Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany – January 22, 2012 by Monsignor Perez
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
What I wanted to talk about today is actually prompted by the gospel of last Sunday. And, as you recall, the gospel from last Sunday was the wedding feast of Cana. It’s very dear to many people, I think. At least it’s a very dear reading to me. You know, Catholics are often accused of, Oh, yeah, you Catholics, you don’t know much about scripture. Well, we do because we hear it every year and that is certainly one of the best known of the gospels. It’s such marvelous food for thought. Who was this couple, how Our Lord graced their marriage with His presence, his mother was there gracing the occasion with her presence, and the apostles. Just how much grace has ever been concentrated at one wedding. Never before or sense has anything like that, of course. And it is piously believed that on this occasion Our Lord raised marriage to the level of a sacrament, establishing it as one of the seven.
And so we know the story. Our Lord and His mother and everybody at the reception, and the wine runs out. And she says they ran out, and He says, What’s that to me, and this kind of thing. And then she tells the guys, Well do what He tells you to do. He tells them to fill the water pots. And he turns the water into wine and thus. So, I say there is a lot of food for thought there, not least of which, you know, the wonderful raising of marriage to a sacrament but also what must that wine have tasted like. You know, God, by His nature, has to make the best wine possible when He turns water into wine. He can’t just say, I think they’ll settle for Carlo Rossi or something like that. And so, those of us who are always chasing a better wine — oh, that one. Got a good wine? Oh, try this — Trader Joe’s, whatever. And you think about it, Wow, to have been there and just to taste what the ultimate in wine made by God Himself would have been like, that’s practically a religious experience, I think. And it’s probably why it’s so dear to Catholics, too, because Our Lord chose as His first miracle to make wine. Some of you may realize this, but the fundamentalists like the Baptists and these, they believe you have to accept scripture at face value. It’s all literal and this kind of thing. And then you go, Well, it says in the psalms that God gave wine to man to gladden his heart, and that Jesus made wine at the wedding feast of Cana. And they go, no, no, no, no, no. It wasn’t wine because drinking wine is a sin. So what he made was something akin to Welch’s, you see, grape juice. It was great grape juice but not wine, not wine. And this is ridiculous because it actually was wine.
But the other part of this is the marital aspect, what this reading evokes with regard to the sacrament of matrimony, especially, as I said, is piously believed that it is there that Our Lord made this a sacrament. And it is about that that I want to say some things today, about the sacrament of marriage. You know, there are only seven sacraments, so this is one-seventh of everything that Christ left us for our sanctification, and it can’t be for naught. But you know, I heard somebody say on the radio a few weeks ago, just a one liner, and he wasn’t even trying to be profound and was talking about something else. He said, “We live in an age when people don’t believe in anything anymore”. And if you look around you, that really is what — I mean don’t look around you now — but when you go someplace where that is more true than here, you look around and it really is kind of true. We are in a world where people don’t believe in anything anymore. And you start to wonder, I start to wonder even sometimes about Catholics. Now, I know Catholics believe in the essentials of the faith, but there are some things you wonder about. What makes me wonder is when you believe in something, you are passionate about it to a certain extent. You grab on to it. You know it’s true and you believe in it. And you are motivated by it and by the beauty and the truth of that particular thing that you are believing in. And when it comes to the sacrament of Matrimony, I have to look around — I’m not looking at anyone in particular, just looking in the Catholic Church in general, whether it be here or elsewhere, and ask myself how many Catholics believe this is a sacrament. How many Catholics believe this is one of the seven outward signs instituted by Christ to give us grace? How many Catholics believe this is holy and that they are called to holiness in marriage? And there is cause for wonder, because what do we see? We see Catholics living marriages pretty much as anyone else does in the world, putting up with each other, fighting from time to time, trying not to have the big fight that ends in the big “D” and that kind of thing. Various stages of neglect or toleration. But we don’t see a whole lot of even Catholics living the sacrament of Matrimony the way Christ intended it, approaching it as the source of grace for their lives and with a spirit of perfect sacrifice and self-giving, and acknowledging the holiness of Matrimony.
You know, for example, when you are married and you are in the sacrament of Matrimony, the husband is responsible for his wife, a wife is responsible for her husband for getting them to heaven in as much as is in their power. So they should never say anything or do anything to each other or in each other’s presence which leads them away from God but always towards God. And if they have children, they have the obligation to always lead those children towards God by their actions and by their words and what goes on in their marriage.
Even people who are married, ask yourselves, How many times a week, a month, a day, do you and your spouse remind each other that you are living a holy sacrament. And you’ll find that maybe you’ll scare yourself by how infrequently that comes to mind, which is kind of sad because you need to recognize it as a sacrament to get the graces which Our Lord promised through that sacrament.
So, let’s talk a little bit, then, about these aspects of marriage. And first is the preparation. So you’ve gone around and you’ve found the person that you believe you want to marry and so there are certain things that you should be doing and certain things that you shouldn’t be doing. Now, normally what happens, not what should happen, but what happens is they meet each other, wouldn’t it be a good idea to get married, okay, let’s get married. Now we’ve got to get ready for marriage. So what do they do? Oh, well, we’ve got to get the hall. We’ve got to get that hall because halls are booked a long time in advance so we have to know now and we have to pick out the menu. Is it going to be the mystery meat or is it going to be the lasagna extraordinaire or one of these things. We’ve got to decide that now because they have to know.
And then the dresses, oh, the dresses. Okay, well let me tell you first of all, yeah, I know you need to get a hall, you need to find a place. Probably the nicest wedding I’ve ever been to in our parish the bridal gown and the bridesmaids’ dresses were made by the bride’s mother herself and they were beautiful. The reception was catered Mexican food in the hall right here, and was the nicest reception ever. They had a boom box for the music and it was waltzing and very nice, modest traditional music. And it cost next to nothing. Yet it was one of the nicest, most chaste, holiest marriages I have seen, the most modest Christian marriage, one of them, that ever happened in this parish.
But what happens then, okay, normally we go to the hall, we go get the dresses, and this kind of thing. Well, halls, you know, they can be very, very expensive. I always find it somewhat amusing in that you know, oh, we have to get the band, we have to get the DJ, and I don’t know what happens to these people’s minds when they are picking out music for weddings. I mean, it’s scandalous, it’s sinful, it’s horrible, the stuff that they play at weddings. It doesn’t have to be that way and it shouldn’t be that way. I generally leave when the music starts, but usually the first song is enough to make me leave anyway. So, you know, the modesty and the chastity of Christian Catholic life has to be evident at your wedding, too. You have to have a modest, good wedding, and it can be done, and I’ve seen it. Not to mention the dresses. Okay, I don’t mind admitting to you, priests, like everybody else, you learn most of what you learn after you are ordained or after you are married, or this kind of thing. So, I was ordained, and, you know, you go out and everything is fine, and the first wedding I have, you know, I didn’t know nothing, I just figured, well, these people are traditional Catholics, so they kind of know what’s supposed to be. Well, it was like all the bridesmaids were pregnant and they had maternity bridesmaids’ gowns. Okay, well, one wedding by one you learn the things you have to be more specific on, like next time. Then, later on you get, well, okay, so you ask them, So your dresses are modest, right? Oh, yes, Father, they are very modest dresses, everything is fine. And then they show up in something that ends about here (Father demonstrating) and it’s held together by a thread that if you cut it they would explode all over the place, and they go, Well, we have a shawl, we have a shawl. Well, let me tell you, shawls come off. Okay? And not only do they come off, they will come off. At the reception nobody keeps their shawl on even if they had one in church.
So, now what do I have to do, and those of you who are contemplating marriage, thing number one here, don’t get a wedding dress until I see it. I have to see and approve your wedding dress, I have to see and approve your bridesmaid’s things, and if they are not up to here (Father demonstrating) with sleeves, forget it. Get somebody to sew more on it, whatever you have to do, but it’s not going to be in this church. I fail to understand why brides think that standards of modesty can be lowered for a wedding. Why is that? You know, they wear stuff here that I’ve only seen on Harbor Boulevard late at night, you know. So this doesn’t go anymore. Those contemplating marriage, you don’t buy a wedding dress or nothing until you clear it with me, because I’ve had it with this, Oh, yeah, it’s modest. Well, modest by whose standard. Anyway, it goes on from there.
Real marriage preparation, what should you be doing. a.) You are going to receive a sacrament. You should be praying together. You should be begging God for graces on your upcoming sacrament, and that those graces continue during your married life, and that it be a long and happy married life blessed by God. First things first. You pray. You should get together and you should pray on a regular basis, if not every day, as often as you can. You know, prayer aside, it’s no secret that people who intend to get married see each other all the time. But you tell them that you have to see each other and pray and suddenly they haven’t got time to see each other, which is kind of silly.
So, first of all they should be praying. They should be practicing holiness and purity. If you do not enter into a marriage with holiness and purity, God will not bless that marriage. For example, before you are ordained in the seminary, in a traditional seminary, they go, If you haven’t got like the sixth commandment under control, for example, if you cannot go a whole year without any serious sin against the sixth commandment before diaconate, you are to excuse yourself from receiving Holy Orders. You may not. You just tell the president of the seminary for personal reasons I cannot receive Holy Orders at this time. And that’s just for sins that not running out and doing anything — for solitary sins and things like that. So I think the same applies in marriage. If you can’t keep perfect consonance in chastity for a year, forget about getting married until you can do that. Why? Because you’d be going from the frying pan into the fire. A solitary sin against the sixth commandment is bad for a single person. For a married person it’s an act of adultery. Just as for a priest, a solitary sin when they are a seminarian is bad. After they are ordained, it’s a sacrilege on top of being a mortal sin against the sixth commandment.
So, to keep yourself from going from the frying pan into the fire, you have to start praying and practicing chastity if you haven’t been up to that point. And I know that a lot of people don’t. They sin right up until the last minute. I mean how often have I been dragged into the confessional as the entrance hymn was playing, Oh, we’ve got to go to confession, because they’ve been acting like savages right up until the last moment. You know, that’s not quite fair, not at every wedding, but it has happened. And this is not good. You are entering into marriage on the wrong foot when that kind of thing happens.
Let me tell you what one spiritual writer says about this. He says, “These are the preparations to be made to receive the grace of the sacrament. The first and best preparation is a pure and pious life. The light of the Holy Ghost should be invoked to know whether one is called to this state of life. The parents and father confessor should be asked for advice and that advice should be followed. The choice should be made in regard to a Christian heart and a gentle disposition, rather than to beauty and wealth. The immediate preparation is to purify the conscience if it has not been already done by a good general confession, and by the reception of the most Holy Sacrament of the altar. Before their marriage, the young couple should ask their parents’ blessing, should hear the nuptial Mass with devotion with the intention of obtaining God’s grace to begin their new state of life well, and, finally, they should commend themselves with confidence to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her spouse, St. Joseph.”
Young people contemplating marriage, avoid the near occasion of sin. You know, I can’t say this enough. If you find somebody that you want to marry, see them all you want but with your parents there or their parents there with you. If you are alone in a place where something bad can happen, it will happen. This is human nature. You listen to me. If I know anything, I know a little bit about human nature and what we are capable of. Okay? So, if you are courting somebody, meet at Denny’s with your mom there. Okay? You shouldn’t be doing anything that you couldn’t do with your parents sitting right there. Okay? Your courtship should be modest, it should be chaste, and it should be chaperoned. And you should never ever be alone in a place where something could happen because it will happen.
All right. Why are there so many unhappy marriages, according to this author? Well, before I read his thing, let me tell you. Number one is married couples tend to neglect or forget something. Number one in the marriage is not princess bride. Number one in the marriage is God. So, a marriage is first of all, all about God. Everything should be referred to Him, everything should be asked of Him and begged of Him for this marriage. Second of all is each other. God first and us second. Where do they get into trouble is it’s all about me. Oh, well, I thought when we got married we were going to get this bigger house and you were going to provide better for me and nyia, nyia, nyia, nyia nyia. Okay? Well, it’s not all about me. If you start thinking it’s all about me, you’re infallible now, and your husband or your wife has no place in this marriage anymore except to serve you, and that’s not what marriage is all about. Remember, it’s not about me. I’ll go into a little more about that in a minute.
And I think we can stop the It’s-all-about-me mentality by making weddings what they should be, which are good Christian affairs without extravaganzas, you know. You know, thank God, we haven’t had any real extravaganzas here, but you certainly know people who have or you’ve heard about them, marriages that cost you know, $60/$70,000. I told somebody about a $60,000 wedding and they said that’s cheap. You wouldn’t believe what — and those of you who have daughters, especially lots of daughters, I’m sure you view their upcoming marriages the way the Titanic viewed the upcoming iceberg. You know, it just doesn’t have to be that way. A good Christian marriage will not ruin you and run you out of house and home. It will not put you in the poor house. It doesn’t have to. We have everything to make good, wonderful, memorable marriages right here for not very much.
But, now, the author said, “There are so many unhappy marriages because so many people prepare the way by sins and vices, and continue to sin without interruption and without true amendment until marriage, therefore always make sacrilegious confessions even perhaps immediately before marriage. Besides this, many enter the marriage life on account of carnal intentions or other earthly motives. In many cases, they do not even ask God for His grace. Without any proper preparation for such an important sacred act, on their marriage day they go to church with levity and afterwards celebrate their wedding with but little modesty. Is it any wonder that such married people receive no blessing, no grace, when they render themselves so unworthy.” So, remember you are preparing for a sacrament. Keep that in mind.
One image I like to use, in the old days, Old Testament times, there were only certain people who could touch the Arc of the Covenant without being zapped, and I mean really zapped, like dead, by God. Lightening bolts would come out of the Arc of the Covenant and finish them off if they weren’t properly disposed and holy enough to touch the Arc. Well, think of it that way. Think of marriage or any other sacrament as this big Arc of the Covenant just seething with God’s power and lightening bolts. And, if you are not perfectly well disposed and you walk up to that, you are going to get destroyed by the lightening that comes out of this thing. So, think about the sacrament then. That being the Arc of the Covenant, am I worthy to go up and touch that without having anything to fear from God’s wrath. And if you would be fearful touching the Arc, you should be fearful entering into marriage under those circumstances as well. So that’s why there are so many unhappy marriages because they go into it wrong. You know, also little practical things like, Oh, well, yeah, I knew that he or she had this fault, but I thought I could change them after we got married. Well, everybody has their faults. Some you wish you could change, like if somebody snores or whatever, you know, you could put a pillow over their head or something like that (Father laughing) something practical, and that’s something that you maybe just learn to put up with. But if there is some real character defect that’s in somebody, you ain’t gonna change it, and don’t fool yourself into thinking you are. So if it’s something you think you can’t live with, then you would think getting hooked to that person for the rest of your life, you know –.
“Why did God institute married life? Primarily for children, that children might be brought up honestly and as Christians, and that they should be instructed especially in matters of the faith. That married people should sustain each other in the difficulties of life and mutually exhort one another to a pious life.
“And, lastly, that the sin of impurity might be avoided, for they who in such a manner receive matrimony as to shut out God from themselves and from their mind and to give themselves to their lust as the horse and mule which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.” So you’ve got to avoid that.
“Finally, with what intention should the marriage be entered into?” He says, “With such intentions as the young Tobias and his bride had before the marriage ceremony, who ardently prayed God for His grace and took their wedding breakfast in the fear of the Lord……”
(The recorder began experiencing difficulty so not able to finish recording Father’s sermon.)