Are You Hearing Wedding Bells?

It's June. Let's talk about love. This is the month of wedding bells and holy matrimony, after all. It's the month of brides and grooms and polished silverware; of hopes and dreams and unbound optimism.

Not to throw a greasy monkey wrench into the wedding cake, but marriage can be one of humankind's most difficult undertakings.

Maybe you envision wedded bliss - a nice house, a picket fence, a few well-scrubbed kids, a golden retriever. Maybe you envision safety, security, contentment. But maybe instead what you get are sufferings - financial troubles, health problems, a spouse who's unfaithful or who has turned to substance abuse, or all the above.

Indeed, let's talk about love - about infinite love, the love that transcends the temporal, that's beyond mere feelings and desires. Let's talk about the love that requires our active acceptance, our deliberate choice, the love defined by St. Thomas Aquinas as "willing the good of the other." That form of love is essential to a lasting and fulfilling marriage, and it doesn't always come so easy, and it doesn't always look so pretty.

To those preparing for the Sacrament of Matrimony and to those celebrating a wedding anniversary, let's reflect upon what Dostoyevski called "harsh" love of reality. As we members of the Holy Souls Sodality continue our own little Year of St. Joseph, we need only to look upon one of history's most demanding and momentous marriages, a marriage that began in confusion and dashed dreams and days of fear and flight.

This June, let's reflect a bit upon the marriage of this man, this husband to the Blessed Mother, this Most Chaste Spouse, this Patron of the Family. All those titles that we now associate with St. Joseph, well, they don't exactly reflect his original intentions when he first set eyes upon Mary.

We don't know the details of Joseph's courtship of Mary, but we can make some pretty safe assumptions about what may have been going through his mind. He was likely looking for a woman he would be attracted to, with whom he would have conjugal relations, who would fill his home with children.

Mary was available. She was a beautiful young lady of marriageable age who we can safely assume hoped to marry a good man who would be a good provider. Joseph, a man of faith and poise, a skilled carpenter, a man who could work with raw materials and turn them into elegant furnishings, probably fit the bill just fine.

But what happened next? That monkey wrench got lodged into the wedding cake. Before the couple could even consummate their marriage by traditional means, God called on Mary to bear His Son who was to be conceived through the Holy Spirit. How great must have been the sorrow and uncertainty of St. Joseph. But as he discreetly prepares to divorce Mary, an angel reveals to him the mystery of Christ's Incarnation.

As you know, he rises to the task. Yet, still, he must come to realize this Child in her womb was to be her only Child, that Mary's vocation included perpetual virginity. His role would be to standby, provide, protect, nourish, guide - to love and to will the good of the other, as Aquinas would have it.

On one hand, we have Mary's reaction to all this. She says, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). Scripture doesn't record any words of Joseph. Rather, we read of a man who - first - listened attentively. As Pope St. John Paul II said, "He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listened to the words of the Living God."

He listened, and then he took action.

Regardless of how society may have viewed their unconventional marriage, Joseph, with a servant's heart, took this pregnant young woman into his home. Soon, he and his pregnant wife were on the move, first to Bethlehem to fulfill the requirements of a government census. The best lodging this skilled carpenter could find in these harried days was a manger - likely not the setting they had in mind. Yet, together, the couple made do, and Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Then, when Joseph heard in a dream that his newborn Son's life was in danger, he packed up his young family and fled with them to Egypt - a foreign land with foreign customs, a place where they likely knew no one, a place they probably never imagined having to live in. But they made do. They remained faithful to God and faithful to each other.

Then, together, they finally returned to Nazareth, where Joseph cared for his spouse and raised his Son.

You see where I'm going with all this. We never know what the future holds. It's never a good idea to set your marriage upon a flimsy, rose-colored foundation, one that lacks flexibility to the fickle, sometimes formidable, winds and whims of life.

The Church defines marriage as that "partnership of the whole of life ... by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring ..." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601).

In marriage, couples are to bring each other and their offspring to Christ, the very Source of grace in Holy Matrimony. They are to make the hard and good choices that will bring about each other's salvation.

No matter what madness and gladness the world threw at Joseph, he was a counterweight of composure. He accepted that God had a plan for him. God has a plan for each and every married person, and it may not be what you imagine as you pop the cork on the champagne on your wedding day.

In our day and age when people are hungering for holiness, meaning, and love, God gives us St. Joseph, our powerful intercessor in Heaven.

Pray to the Guardian of the Holy Family, that he walk with you on your journey of faith; that he give you the wisdom to determine God's call; that he give you the strength to bear unexpected troubles; that you grow in holiness; and that you wholeheartedly commit yourself to loving and serving God, your spouse, and your offspring through good times and bad, sickness and health, till a holy death temporarily separates you.

Here's to holy marriages!

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