Below is the sermon that was given at our wedding mass by our dear friend, Fr Chrysostom Baer, O’Praem. I still get tears in my eyes when I read it!
Matrimony of Lowell and Joanna Schaper
“We preach Christ and Him crucified.”
This brief motto of the Blessed Apostle to the Gentiles not only bespeaks the overriding, indomitable theme of all his preaching, but likewise offers us perhaps the most penetrating and fruitful insight into the sacrament of matrimony. “We preach Christ, and Him crucified.”
We heard first from the book of Genesis that it was not good for man to be alone, and so the Lord God fashioned him a wife–not from his foot, to be dominated by him; nor from his head, to be ruled by him–but from his side, to be equal to him; from under his arm, to be protected; from near his heart, to be loved by him. The two forevermore have the natural desire to return to each other, to be two in one flesh. Therefore, for the rest of their lives they will be united–by love strong enough to leave families behind, by one home as they cleave to each other, by the natural fruit of the union of their flesh, holy offspring born to swell the ranks of the elect in heaven.
We would, however, be missing the point if we thought this account from Genesis applied primarily to the marriage of a man to a woman. St. Paul, in a phrase almost too brief to be noticed and given its proper weight, told the Ephesians that this line from Genesis, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” refers literally, first and foremost to Christ and His Church. It is, he says, a great mystery, that is, a great sacrament. It is great, not because it has the effects of blotting out sin and opening the gates of Paradise, as does the great sacrament of Baptism; not because it’s minister is great as is the case with Confirmation; not because it contains Christ Himself in the way the Blessed Sacrament does. No, unlike these other great sacraments, matrimony is called great because it alone, out of all the seven sacraments, symbolizes the union of Christ and the Church, the very reason why God became man.
But if sacraments are intended for the sanctification of the human race, then the sacrament of matrimony will only effect holiness to the degree that the man and wife imitate and exemplify the love of Christ for His Spouse the Church, and her love for Him. And the model for this we have again in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “As the Church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for her to sanctify her.”
“For her Christ handed Himself over” to death, death on the cross. God the Son becomes man, emptying Himself, taking the form of a slave, in order to die the ignominious death of the cross for His beloved bride, the Church–and ever after the standard, the measure of love will that be of sacrifice. Who is the man who does not know the love of self-sacrifice, willing to labor and even to die for the sake of his beloved? The he does not have love at all. Does he love? Then to the degree that he does will he forfeit his own desires, his own wants, his own life.
And what of the wife? She takes the words of the Apostle as her own: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church.” The wife as the Church, submissive to her husband as to the Lord, rejoices no more than when sacrificing herself as she brings offspring to the world, holding her joy with arms encircled by the father, thus uniting the family in love.
And both of these attitudes find their perfection and fulfillment in the sacrifice of the cross, where Christ espoused Himself forever to the immaculate virginal Church. While sleeping the sleep of death on the cross, Christ fashioned the Church from His side that flowed with blood and water, just as He had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam while he slept. In the way death yields life, and the cross is the royal marriage bed on which Christ consummated His divine espousals with the Church.
Is it possible that such a model of death to self for the sake of the other is something more than romantic delusion, bravado deserving only mockery? Christ and His Church have been married for two thousand years, and their fruitfulness has been found most where self-love has been least.
“We preach Christ and Him crucified”–The measure of love is sacrifice. This is the attitude that astounds and perplexes the world today. The reason why has been given by St. Paul to the Corinthians: “For the word of the cross if folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Those who see no value in the sacrifice of a Christian family living in this world with their eyes set on the next, taking no share in the race for mere worldly gain since such brings no lasting happiness, and distinguishing their lives here with the love of the hereafter–those who see this and comprehend not, have set their feet on the wide and easy road. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,” says our beloved Apostle Paul. Do we seek signs of success for this venture before us? Look for the sign of the cross. Does it seem folly for them to risk so much with so little invested in this world’s securities Then find folly in Christ crucified. “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Let this one principle be held without doubt, that for this couple here beginning a new life blessed with sacramental graces, success is absurd where sacrifice is abundant. Embrace the cross, and the sweetness of the Savior will attend you. Give till there’s nothing left, and then give more, for the nails of the cross will hold you fast. When your body lies broken, and your soul has been shattered, then love yet a little more, for you will see the angel-streaked dawn of the Heavenly Jerusalem. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Let your whole married lives, from this breath until your last, cry out to all creation, “We preach Christ and Him crucified.”
Given 4/22/06 at San Secondo d’ Asti
04/22/06 <—Click the date if you’d like to download a copy for yourself :)