Id like to begin with a story about President Grant. (Hes the one whose picture is on the fifty dollar bill.) When Grant was a young man, he was traveling in a carriage accompanied by a young woman named Julia Boggs Dent. They arrived at a flooded creek with a flimsy bridge over it. Grant said, "Don't be frightened, Julia. I'll take care of you."
Looking at the turbulent creek, she said, "I will cling to you whatever happens."
When they reached safety on the other side, he said, "Julia, back there, you said you'd cling to me whatever happens. Would you cling to me for the rest of our lives?"*
Well, she would. However, Julia's dad opposed the marriage. He did not consider Grant good enough for his daughter. It took Grant some time to convince her father. In spite of her dad's fears, they had one of the happiest marriages of any public figures. One biographer wrote that their marriage was "devoid of the usual ups and downs associated with long-term alliances." Their children were united in saying that they never knew a cross word between their parents. Even in their 50's, the couple still held hands and insisted on being seated next to one another on trains and in restaurants.
Ulysses Grant and Julia Boggs Dent had a beautiful, lifelong marriage. I wish the same for you. Joseph, that you always be a gallant defender and protector of your wife and family. And Mary, that you will cling to your husband in good times and bad, that you will always let him know that - after Jesus - he is the most important person in your life.
Today, you are called not so much to an institution, but to a sacrament.** A sacrament is an external sign of an invisible, spiritual reality. In the case of marriage, you are the sacrament. Mary, in your beautiful dress radiant as every bride is on her wedding day, you are a sign of beautiful reality the Church, purified of all stain by Jesus love.
And what about Joseph? Perhaps you are trembling a bit today. That is natural. There is a good reason. You are meant to represent Jesus himself to your bride and your family. Just like Jesus poured out his life for his bride, the Church, to the last drop of his Blood, so you are to give yourself for your bride and your future family.
Back in the fourth century a Christian writer named John Chrysostom made a beautiful suggestion. He said that that young husbands should say these words to their wives:
"I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . .I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you."
You can find this quote in a book called the Catechism of the Catholic Church - #2365. Next to the Bible it is the most important book you can have in your home. Try to keep in mind what St. John Chrysostom says you must strive to be together not just in this life, but in the life that awaits us. When troubles come, lift up your heads and remember your goal: the salvation of your souls and those of your children. A nice home, vacations, evenings out all those things are beautiful, but they are small potatoes compared with whether or not we get to heaven.
In marriage you have a noble vocation. The great Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "It is not love that sustains your marriage, but marriage that sustains your love." Rely on God's grace and you will have a beautiful marriage.
I pray every day for young married couples and you will be part of my prayers from here on. I want you to consider me as your spiritual father. And I ask each person present to support you in their prayers not only today, but as you live your marriage commitment. It will require some great sacrifices. Don't expect a lot of support from the world around you. It has forgotten what marriage even is. But we know the truth. We need to draw together as members of the Christian community, the Church - and support each other in the vocation God has given each one of us.
A study indicated that if couples attend Mass together each Sunday they have a fifty times greater chance of having a lasting marriage. Fifty times. And if they attend Mass and pray together every day even just prayers before meals or kneeling down at the bedside at night, the marriage is practically unbreakable. The reason is obvious. Jesus loves young married couples the first miracle he performed was for that young couple in Cana to save their wedding reception and he wants to give you everything you need, each day, to have a beautiful marriage.
In a moment this couple will make their marriage vows before God. We will now have a short silence during which I ask you to pray for them.
*Source: John B. Fisher, Those Memorable Memoirs (Great Courses on Tape). At the end of his life, Grant made a heroic sacrifice. Even though he was greviously ill with throat cancer, out of concern for the material welfare of Julia and children, he wrote the Memoirs - his only literary work. Along with Julius Caesar's account of the Gallic Wars, they are considered the greatest war memoirs ever written.
**Marriage of course is an institution - the oldest one in human history. (see Gen 2:24) But because of Christ it is so much more. (Eph 5:32)
Jesus The Bridegroom
Marriage and the Catholic Priesthood
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
How Daily Kos views God (and puts Evangelicals in their place)
Renewal of Vows, Prayers of Faithful and Blessing of Married Couples on World Marriage Day