you for the smallest things you do and how she writes the sweetest cards, doing wonders for the way you feel about yourself and inspiring you to want to do more.

Despite his debunked claims, Al Gore didn’t write Love Story about Harvard undergrads his days in Cambridge in the 1960s. You both are writing a true love story, or better yet, God is authoring one through and in you by your faithful cooperation. And the good news is: he’s just getting started!

What you are doing today in getting married here at this beautiful Church of St. Williams is a courageous and counter-cultural act: two Harvard seniors getting married. 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 and iGens 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 themselves or the popular culture or the courts. You’re making a public act, in contrast to the spirit of the age, that marriage means something, and something essential to human happiness and flourishing. Today you’re professing that you’re entering into not a contract but a covenant, a sacred commitment not just 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 is making a sacred commitment to you to accompany you for richer or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and health all the days of your life. 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 faithful, fruitful, free and 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 for more beautiful than this, down the streets of the heavenly Jerusalem, for a Nuptial Banquet that will know no end.

Please permit me one last thought. I cannot get beyond the symbolism of your first date. At first glance it might seem strange, especially for a Catholic, but I think in God’s eternal providence it is highly fitting. March 25, 2016 was Good Friday. Catholics are to do a somewhat severe fast, having only one meal that day. But that was the day you, Maria, asked Connor to join you at IHOP for your one meal to break the fast. Your first date was on the day on which the Church commemorates Jesus Christ’s love for you to the point of death. It fills me with the hope and prayer that every date the two of you have, every day of your life, every meal you share, you will do it within the context of Christ’s sacrificial love for both of you. You are getting married right before this beautiful and huge San Damiano Crucifix hanging in the sanctuary. It’s famous in Church history because the original of this iconic symbol of Jesus’ love on Calvary spoke in 1206 to Saint Francis of Assisi in a dilapidated Church on the slopes of his home town. It said to him, “Rebuild my Church which you can see is falling into ruin.” Francis thought that the Lord was asking him to rebuild that tiny chapel, which he summarily did, stone by stone. Over the course of time, however, he began to realize that what Jesus Christ was asking of him was to rebuild his Church as a whole, which is constructed not out of marble, wood, bricks and glass, but men, women, boys and girls, what St. Peter calls in his first letter, “living stones” built on Christ the Cornerstone. Connor and Maria, today Jesus Christ, through the words of the Gospel, is speaking to you, telling you to help him rebuild his Church, one living stone at a time, by erecting your whole life as a couple and family on him and inspiring and helping others to join you in that holy construction project. As St. John Paul II used to stress, to a large extent the future of humanity and the future of the Church will pass by way of the family and true Christian spousal love. Christian marriage, he emphasized, is a great adventure but also a great task. It’s to that adventuresome task that Christ joins your hands together on the plow, encouraging you never to look back. We pray that God who has begun this good work in you and brought you here today before this Crucifix will nourish your sacred vocation to matrimony and bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. May Jesus from the Cross bless you both, and through your faithful, Christ-like love for each other, continue to bless us all.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading from the Book of Genesis
Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying to them: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.” God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.

Responsorial Psalm: Blessed are those who fear the Lord
Happy are all who fear the LORD, who walk in the ways of God. What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be happy and prosper: Like a fruitful vine your wife within your home, Like olive plants your children around your table. Just so will they be blessed who fear the LORD. May the LORD bless you from Zion, all the days of your life That you may share Jerusalem’s joy and live to see your children’s children. Peace upon Israel!

A reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians

Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.