Convalidation: From “Marriage Lite” to Sacramental Graces

This morning my husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, convalidated the marriage of a young couple.  It was a beautiful ceremony, which highlighted the importance of Christian marriage, with its accompanying graces, over a civil union.

I’ve asked his permission to publish his remarks as a guest blog.

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Once again, welcome to everyone from all of us here at St. Linus!  And a very special welcome to Eric and Alissa since they are the reason for this very special day.

We are here, of course, to witness the convalidation of Eric and Alissa’s marriage. Since, in the eyes of the state, they have been married for exactly one year, today’s service may seem in some ways to be simply a formality—a blessing of the civil union that they finalized just 12 months ago.

But I can assure you that it is not. Today Eric and Alissa will pledge their love to one another in this church and before God, because God is the source of all love.  And today will mark the first day that their marriage will be recognized by God and by the Church.

I can speak to you about the meaning and importance of a sacramental marriage not just because it is something that the Church teaches. My wife Kathy and I were also married first in a civil ceremony, and it was not until many years later that we sought convalidation of our marriage.

With that convalidation came all of the graces that accompany the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and I can assure you that there can be no comparison between our first and our second marriages.  Our understanding of marriage – and our marriage itself – were fundamentally changed as we came to see and live our marriage according to the teachings of our Faith.   So I believe it is really important today to consider the meaning of love and marriage as they have been revealed in Sacred Scripture.

It was in the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, that the institution of marriage was introduced. There, in the story of creation, we see God’s plan for the man he created. “It is not good for man to be alone,” the Lord God says. “I will make a suitable partner for him.” And God creates the first woman.

We learn from the Book of Genesis that man is created as a social being. By nature, he needs to be with someone – the woman with whom he will spend his entire life. Today’s Gospel echoes that message: “God made them male and female,” Jesus teaches in the Gospel of Mark. “And for this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife.”

This desire to be together is so strong and so natural, Genesis tell us, that man “will cling to his wife and the two of them will become one body.”

Again, the Gospel echoes this message: “And the two shall become one flesh,” Jesus tells us. “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” The unity of marriage is so strong and so important that two separate, distinct individuals become a new entity in marriage, a new and unified creation in its own right. Eric and Alissa will become one in marriage before God today.

Some think of marriage as a 50/50 proposition. It is not. A truly successful marriage calls on each partner to give 100% to this new entity, this new creation where the two become one. It is a union of two persons who have been joined together by God, which is why Jesus
reminds us that “What God has joined together, no man must separate.”

So, permanence is a vital characteristic of the relationship described in the Gospel of Mark. Also vital to the marital relationship is love – the kind of love that puts the other person first. Paul spoke of the necessity of Christian love in his letter to the Corinthians which we heard just a few minutes ago.  Whatever else I may have, Paul said, if I do not have love, I am nothing.

And what kind of love was Paul speaking of? Love that is not jealous or pompous or inflated or rude or quick-tempered or brooding. Love that rejoices in truth, bears, believes and endures all things and does not seek its own interests.

Christian love is outward focused. It is the essence of Christianity. It is the essence of true marital love. You will know that Christian love is part of your marriage when you’re asking yourself not what you can get out of your relationship, but rather what God wants you to put into your marriage. Perhaps the best question you can and should ask, and ask frequently, is “God, how do you want me to love this person? How can I be the spouse that you created me to be?”

It is really important to understand the character of love required for marriage. Yes, love is emotion; it is feeling; it is the passion that attracts you to one another. But to be enduring, love must involve the mind as much as it does the heart. Love is also a rational decision – an act of the will – that must constantly be revisited if your marriage is to last.

Having been married for 36 years, I can share with you something that every married couple knows. Marriage is not always easy. All vocations have challenges and marriage certainly has its share. When the blush is off the rose, when the chemistry that first attracted you to each other falls victim to the everyday demands of life, that’s when true love begins to evolve.

That’s when you most understand love less as a feeling and more as a choice – as the profound, enduring commitment that the two of you will soon make to each other in the presence of God.

It has been said that marriage is sustained by love. But it is also true that at times, love is sustained by marriage – by the very fact that the two of you will pledge yourselves not only to each other but also to your marriage. Being married can sometimes keep couples together when love does not.

Life will be challenging. And when your marriage presents its inevitable challenges, remember why you came to this church to get married. God is present here with you today. If you invite His presence each day of your marriage, you’ll not only find the strength to deal with life’s problems, you’ll find joy in creating the beautiful, loving relationship that you desire for yourselves and your children.

Eric and Alissa, I pray that you will enjoy this beautiful day. May God bless you and your marriage today and every day of your life together.


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