St. John the Baptist and the Sacrament of Marriage, Nuptial Mass of Michael Tiesi and Christina Zajac, June 24, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Nuptial Mass of Michael Tiesi and Christina Zajac
Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2017
Is 49:1-6, Ps 139, Acts 13:22-26, Lk 1:57-66.80

 

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

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

Today we are filled with great joy to be present at this Nuptial Mass as God joins Michael and Christina for the rest of their lives together in one flesh in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

At most Catholic weddings, couples are given the chance to choose the readings for the Mass and they generally suggest that we hear about God’s original design for human love and marriage at the beginning with Adam and Eve, or the prayer of Tobias and Sarah on their wedding day, or St. Paul’s beautiful canticle about all the attributes of love, or Jesus’ working his first miracle in Cana as he raised marriage to the dignity of a sacramental encounter with him, or Jesus’ summons for a new couple to love each other as he loved them first, with a total self-sacrificial gift to the end.

When a couple gets married on a Solemnity, one of the ten most important celebrations of the Catholic liturgical year, however, the readings must be taken from the feast. And so today, on the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, the passages from Sacred Scripture are those that Catholics will be hearing at daily Mass throughout the world about the forerunner of the Lord. But there’s a deep beauty here, because in the life of St. John the Baptist we find so many elements that can help Michael and Christina and all of us to grow in our understanding of the importance of this, their wedding day. We can focus on three of the most obvious ones.

The first is about why we’re born. The birth of St. John the Baptist was a wondrous occurrence. Elizabeth and Zechariah his parents had long been childless but God blessed their patience in a way far exceeding even their greatest hopes, making them wait until the fullness of time when one of their young relatives from Nazareth would similarly be pregnant with the long-awaited One. About John, Isaiah’s words from today’s first reading take on great deeper meaning: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. … [He] formed me as his servant from the womb” to be a “light to the nations” so that his “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” We see in him similarly the fulfillment of the inspired prayer of the Psalm, “Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” When he was born, everyone thought he would be named Zechariah, Jr., but when St. Elizabeth declared and Zechariah confirmed by writing that his name would be John, everyone was amazed, because the name John in Hebrew means “God is gracious.” Everyone was asking at his birth just how God’s grace would work through him, asking, ‘What, then, will this child be?”

Celebrating the feast of his birth, each of us can think of our own, and in a particular way can think about how Michael’s and Christina’s birth were not just random events, just one more birth notice in the daily papers and municipal registers, but took place just as much within God’s plans and purpose. They, too, were long awaited. They, too, were called and formed and knit within their mother’s womb to be the Lord’s servants, to receive and radiate his light, to receive his salvation and announce it to others. Whereas Christ from within Mary blessed John and made him leap for joy within Elizabeth, so Christ from within the womb of the Church made each of them wiggle, wince and weep as water was poured upon them in the baptismal font. And on that day, they too received names. The Atillio and Maria Tiesi named their son Michael, which means in Hebrew, “He who is like God.” The Peter and Judith Zajac named their daughter “Christina,” which means, “Little Christ,” “Little anointed one.” The question that everyone has when a child is born and begins to grow, “What, then, will this child be?,” remained a mystery to them at that point, but today the purpose of their life is being partially unveiled as “He who is like God” and “She who is a little Christ,” are joined so that they can help each other through the Sacrament of Marriage to grow in God’s likeness and show the world, through their love for each other, an image of Christ the Bridegroom’s love for the Church his Bride. God is indeed gracious and he formed each of them in the womb in view of this grace-filled day.

The second thing we grasp from this Solemnity that can help us better appreciate marriage is the fact that John’s whole life was in relationship to Jesus. Even from the womb, he rejoiced in Jesus’ presence. His birth was a precursor to Jesus’ nativity. His preaching was a preparation for Jesus’ public ministry. His baptizing was a sign of the baptism Jesus would establish. Even his martyrdom foretold Jesus’ passion and death. John’s entire existence was to help us to behold Jesus as the Lamb of God, to make straight the paths for God’s people to embrace him when he came to them in the flesh, to decrease so that Christ may increase. In a similar way, the life of every Christian is meant to be in relation to Jesus. Our birth, our family life, our study, our work, our death and even our eternity are meant to be deeply linked to Christ. The Sacrament of Marriage brings that relationship with Christ to the forefront. St. Paul calls Christians spouses to reverence each other out of reverence for Christ, to see Christ in each other, in other words, and to love Christ in each other. And in the Sacrament of Marriage, the Bride and the Groom, not the priest or the deacon, are the ministers of the Sacrament to each other. Just as Christ through the priest gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist or his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so Christ through a baptized man and a baptized woman and together with each of them gives himself to the other in love.

Today we rejoice that Michael and Christina have each found someone who shares a deep love for Jesus and desires to orient life in relation to him, who wants to help the other grow in love for the Lord and has already helped the other to do so, and who has a deep and inspiring faith in the power of the Sacrament of Marriage to unite them to Christ and to each other in Christ. As part of the preparation for marriage I asked Michael and Christina to respond to various questions and their moving answers gave witness to the depth of how they want Christ to be at the center of their relationship. Their second date began with a Holy Hour. Almost every date thereafter incorporated some form of prayer, whether it was Eucharistic adoration, attending Mass together, making a novena to Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, the holy canonized parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, going together to Church in order to receive the Sacrament of God’s mercy, praying together in defense of the dignity of human life, turning to God at meals, praying on the phone, and so many other ways. Christina wrote, “Michael and I share the belief that a holy marriage is only possible if God is the foundation. We desire to help each other grow in the faith.” Michael added, “Marriage is first and foremost a Holy Sacrament, a way for God to bestow his graces upon us. A marriage is not just between the husband and wife, but God is also right there as well. It’s a covenant between a man and a woman in God’s presence. I think of God as being the third person in the marriage.” On the day Michael proposed — May 21, 2016, Christina’s birthday — they began the day with daily Mass at 9 am and that third Person in their relationship was with both of them filling Michael with confidence and Christina with joy as Michael proposed in a gazebo in a park overlooking Long Island Sound. In each other they have found a John the Baptist, someone who helps point them to the Lord, and in them together and their love for each other, God wants us similarly to be able to see that third Person who is at the heart of their hearts.

The third and final thing we can learn from this Solemnity of St. John the Baptist is that his life was ultimately given in testimony to the sacredness of marriage. He was imprisoned and eventually martyred because he had the courage to point out to Herod Antipas that it was not lawful for him to be married to his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. Marriage, in other words, isn’t a creation of our own will. It’s not something that we can invent by entering into bodily union with whomever we want. It has a deep meaning and purpose in God’s plans. Jesus came to restore marriage to its original holiness, stating clearly that in marriage God joins in one flesh a man who leaves father and mother to cling to his wife and that what God has united no one — not a king, not a judge, not a husband or wife, not even all the human beings on the planet combined — can separate. John died in witness to marriage because central is central to God’s plan for our salvation. We have been created in God’s image and likeness and God is a loving communion of persons. The holy, indissoluble, faithful, fruitful marriage of a man and a woman joined by God is meant to be an image of that divine communion of persons in love. A husband a wife are able to become one flesh in another human being, who is a fruit of their love and a means by which that love can grow, in an analogous way to how the love of Father and Son took on eternal personality in the Holy Spirit. Throughout salvation history, God, moreover, foretold the redemption in marital terms, how he intended to espouse himself to us forever, and that happened when Jesus the Bridegroom left in a sense his Father’s side and clung to us, the Church, his mystical bride in a bond that will never be broken and an embrace that he will never let go of. St. Paul says, “This is a great mystery, and I’m speaking about Christ and the Church.” St. John the Baptist was willing to die in witness to marriage, because in doing so he was giving his life to point out the importance of marriage to God and his plans for the salvation of the human race and the happiness of his sons and daughters. Today if John the Baptist were here, he wouldn’t be saying to Michael and Christina, “It is not lawful for you to marry!,” but exactly the opposite: how beautiful it is that you’re marrying each other! And he would be encouraging them and each of us — in an age in which so many people are confused about what marriage is and so many more don’t correspond to the graces to keep their marriages faithful, fruitful, indissoluble and holy until death — to proclaim, and proclaim boldly, the Gospel of Marriage in God’s divine plan, a Gospel in which Michael and Christina are giving witness today and we pray will grow to know and announce all their days. We also today give thanks that they have been schooled in that Gospel of Marriage since their earliest days, in the marriages of their parents Attilio and Maria Tiesi, who this year are celebrating the fiftieth wedding anniversary, and Peter and Judith Zajac, who this year are celebrating their thirty-sixth.

I’d like to make one last point. At every Mass, the voice and ministry of St. John the Baptist echoes, as we hear his words pointing to Jesus in the Eucharist and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him who takes away the sins of the world!” At every Mass, John points out the Bridegroom and as the bridesmaids from Jesus’ famous parable cry out, “The Bridegroom is here. Let us go out to meet him!,” we go out with joy to welcome Jesus the Groom. That’s what makes every Mass in a sense a Nuptial Mass and that’s why it’s so fitting that Michael and Christina are getting married within the context of a Mass. The Mass is not just liturgical garnish, but at the heart of Christian Marriage. Tonight I’m flying from New York to Rome to lead a pilgrimage of journalists to whom tomorrow I will be giving a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the only Church in the world, I like to say, more beautiful than St. Anthony’s in New Bedford. There I will take them to the altar and introduce them to Bernini’s exquisite baldachin. The early Christians used to illustrate the reality between marriage and the Eucharist 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. It’s here on this altar that we, the Bride of Christ, in the supreme act of love, receive within ourselves, we believe, 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 you will renew, Michael and Christina, 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 love with each other. This is the means Jesus provides to strengthen you to continue in your courageous and even counter-cultural witness, like St. John the Baptist, to the sacrament of marriage. Today around this marriage bed of Christ’s union with you and your holy union with each other, your family and your friends join me in praying that the Lord who planted within both of you the deep desire for the Sacrament of Matrimony in all its holiness and beauty and has brought you here to this altar to fulfill that desire, will continue to bring this sacred vocation he has given you to completion. We pray with you that the Lord will never stop blessing you with his holy love and through you and that holy love never stop blessing us all.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 IS 49:1-6

Hear me, O coastlands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

Responsorial Psalm PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15

R. (14) I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
My soul also you knew full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.

Reading 2 ACTS 13:22-26

In those days, Paul said:
“God raised up David as king;
of him God testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.

From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’

“My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham,
and those others among you who are God-fearing,
to us this word of salvation has been sent.”

Alleluia SEE LK 1:76

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:57-66, 80

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?”
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.