Shown below are the homilies given by Archbishop John Wilson at the last two annual Marriage Masses.
Mass for Marriage – St George’s Cathedral, 9 July 2022
Dear married brothers and sisters in Christ
While we know that weather forecasts are not always accurate, we are, apparently, in for a heat wave over the next few days. This news set me thinking about those of you celebrating anniversaries of marriage this year, commemorated in a special way today in this Mass. I wondered what the weather was like on your wedding day. Just think back, although for some this means going back many decades. What was the weather like the day you were married?
Let’s so a little survey, shall we?
Hands up those all those, on the say they were married, had brilliant sunshine?
Hands up those whose wedding day weather was a bit grey and overcast?
Hands up anyone who had rain on their wedding day?
Keep your hands up if you had thunder and lightning?
I imagine that, just like life in general, married life has something of its own weather system, both from day to day, and year to year. Maybe even hour to hour. There will be times when everything in the garden is bright, when life is good and there are no major problems or difficulties. I imagine too that marriage has times when things are overcast, when obstacles or sadness cast a shadow, to greater or lesser extents. And then at other times in marriage, I imagine the rain falls. Things are dampened are stormier, when there is, perhaps bangs and flashpoints, like thunder and lightning. It would seem to me, not unreasonable, that every marriage can experience its ups and downs to differing degrees. As is often said, a successful marriage means falling in love, over and over again, always with the same person.
The beautiful truth about Christian marriage is this: it comes from God, is blessed by Christ, and is rooted in faith. Christian marriage is not simply earthbound. It looks to heaven and has Christ at its centre.
Of course, faith doesn’t inoculate us from challenges, whether they be smaller or larger. It doesn’t mean that, even amidst joy and happiness, there aren’t trials. I remember being in a Christian bookshop in Manchester and there was a display of books about the apocalyptic end of the world. The book was called ‘The Great Tribulation.’ Not exactly an encouraging title. But sales had obviously been a bit slack, because the sign next to the books read – ‘buy one Great Tribulation, get another Great Tribulation free.’ I think one tribulation at a time is more than enough.
Christian marriage has Christ at its centre. Christian marriage follows the instruction of Our Blessed Lady at the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee – ‘Do whatever Jesus tells you.’ And we know the benefit doing what Jesus says brought to that wineless wedding – it released joy. Doing what the Lord Jesus tells us makes his glory visible – visible in marriage, in the family, in society, in the Church, and in the world. ‘Since God has loved us so much,’ writes St John, ‘we too should love one another.’ This is absolutely true for husband and wife in that special sacramental married relationship where two become one ‘in singleness of heart.’
But the miracle at Cana was not really just about water becoming wine. The miracle at Cana was about Christ’ glory being made visible. ‘No one has ever seen God,’ again writes St John; ‘but as long as we love one another, God will live in us and his love will be complete in us.’ This is how Christ’s glory is made visible - by loving. Isn’t this exactly what Christian marriage is all about? A love made real in the lives of two people; a love made visible in the Church before the world; a love that gives glory to God as an act of faith; a love whereby a man and woman become ever more complete on the journey towards holiness? With every fibre of our being, we want to say a resounding ‘yes.’
Christian marriage, and Christian spouses, do what Christ tells them – centred on Him and His commandment to love. In Christ, a husband and wife do what he tell them in a uniquely sacramental way whereby, like at Cana, something ordinary becomes extraordinarily graced to show Christ’s glory. As the marriage liturgy reminds you, who are married in the Lord, and all of us: ‘Christ abundantly blesses the love that binds you.’
Forty years ago, Pope St John Paul II came on a pastoral visit to our country. In fact, he came here to this Cathedral to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick, commemorated in the beautiful stained glass window. But it was in Yorkshire that he spoke about marriage. He said this:
In a marriage a man and a woman pledge themselves to one another in an unbreakable alliance of total mutual self-giving. A total union of love. Love that is not a passing emotion or temporary infatuation, but a responsible and free decision to bind oneself completely, “in good times and in bad,” to one’s partner. It is the gift of oneself to the other. It is a love to be proclaimed before the eyes of the whole world. It is unconditional.
In the name of Christ and His Church, I want to say thank you to all the married couples here today, to each of you and to both of you. Thank you to those recently married; and thank you to those celebrating significant anniversaries, some of them very significant indeed. Thank you for doing what Christ tells you. Thank you for making Christ’s love visible through your witness. Thank you for making Christ’s love visible through your service of each other and of those who receive the overflow of your love.
Dear married brothers and sisters in Christ, be encouraged today by God’s renewed blessing. Continue to grow together devotedly, in friendship, happiness and faith. Pray with and for each other. Nurture your love and family life, centred on Christ and his gospel. May your love deepen and become stronger.
At Cana the best wine was saved until last. Trust that God is with you as your step into the future. With hearts united in love, may God, in his goodness, shower you with his blessings, that Christ’s glory might be seen in you and through you.
Mass for Marriage – St George’s Cathedral, 9 October 2021
Dear married brothers and sisters in Christ
I’ve heard it said that there are five words which are the secret to a successful marriage. They can be spoken by husband or by wife: ‘Yes dear, you were right!’ Whether that’s true or not, you can tell me afterwards. But I think there are five other words which speak about the essence of Christian marriage, marriage as a sacrament of unity and love in Christ. They, again, can be spoken by husband and wife: ‘Help me become a saint.’
We know quite a lot about wedding feasts in the time of the Lord Jesus. They were usually held in the groom’s house and often at night, after a banquet. Great crowds of relatives and friends would be invited, so the wine could literally run out to the family’s shame. According to an old rabbinic saying, ‘Where there is no wine, there is no joy.’ And so, to ensure that the joy flowed, a friend or hired steward would supervise the celebration to make sure everything ran smoothly.
The presence of the Lord Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana reveals some important truths. It reminds us how important it is to celebrate the union of husband and wife in the holy bond of marriage. This is true on the wedding day itself and just as true on each anniversary.
It tells us to rejoice in the blessing and goodness of God’s gift of marriage, in God’s plan for two becoming one flesh, and finding what the Book of Tobit calls a ‘singleness of heart.’ It tells us that marriage is part of God’s creative desire, so that a man and woman might join their lives together; to share God’s call to love and help each other grow in holiness. Cana is a sign that Christ blesses marriage, that He is present in this beautiful sacrament of unity and and love.
When the Bible speaks about the heart, it means more than the muscle in our chest that pumps blood around our bodies. For the biblical writers, the heart represents the deepest truth of the person, the seat of their emotions and the source of their identity. When the scriptures tell us that God will give us a ‘new heart,’ they mean that God will make us a new person, changed by his love, in the depths of our being. The heart shape, familiar on Valentine’s Day, has become a universal symbol of love, such that ‘to heart’ someone is to love them.
Today, we’re celebrating the beautiful truth that you, our married sisters and brothers, ‘heart’ each other, that you love each other. Today, we remember with thanks that you have sealed your love in the Sacrament of marriage. That commitment made more recently or many years ago is renewed with joy; a commitment to continue to have and to hold each other, to continue to love and to cherish each other, as husband and wife, for the rest of your lives. Your free choice of each one in Christ flows from an unselfish love which overflows in generous witness to the world.
Dear married brothers and sisters, living the sacrament of marriage is a declaration to the world that God is the foundation of your relationship, that your life together is love as a sign of the eternal love of God. By your selfless loving you shape each other into the likeness of Christ. We know that marriage is not canonisation; but it does help us grow in those qualities of holiness where we try, each day, to live the love of Christ to and for each other and for our families. In the words of St John Henry Newman, whose feastday falls today, in living we change; and we become perfect, we become holy, by changing often, changing always so as to love more like Christ.
For obvious reasons, I can't give you great practical advice about what it means to be a good husband and even less what is to be a good wife. I hope that each day you say to each other those vital three little words – ‘I love you.’ Do you? Let me offer you three other little words to encourage your life in Christ with each other.
The first word is friendship. The love you have for each other is, and always has to be, grounded in deep, genuine, friendship; in simply wanting to be with each other: to share life’s experiences, to laugh and cry with each other, to say thank you and to say sorry, to be there for each other. Let friendship always be at the heart of your love. Let it express itself fully in you giving your whole self, your entire heart, one to the other. Be a good husband and wife, but be best friends too. The novelist Agatha Christie was married to an archaeologist. She once said: ‘An archaeologist is the best husband a wife can have because the older she gets, the more interesting he finds her.’ May this be true of you.
The second word is happiness. The happiness of God’s Kingdom is not just a thrill, a laugh, or a perking up of our fading cheerfulness. The happiness of God’s Kingdom is found in the deepest truths of what it means to live with that joy which comes from trust in God, lived out lovingly. Without this deeper happiness, life becomes dull and miserable. Keep a blessed happiness and joy alive in your relationship. Life isn’t and won’t always have been easy. There will, no doubt, be challenges to face, maybe as there have been already in the past. But rain or sunshine, never cease to rejoice in each other and with each other.
The final word is faith. Let faith in the Christ, who shows us the Father’s love, always be at the centre of your love and commitment to each other. When the Lord Jesus was present at the wedding in Cana he worked a miracle, changing water into wine. How many wedding receptions would welcome this! Continue to allow Christ to work a miracle in you, to change life into love.
Live by faith; pray for each other every day; pray with each other. In the generous, unselfish way in which you love one other, let others glimpse something of God's great love for the world. Your vocation and mission as married disciples is to witness to God’s love, to be a sign of what endures, to point to heaven.
So, three little words: friendship, happiness and faith. These are ways of living that love which is patient and kind, that always delights in the truth, that is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and endure whatever comes.
The American writer and comedienne Rita Rudner once said: ‘I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.’
Thank you to each of you and both of you, to all the married couples here today, those recently married and those celebrating significant anniversaries, some of them very significant. Thank you for your witness and service. Continue to grow together, not annoyingly but devotedly, in friendship, happiness and faith. May your love deepen and become stronger. With hearts united in love, may God, in his goodness, shower you with his blessings, that something of Christ’s glory might be seen in you and through you. Amen.