On Pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem, Nuptial Mass of Michael Abi-Kheirs and Nicole Lataif, October 13, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Braintree, MA
Nuptial Mass of Michael Abi-Kheirs and Nicole Lataif
October 13, 2014
Sir 26:1-4.13-16, Ps 103, Col 3:12-17, Mt 5:1-12

To listen to this homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

We believe as Catholics that every marriage takes place under the watchful eye of God’s providence who, without eliminating personal freedom, arranges circumstances so that a particular man and a particular woman whom he has created in view of each other may meet, get to know each other, fall in love and begin a deeper cooperation in his creative and redemptive plan. While God is always involved, however, very rarely is the one Catholics call the Vicar of Christ on earth a central protagonist, but that’s the case in the love story we celebrate today between Michael and Nicole.

When Pope Benedict XVI was coming to New York City in 2008, the Archdiocese of Boston received 3,000 tickets to the Mass and organized a huge pilgrimage to the Bronx. Nicole was asked to serve as a captain of one of the 60 buses and Michael not only won a lottery for one of the tickets but also luckily ended up on Nicole’s bus. Michael once told me that Nicole would make a “great Catholic drill sergeant and the most the most beautiful one at that” and Nicole’s discipline and allure were on display that April day, 2,368 days ago. While Nicole says she was so busy with the various details of the day that she really didn’t notice Michael beyond checking his name in, Michael says he couldn’t take his eyes off of Nicole. He asked her out after the pilgrimage and they shared a couple of dates and some wonderful conversation about faith and family, but Nicole soon moved back to Florida and they only stayed in touch lightly over the next five years. But God’s plans would not be frustrated in this least by zip code. After Nicole moved back to Boston she and Michael reconnected over business never imagining what God’s business would be for them: He wanted them to begin a pilgrimage of life together not to the Bronx and the “House that Ruth Built” but to the Celestial Jerusalem and the House of the Father. And we’re all so grateful to God that his plans would be for us, as Michael’s and Nicole’s family and friends, to spur them on, and occasionally join them, on that ride!

Marriage is an adventure that takes every couple on quite a journey. A husband and a wife commit to accompany each on sunny and stormy days, up mountains and into valleys, in horse-drawn carriages and ambulances, on straight paths and occasional detours, all the days of their life. But in Christ’s plans, it’s a journey that they never walk alone. Today as Nicole and Michael make their solemn covenantal promises to each other and to God, God makes a Covenant with them to be with them in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and prosperity. As Christ joins them to each other by a special sacrament, a sacrament that lasts for as long as both of them live, he also seeks to make them a sacrament, an efficacious sign of the love that he and his Bride, the Church, have for each other. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians called all husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved his Bride the Church, laying down his lives to make her holy. Jesus desires that if someone wants to glimpse the love he has for us that all that person should need to do is to look at the love you, Michael, have for Nicole. I was very pleased that in our time in marriage preparation, you told me, “I cannot wait to lay my life down for Nicole.” As we saw in the Old Testament reading you chose for this nuptial Mass, a good wife is a “generous gift” and the “choicest of blessings,” and that the husband of such a bride who inspires him to sacrifice out of love for her is indeed “blessed,” as you readily and publicly admit you are. Likewise, Nicole, your love for Michael is meant to be an image of the faithful, indissoluble, fruitful, love the Church has for Christ. Sirach says that a wife’s radiant love in the home should be “like the sun’s rising in the heavens” and not just the home the two of you will make together but also the home of the Church. God wishes to make your love a sacrament of his own.

This is a very high standard and is not supposed to remain at the level of poetic aspiration. Christ who calls you to love each other as he has loved you first intends to give you the help you need through the Sacrament of Marriage to live up to this standard. This sacrament, like every sacrament, isn’t just a religious ritual, but it is an encounter with the Lord Jesus that seeks to deliver what it points to. Today Jesus wants to do in you what St. Paul described to the Colossians in the second reading you selected. He wants to place within you, as his holy and beloved chosen ones, “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” He wants to help you to “bear with one another and forgive each other.” He wants to let his peace control your hearts, to fill you both with thanksgiving, to let his word dwell richly in you, to place in you his love as your bond of perfection, so that “whatever you do, in word or in deed,” you will do “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Jesus wants essentially to fill you with himself, with his virtues, with his love so that from the inside you may help each other become more and more like him so that your marriage will become ever more the efficacious sign of his love.

I rejoice that you already recognize in each other a deep cooperation with this desire of the Lord and already see how Jesus has been using each other up until now to help you grow in your imitation of Christ. You pray together each night on the phone, you are constantly trying to listen together to what God wants of you as a couple, you attend Mass together weekly, and you accompany each other to confession monthly because you take seriously the words we sang in today’s psalm, that “merciful Lord gracious is the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in kindness.”

During our get-togethers, Nicole, you described that one of the things you love about Michael is that he strives after Christ’s virtues. “I love all of Michael,” you told me. “I love his heart for God. I love his servant spirit. I love his patience and his devotion to his family. I love his compassion for others. I love his generous spirit. I love his understanding nature. I love his dedication to those he loves. I love his depth of character. Michael is gentle and a gentleman, he lets me be myself, is kind to me, supports me, and thoughtful. … His patient, calming, easy-going nature is very often a good complement to my more hyper, energy-filled ways. Michael’s consistent, calm and kind insistence to pray together every night has allowed me to get on a more regimented schedule of being with God in prayer, trusting in God more in general and loving others better.”

You, Michael, told me about how Nicole’s desire to love God and to love like God was one of the things that drew you to her most. “First and foremost,” you told me, “she believes in and follows Jesus! I also love her virtues, her pursuit to follow God’s will, her tender and caring heart, her honesty, her desire to grow in her faith. … I knew she was the right one because my love for Nicole didn’t stem from mere fun experiences but out of admiration for who she is in Christ. … I love her heart. She’s one of the most caring individuals I know. I love her sensitivity, patience and prudence. I love her positive reinforcement in my life and her ability to adapt and grow during difficult trials. There’s not enough room to express all I love about her, but one thing I would say I love is that Nicole listens to her heart and the Holy Spirit and she allows herself to be guided by Him in discernment. Not only is she my best friend, she’s my mirror. She has helped me better understand myself in light of Christ. She has a very graceful way of teaching me how to live up to the virtues of Christ.”

The purpose of the Sacrament of Marriage is heaven. In the traditional language of the Church, it’s for the “mutual sanctification of the spouses and for the procreation and education of children.” It’s to be a school of sanctity in which you help each other through good times and bad become St. Michael and St. Nicole and seek to raise a family of saints. That’s why I’m so pleased you chose for the Gospel of your wedding Jesus’ words about the way of holiness, happiness and heaven we call the Beatitudes. Whereas the world says you need to be rich to be happy, Jesus says you need to be poor in spirit and treasure the kingdom of God more than all the mammon in the world. Whereas the world says that you need to be strong to be happy, to finish fights others start, Jesus says you need to be meek, to be merciful, to be not just a peace-wisher but a peacemaker. Whereas the world says that to be happy you have to have all your sexual fantasies fulfilled, Jesus says you need to be pure in heart, and how proud I am of the two of you that you lived your engagement seeking to guard each other’s chastity and purity, showing that not only that it is possible but that it is a way of happiness. Whereas the world says you have need to laugh and be the life of the party to be happy, to be voted most popular in your high school yearbook or Miss Congeniality, Jesus says that you need to be so sensitive to others’ pains that you mourn and so faithful to him that you’re willing to be persecuted and have all types of evil uttered against you falsely on account of him. And while the world says that you’ll be happy only when you have all your material desires fulfilled, Jesus says that you’ll be happy only when you’re starving and parched to be right with God, to be holy. There couldn’t be a larger contrast between what the world says leads to happiness and what Jesus says does. Jesus wants to give you the help to choose his path and follow him along the Way. Jesus pronounced the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. He finished them with an image of building a house, pointing to the choice we make about building our life and every couple must make about building their married life. “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them,” he declared, “will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” Today in this Sacrament you are choosing to build your married life on Christ the rock so that you will remain strong no matter all of the storms of life.

One person who will help you to build your new life in this way is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is interceding for you both now just like she did the young couple in Cana of Galilee before you or they even knew what you needed. It was very moving that at the beginning of this ceremony, you wished to show your devotion to the Blessed Mother by having the flower girls come up and place flowers before this statue of our Lady from your home. It’s no coincidence in God’s providence that your wedding would take place on October 13, the day on which we mark the 97th anniversary of Mary’s last appearance to the children in Fatima, Portugal, when Mary identified herself as the Lady of the Rosary and asked them, and through them us, to pray the Rosary together. As St. John Paul II insisted, the Rosary “is and always has been a prayer of and for the family,” and “the family that prays together stays together.” Praying the Rosary together will help you grow closer by the day. Back in 2000, I celebrated a wedding in Mexico and I saw that the Mexican Catholics have a beautiful tradition that as soon as they have finished their vows and exchanged their rings, they are bound by a huge set of Rosary beads that are draped over the bride’s and groom’s shoulders for the rest of the ceremony, a tangible sign that they are bound by a chain of love not just to each other but to Mary and that they seek through her intercession never to lose that bond of faith. Today we will not drape a huge set of rosary beads over you, but I would encourage you to commit yourselves interiorly to enter into Mary’s school of the Rosary each day as a couple so that you can contemplate with her and with each other the Blessed Fruit of her womb who will help to make you holy.

Your love for the Blessed Virgin Mary was shown, Michael, in the way you asked Nicole to be your wife on the vigil of Gaudete Sunday last December, when you went to the Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette in Attleboro. Even though your back, Nicole, was injured and Michael needed to push you around the shrine in a wheelchair, and even though a huge snowstorm was on its way, you went down to that great sanctuary of our Lady for Mass and the famous Festival of Lights. After the Mass in which the priest preached about peace, Michael asked you Nicole where your favorite part of the park was and then rolled you up the highest hill on the property, to the huge illuminated sign saying “Peace on Earth.” There he proposed as snowflakes were falling from heaven above. Today God is going to send down from heaven far more than snowflakes, but an abundance of grace through the outstretched, prayerful hands of Mary. Stay open to receive those graces each day and the peace to which they lead.

The greatest of those graces happens at Mass. When I visited this Church for the first time on Saturday night for the rehearsal, I saw this exquisite baldachino or canopy over tabernacle where the original high altar was located and I was thrilled that it would help stress the point of why Catholics get married within the context of a nuptial Mass, because there is a strict connection between marriage and the Holy Eucharist. The early Christians used to illustrate this reality between marriage and the Eucharist in their architecture, covering the altars with a baldachino 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. It’s here on this altar that we, Christ’s bride, in the supreme of love, receive within ourselves the body, the blood, of the divine Bridegroom, becoming one-flesh with him and made capable of bearing fruit with him in acts of love. This is the means by which you will renew, Michael and Nicole, your one flesh union. This is the way by which you will receive within Christ’s love for you and become more capable of sharing that type of love with each other.” Today around this marriage bed of Christ’s union with you and your union with each other, your family and friends join me in praying that the Lord who planted within both of you the deep desire for marriage and has brought you here to this altar to fulfill that desire, will continue to bring this holy vocation he has given you to completion. And through the intercession of our Lady, we pray that the Lord will continue to bless you with his holy love and through you and that love continue to bless us all.

We finish with the words that Pope Benedict finished his homily in Yankee Stadium back on April 20, 2008, the day without knowing it that you began your pilgrimage together. Speaking about our faith in the Lord Jesus, the Bridegroom of Church, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who comes to fill us with his love here at Mass, the Holy Father said, “’Happy are you who believe!’ Let us turn to Jesus! He alone is the way that leads to eternal happiness, the truth who satisfies the deepest longings of every heart, and the life who brings ever new joy and hope, to us and to our world.” Let us turn with gratitude and faith to Jesus who now turns to you with love as he prepares to unite you for the rest of your life in one flesh in this most holy Sacrament of Marriage that he hopes will bring you all the way to the eternal wedding banquet!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading for the Book of Sirach

Sir. 26:1 Happy the husband of a good wife, twice-lengthened are his days;  2 A worthy wife brings joy to her husband, peaceful and full is his life.  3 A good wife is a generous gift bestowed upon him who fears the LORD;  4 Be he rich or poor, his heart is content, and a smile is ever on his face. 13 A gracious wife delights her husband, her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones;  14 A gift from the LORD is her governed speech, and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth.  15 Choicest of blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person.  16 Like the sun rising in the LORD’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.

Responsorial Psalm — Loving and Forgiving are You, O Lord, Slow to Anger, Rich in Kindness, Loving and Forgiving Are You

Psa. 103:1 Of David. Bless the LORD, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!  2 Bless the LORD, my soul; do not forget all the gifts of God,  3 Who pardons all your sins, heals all your ills,  4 Delivers your life from the pit, surrounds you with love and compassion,  5 Fills your days with good things; your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  6 The LORD does righteous deeds, brings justice to all the oppressed.  7 His ways were revealed to Moses, mighty deeds to the people of Israel.  8 Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in kindness.  9 God does not always rebuke, nurses no lasting anger,  10 Has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our deeds deserve.  11 As the heavens tower over the earth, so God’s love towers over the faithful.  12 As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us.  13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on the faithful.  14 For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust.  15 Our days are like the grass; like flowers of the field we blossom.  16 The wind sweeps over us and we are gone; our place knows us no more.  17 But the LORD’s kindness is forever, toward the faithful from age to age. He favors the children’s children 18 of those who keep his covenant, who take care to fulfill its precepts.  19 The LORD’s throne is established in heaven; God’s royal power rules over all.  20 Bless the LORD, all you angels, mighty in strength and attentive, obedient to every command.  21 Bless the LORD, all you hosts, ministers who do God’s will.  22 Bless the LORD, all creatures, everywhere in God’s domain. Bless the LORD, my soul!

A Reading for the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians

Col. 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,  13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  14 And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.  15 And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.  16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 

Matt. 5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.  2 He began to teach them, saying:  3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  4 Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.  5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.  6 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.  7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  8 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.  9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  10 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11 Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.