Love for the Love of Lovers

Anthony and Marta Valle FAITH Magazine May-June 2006

In June 2004 the then Cardinal Ratzinger celebrated the marriage of Anthony and Marta Valle preaching a long and enlightening homily. Their connection with him was simply that they briefly met him and asked him. It was in February 2004 after one of his weekly public morning Masses at the Collegio Teutonico just inside the Vatican. The below description of this episode is of particular interest in the light of Deus Caritas Est. It is an extract of a June 2005 article in Inside the Vatican.

…. after some talk — we pop the question: “Your Eminence, we have a favor to ask of you.” Smiling, he patiently waits. “Will you celebrate our nuptial mass?” He asks, “When?” We answer, “On June 24.” His next question: “Where?” We respond, “In St. Peter’s Basilica.” “That might be a little difficult,” says the cardinal. “Perhaps you can put your request in a letter to me?” “Well, actually, Your Eminence, we already have one prepared for you.”

Being good students, we had done our homework the night before and wrote the letter that we now hand to the cardinal with all the nec­essary information, that is, ten possible dates to choose from, but one location: St. Peter’s Basilica, the heart of the Church. After we hand him the letter he says, “Let’s see what we can do.”

At this point Anthony thinks back to the time he had gone by himself to the cardinal’s Mass to ask him to bless the engagement ring for Marta. After getting the ring blessed he could not contain his excitement and blurted out to the cardi­nal, “We would like you to celebrate our nuptial Mass one day.” He responded, “If it is God’s will.”

Within a week of hand­ing the wedding-request let­ter to the cardinal, Marta receives an envelope from the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. She opens it. God’s will is clear:
It is a yes! And it is our first choice: June 24, St. Peter’s Basilica on the solemnity of St. John the Baptist, particu­larly significant for us since we first met on the steps of a church dedicated to him.……

June 24th 2004

The sermon is a profound meditation on the readings, particularly on the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Here the cardinal passionately underscores the hus­band’s subordinate role to the wife insofar as the husband - even though, or precisely because he is the head - must sacrifice himself continuously for his wife, just as Christ sacrificed himself for his own spouse, the Church, of which he is the head.

The cardinal said: “For if we ask ourselves: how has Jesus Christ practiced being the head, the fact that he is the Lord the first one and the superior? He has practiced it by being the last one, by putting himself in the last place, by becoming servant to all of us, by giving his own disciples the most lowly service of a slave: the washing of feet.

“And Christ has proclaimed and interpreted his headship to his disciples when saying: ‘The son of man has not come to be served but to serve and to give himself as a ransom for many.’
This is Christ’s way of being the first and if the husband truly understands and imitates Christ’s way of being the head … the husband will become the one who gives, who bows because he sees his greatness in the dynamic act of being subordinate to each other. Everything is made anew through the model of Christ. This means that husband and wife imitate this model and grow towards each other when they do not strive to be served but to serve.

“St. Paul also explains this in a different way with the words: ‘Christ has purified the Church.’ Over and over again he uses the concept of purifying each other through the act of forgiveness. The act of giving is always forgiveness, a readiness to start anew and to let love begin anew by taking strength from forgiveness.

“This forgiveness takes place if we pray together and listen to the word of Scripture and let ourselves be healed by the Word of the Lord, if we enter with the faith of the Church into its healing strength and receive the Sacrament of Penance and begin anew, and thus receive this gift of continuous sacramental renewal and sanctification in which love grows and in turn allows the marital act becoming one flesh and one spirit to become always more of a reality.”
In the end, we ask ourselves: what made the highest ranking cardinal in the Catholic Church give his yes to two students who asked him to celebrate their Nuptial Mass. What convinced the cardinal to cancel two appointments in order to keep his promise to this couple he barely knew. And at their wedding: what made him give a nearly half-hour long sermon, which could - or one could even argue should have been much shorter given the cardinal’s tremendous responsibilities? What, on top of all this compelled him to send us a personally inscribed, limited edition of his latest book as a wedding gift?

These are questions that we ask ourselves, and the only answer that gives itself back to us in the faintest of whispers is Love, better yet, a person so smitten by a deep and personal love for Christ that he himself becomes the Lover of Lovers.

Extract from Inside the Vatican, June 2005

Faith Magazine