Sermon for a Wedding on the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Originally published in Jesus, the Imagination (pdf).

Dear Ingrid, you birthday and your wedding day falls within the octave of Christmas.  The great feast of Christmas is our joy, and our consolation. Consolamini, consolamini, popule meus, the prophet says: Be consoled, be consoled, my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, call out to her: that her woes are at an end. (Isaiah 40:1-2) Christmas is the beginning of the end: the happy ending for our humanity. It is a wedding feast, a marriage; the marriage of Divine and Human Nature in the incarnation of the eternal Word. And from this marriage of human and divine springs a great multitude of new life: the new creation, the Church. This marriage is like a seed from which a great tree grows, in which the birds of the air can find their nests. This is consolation: to be so united to God for whom our hearts yearn, to know Him, and to be thoroughly known by Him. To be known and yet not condemned, to be loved. Consolamini, popule meus.

And yet today, on the fourth day of the Christmas octave, your birthday and wedding day, a shadow seems to pass over the joy of Christmas: A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.  (Matthew 2:18)

Today, Rachel weeps from on high for her children. Rachel’s name means “motherhood,” and already in life she suffered much as a mother. Joseph her first born was reported dead. Her second son’s birth was her own death. This second son was called by his father: Ben-Jamin, the son of the right hand, the favored son. His brother Joseph having been lost, Benjamin had the special favor of his father. But Rachel, as she died, called him Ben-Oni, the son of sorrow. But this son of sorrow, becomes a consolation. He is Rachel’s consolation already as she passes from this world to the next. And later he is the consolation of the whole family of Israel. The children of Leah had been envious of Joseph, her first-born. But they are not envious of Benjamin. They love him, because he is the consolation of their father’s old age. Before the disguised Joseph, Judah offers his own life in exchange for that of Benjamin. It is the turning point in the story of their family. When Joseph sees the love of Judah for Benjamin, he forgives them, and makes himself known, and consoles them, and thus he is restored to his family. Benjamin is thus not a consolation as a replacement for Joseph, but as the cause of Joseph’s restoration.

In the Dhamapada, the Buddha taught his followers thus:

From love comes grief, from love comes fear; he who is free from love knows neither grief nor fear. […] Let, therefore, no man love anything […] Those who love nothing and hate nothing, have no fetters. [1]

In a way, the Buddha is right; in this world, love and suffering are inseparable. But our Lord does not shy away from the pain of love. He goes through sorrow to become, like Benhamin, a consolation. Even in His entry to the world in Bethlehem, the wood of the manger foreshadows the wood of the cross on which He is to suffer. His love is great enough to take on suffering and to transform it; to make the cross into the means of passing over into unspeakable happiness and glory. And His body, His bride, the Church; she will follow Him into that suffering: she too will enter into glory through suffering. The Holy Innocents, whom we celebrate today, are the first martyrs of the Church; they die even before their Lord, but it is because of His death that their death is an entry into glory.

Dear Ingrid and dear Benedict! Another thing that the Buddha teaches is this:

So long as the love of a man towards a woman, even the smallest love, is not destroyed, so long is his mind in bondage, as the calf that drinks milk is to its mother.[2]

But today, on your wedding day, you reject this teaching. Today you willfully accept the fetters and bonds of love. You promise to be faithful to each other in good times and in bad, in health and in sickness. Today you accept the suffering of love, as well as the joy. Today you take up your cross.  You will inevitably suffer. You will cause each other suffering, and your children will cause you suffering. But your faithfulness will be a consolation in this suffering. To forgive again and again, to give again in love; thus you will console each other, and your suffering will transformed into joy.

Benedict, you were born after a time of sorrow for your parents. Your brothers Philip and Marcus had died as little babies, right after they were born. And you were named Benedict, Benedictus, the blessed one. But Papa often calls you Ben-Oni, the son of sorrow, the son of consolation. You were the consolation of your parents in their sorrow. Ingrid, today we pray that Benedict might be your consolation in all the sufferings and sorrows of life, and that you might be his.

Today is your wedding day! A day of great consolation and joy. The joy of union in love. The consolation of knowing and being known. In your marriage, you are a sign of the marriage of God and Humanity, of Christ and His Church. You especially, Ingrid, are today a sign of the high vocation of human life. You are the bride: a sign of the Church. Today we can say of you: decora sicut Jerusalem; terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata. Fair as the high city, terrible as an army in battle array. (Song of Songs 6:4)

We hope that abundant life will spring from your marriage. That from the seed planted today a great tree will grow, in which many will find shelter.  And thus your marriage will be a bright sign of consolation to all; a sign of the hope of the ultimate happy ending:

I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, and made ready as a bride is arrayed for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying: Behold, the tabernacle of God among men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them and shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall not be any more, nor shall sorrow nor lamentation nor pain be any more… And he who sat upon the throne said: Behold, I make all new. (Rev 21:2-5)

[1] The Dhammapada, trans. F. Max Müller, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), ¶¶ 215, 211.

[2] The Dhammapada, ¶ 284; translation slightly modified.

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