Now admittedly in those days we had begun to experience that most couples who came for Marriage Preparation courses were already living together, rarely, if ever, participated in Sunday Mass, had rather vague responses about openness to children and resisted most urgings to get their lives in right order with grace.
Of all the sacraments we celebrate, though strictly speaking primarily with this sacrament we are witnesses, the Sacrament of Marriage can be more often occasion of priestly distress of heart rather than experience of shared holy joy with the new spouses.
Here, truly, we need a simple act of faith and trust in the power of the sacrament, praying that eventually the new spouses will cooperate fully with grace.
Here too we need to be extremely compassionate and avoid a too narrow interpretation of things lest we break the bruised reeds and the future spouses leave with anger and bitterness in their hearts.
To trust the power of sacrament, not merely in the immediate of celebration, but in the ongoing sanctifying activity of the Holy Spirit will bring us peace and joy of heart.
To the extent we strive in our own lives to be faithful spouses of the Divine Bridegroom in the first instance, and of the Church in the second, within the reality of such deep fidelity to chastity we radiate spousal and parental, disciple and friend, love and joy in and with Christ for God’s People, to that extent our faith praxis will reach out, like the Good Shepherd and while not all couples will necessarily put things in right order before the wedding, many will strive to do so as they grow in marriage and parenthood.
The challenge is to remain present to them as much after their wedding as during the preparation time leading up to it.
The picture of the true priest, as Gregory understands and describes him, is the man ‘who, dying to all passions of the flesh, already lives spiritually; who has no thought for the propriety of the world; who has no fear of adversity; who desires only internal things; who does not permit himself to desire what belongs to others but is liberal of his own; who is all bowels of compassion and inclines to forgiveness, but in forgiveness never swerves unduly from the perfection of righteousness; who never commits unlawful actions, but deplores as though they were his own the unlawful actions of others; who with all affection of heart compassionates the weakness of others, and rejoices in the prosperity of his neighbour as his own profit; who in all his doings so renders himself as a model for others as to have nothing whereof to be ashamed, at least, as regards his external actions; who studies so to live that he may be able to water the parched hearts of his neighbours with the waters of doctrine; who knows through the use of prayer and through his own experience that he can obtain from the Lord what he asks’. [Reg.Past.1, 10] 
Such is the dynamic of communion of love with Jesus we are called to radiate upon those who come for sacramental marriage and those already married who strive to live it out and come seeking our wisdom and support.
When husbands, wives, fathers, mothers come to us they should find that we are, in imitation of and oneness with Jesus, ourselves truly models of holy spousehood and parenthood, while at the same time having our own hearts open to learn from and be encouraged in our own vocation by the witness of Christ’s Faithful Lay People.
In the above, as in all things, especially in our own day when not only Holy Marriage and Family Life is under such attack but also the God created reality of our being authentically and distinctly male and female in His image, our witness as priests MUST BE as real men.
Any diminishment of manhood in our person, speech, actions, attitude is both a betrayal of authentic priesthood, of our own personhood and of the people, especially married people and families, we are ordained to serve.
We have come, by God’s grace, in our era through the gift of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, such staunch and unwavering defenders of life and family as Pope’s Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, to recognize, and thus are called ourselves to serve, strengthen, defend, marriage and family as the reality of the “domestic church.’
True the “domestic church”, like ourselves, lives within a cultural environment which because of the sheer scope and weight of the culture of death and its darkness surrounding us, we may at times feel a type of imprisonment, a sort of gulag without razor wire, hemming us in with relentless media and other anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, anti-Life hatred, thus perhaps we need reflect upon and draw wisdom, hope, strength, consolation from, and assure God’s People it is our prayer too for them, St. Paul’s powerful cry to the Philippians uniting imprisonment with fidelity until the day of Christ. [cf. Phil. 1: 3-11]
As priests our love for the Bride of Christ, the Church, is rooted both in Her being our Mother the Church through baptism and in a sense our bride too as we are ordained in persona Christi.
If our fidelity to Her is authentic and visible in praxis then we shall be icons of fidelity to all those united in Holy Marriage and if we are seen as pouring ourselves out, like Jesus, in self-gift to others then spouses shall do the same for each other, for their children, for their neighbour.
Thus we should ask for the grace, no matter what temptations, doubts, struggles, battles afflict us in our struggle to be faithful, to always remember our love for Christ, for the Church, for the domestic church, continuing to make ours St. Paul’s prayerful plea and commitment as servant [cf. Phil. 1:25-30].
Perhaps we do not have the precise oratorical skills of St. Paul but if we speak with love, serve with love, preach and teach with love then our people will see within us the very same love and zeal which animated the Apostle as we too encourage fidelity to Christ [cf. Phil. 2].
While we are servants, consolers, called also to strengthen the domestic church, we can also look to the domestic church as a model and source of inspiration to enhance our own dedication to the gift and mystery of priesthood.
Both the vocation to Holy Marriage, building up the civilization of love through family life, and priesthood, are fundamentally vocations of the complete gift of self to other[s], containing within them the constant sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Sadly it is also true that spouses/parents who refuse or are stingy with self-gift to other[s], like priests who refuse complete self-gift, will little by little become dis-enamoured: to the point of divorce and in our case abandonment of priesthood.
Thus, for we priests, it is critical that frequently during the examination of conscience in Night Prayer we look at our devotion to Church, Mother and Bride, and to the Domestic Church.
………..Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd, calls ‘His sheep one by one’ with a voice well known to them [Jn. 10: 3-4]. By His example He has set the first canon of pastoral care: knowledge of the people and friendly relations with them. In the Church, a community vision of pastoral ministry must be in harmony with this personal pastoral care. Indeed, in building up the Church the pastor always moves from a personal to a community dimension. In relating to individuals and communities, the priest cares for all ‘eximia humanitate.’ He can never be the servant of an ideology or of a faction. He is obliged to treat men ‘not according to what may please me, but according to the demands of Christian doctrine and life.’
………………New evangelization requires that the priest make his authentic presence evident in the community. They should realize that the ministers of Jesus Christ are present and available to all. Thus their amicable insertion into the community is always important. In this context it is easy to see the significance and pastoral role of the discipline concerning clerical garb, to which the priest should always conform, since it is a public proclamation of his limitless dedication to the brethren and to the faithful in his service to Jesus Christ. THE MORE SOCIETY IS MARKED BY SECULARIZATION, THE GREATER THE NEED FOR SIGNS. 
When we are living out the above, we shall note something wonderful happening in the lives of our brothers and sisters who are called to live the splendid vocation of Holy Marriage.
More and more we shall see them forming their families into the authentic fullness of the domestic church and thereby enhancing not only the splendour of the Universal Church with increased holiness but also bringing about the true civilization of love, the greater proclamation and expanse of the Gospel of Life, which in turn will little by little transform the culture of death into a communion of charity, all this because our people will become what they are, salt and light!
Also the richer the soil of the domestic church, of family life, the greater the seeds shall sprout in the hearts of the young who, becoming mature men, will say YES in their turn to divine election, to the vocation of joy:
Vocations are usually born in families where love and self-denial are the fabric of daily life. They are the fruit of the kind of overabundant justice which goes beyond the bare minimum demanded by the Commandments, producing a family life which is in accordance with the new law, the law of the Beatitudes and of the Sermon on the Mount.
…………..Above all in these homes there is prayer, sharing and giving, and hospitality is practiced without undue concern for the future, in a spirit of trust that ‘our Father in heaven knows what we need.’
In these homes the parents – in the secret of their hearts, sometimes unbeknownst to each other – pray and keep their hearts open to the call that God may address to their children. 
Wherever I have been a pastor I have made sure that I do my best, and if I have assistants that they likewise make every effort, to visit at least three families a week, with particular attention to the poorest and least popular families.
At the same time, given my trust in the power of both the intercessory prayer, and the example of the lived fidelity of the domestic church, I encouraged families to adopt priests, that is to make a specific effort to take not just the priests in the parish, but priests far and wide, all priests within the Church, in person or in their hearts and prayer, into the deep, splendid example of their own vocation as spouses and parents, as elders and children, thus encouraging priests, through prayer, to be faithful to our own vocation.
Through a regular presence to the spouses-parents, in particular, we shall find ample occasion to exercise our priestly, fatherly, shepherd’s munus regendi in a manner that is courageous, truth-speaking, loving service.
To the degree that family life is healed, that married life is re-evangelized to be what it truly is, a splendid witness vocation of self-gift in imitation of Christ the Bridegroom in His loving care of His Bride the Church and Her children, to that degree the parish community, itself a family, and the very society and culture in which the family and parish live, will also increasingly be healed and restored to Christ.
Certainly on those family visits sooner or later the whole gambit of moral and other faith and societal issues will be brought forward for discussion and here, perhaps even more intensely than experienced in the pulpit, we may well find ourselves fearful of being disliked or of becoming unpopular because of the forthrightness of our shepherd’s and fatherly truth-speaking.
However this should be seen by us as yet another graced moment for re-evangelization, for ‘strengthening the brethren’ and such moments should be approached with generous charity, compassion, patience towards the family and also within ourselves a profound confidence that here we are truly being given moments to act in persona Christi exactly as Jesus did when He visited families while revealing the love of the Father here on earth, giving hope, bringing truth and healing, forgiveness and always, love.
Beloved priest sons, by vocation you are the counsellors and spiritual guides of individual persons and families. We now turn to you with confidence. Your first task…is to expound the Church’s teaching on marriage without ambiguity. Be the first to give, in the exercise of your ministry, the example of a loyal internal and external obedience to the teaching authority of the Church. That obedience, as you know well, obliges not only because of the reasons adduced, but rather because of the light of the Holy Spirit, which is given in a particular way to the pastors of the Church in order that they may illustrate the truth.
……………..In their difficulties, may married couples always find in the words and in the heart of a priest, the echo of the voice and the love of the Redeemer.
Speak with confidence, beloved Sons, secure with the conviction that the Holy Spirit of God, while assisting the Magisterium in proposing true doctrine, enlightens internally the hearts of the faithful and invites them to give their assent. Instruct married couples to have frequent recourse in a spirit of great faith to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, and never let them be discouraged by their weakness. 
Love and truth are inseparable.
In our authentic love for married couples, for families, indeed for everyone, while it is appropriate to develop holy friendships this must always be within the context of, and tempered by our being in persona Christi, that is their fathers, shepherds, servants and so we must avoid seeking from them that type of mere human affirmation and comfort which would distort the necessary boundaries of such friendships.
Our goal should be to, with them, enter more deeply into the joy which flows from friendships rooted in Christ.
As Fathers and Shepherds we are especially, in union with the domestic church, to be the prime defenders of human life, of the human person from conception to ‘natural’ death.
The mystery of the Resurrection and of Pentecost is proclaimed and lived by the Church, which has inherited and which carries on the witness of the Apostles about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ….In the name of the Resurrection of Christ the Church proclaims life, which manifested itself beyond the limits of death, the life which is stronger than death. At the same time, she proclaims Him who gives this life: the Spirit, the Giver of life; she proclaims Him and cooperates with Him in giving life. For ‘although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness,’ the righteousness accomplished by the crucified and rise Christ. And in the name of Christ’s Resurrection the Church serves the life that comes from God Himself, in close union with and humble service to the Spirit. 
We priests MUST be visible in the struggle to defend human life, the human person, from the womb to the tomb, and be willingly present – even at the cost of our own lives should that be necessary like our brother priest St. Maxmillian Kolbe – to protect the family, indeed any human being, in union with Christ laying down our lives for our friends.
Yes even enemies, in this sense, are friends.
It also is the urgency of charity we be in solidarity with those whose earthly pilgrimage is nearing completion through the reality of old age and thus all the elderly, particularly the abandoned and our elderly brother priests, who in particular deserve the comfort of our presence.
Thus they should from us, but also at our urging from their own families and the parish family in general, should experience an affection and presence which gives true dignity to their old age, showing them and all the elderly, true reverence, respect, genuine love.
One of the ways we can do this is to courageously proclaim the truth that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person….
We should likewise be vigilant about the care and dignity of family members of any age who are physically or mentally handicapped – in a word defending life and family means always being solicitous of the wellbeing of all the vulnerable.
Among unmarried women, but also not infrequently among women who are both married and already have children, the murder of pre-born children is a harsh reality.
However as authentic fathers and shepherds, when women who have chosen to abort a child[ren], touched by grace directly, approach us to unburden their aching hearts and souls, these words of Pope John Paul II should animate our compassionate, truth-speaking, hope-giving, response and way of being their servants:
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give into discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and to His mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life. 
Perhaps occasionally as priests we find ourselves experiencing a real difficulty in sustaining a true appreciation of, and perspective upon, this splendid vocation of Holy Marriage and the reality of the Domestic-church.
This may come about when a sudden fear of rejection takes hold if we actually proclaim, in season and out, the truth about the sacredness of human life, openness to the gift of new life, the sanctity and earthly permanence of the sacramental marriage union between the spouses with each other and between the spouses in their oneness with Christ.
Of course if our own oneness with Christ, our own ascent to truth are weak then we shall most likely be hesitant in boldly, yet always with real charity and compassion, proclaiming truth.
Finally it may be that neither of the above applies so much as hesitancy, because we erroneously see ourselves as ‘single, unmarried men’, rather than who we really are in persona Christi and the reality as such of our own spousal relationship with the Church.
Part of our regular prayer life then should be persistent, albeit humble and trusting, begging of the Holy Spirit, and asking the intercessory companionship of all the great female and male mystics of the ages, to teach us and form deep within us the reality of communion of love with Christ to the ultimate fulfillment of complete union, referred more frequently in the past than today, as: Mystical Marriage.
In Chapter 14 of the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, the Evangelist presents to us two aspects of the wedding banquet: in verses 7-14 is the self-gift teaching about true humble loving service, about humility itself; in verses 15-24 while we may tend to focus more on those who refused the call, the actual import is of the call of the Divine Bridegroom to come to the wedding feast, our wedding feast!
It is here too we find an even deeper invitation from Christ beyond attendance/participation when in verse 10, using the term which He will later solemnize the night of the Holy Eucharist when He calls us “Friend!”, bids us to come higher.
In opening wide the doors of our being to Him [Rv.3:20], we embark ever more profoundly on the journey inward to the deepest regions of the Garden Enclosed for fullness of communion of love dialogue, while going ever higher to the height of the mystical marriage bed, His Cross.
It is also an invitation to come higher, to Tabor and Transfiguration, that is entering fully into cooperation with the Holy Spirit who ever more sanctifies us and unites us to Jesus until, like the Apostle, we too will know we no longer live but Christ lives in us!
…..When souls become filled with God in ineffable plenitude, the life of Jesus fills souls with His treasures and increases in them through a wonderful fecundity.
To become a saint is to become Jesus; it is to conceive Jesus in our soul and to cause Him to grow therein. But Jesus cannot be enclosed in the narrow confines of a human heart. When He dwells there, He diffuses Himself, like a resplendent light, a delicate perfume, a penetrating sound, thus reaching even the limits of the world.
When a soul becomes Jesus, she in her turn conceives Him in other souls, and infuses Him into other hearts. Her glory is to disseminate the light of heaven, the glory of the Father, as the sun in the midst of the firmament sheds the glory of its light in all directions. 
We enter willingly, with immense yearning, fidelity, humility, mystical marriage, fullness of communion of love with Jesus, never for our own glory or comfort.
We enter so as to more and more fulfill the priestly, prophetic, missionary dimensions of both our baptismal and priestly consecration.
We are one with Jesus for the salvation of souls and specifically in defense and support of the entire deposit of wisdom and truth rooted in Sacramental Marriage, of the Gospel of Life, of the Family, of the Domestic-Church, thus, like Jesus, we too are here NOT to be served but to serve, not primarily to receive but to make self-gift to other, that is to Jesus, Jesus as He presents Himself to us in the person of husbands, wives, children, widowed persons, the elderly, the sick, the unmarried, the lonely, the poor – in a word as He presents Himself to us in every human being, friend and enemy.
The quintessential Old Testament text referenced by the mystics, and meditated upon as template for communion of love, mystical marriage with Jesus, is the Song of Songs, a treasure trove for among others St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and the original Scripture and their commentaries remain part of the Church’s treasury always at our disposal:
The power and tenacity of love is great, for love captures and binds God Himself. Happy is the loving soul, since she possesses God for her prisoner, and He is surrendered to all her desires. God is such that those who act with love and friendship toward Him will make Him do all they desire, but if they act otherwise there is no speaking to Him nor power with Him, even if they go to extremes. Yet by love they bind Him with one hair.
Knowing this, and knowing how far beyond her merits it was that He should have favoured her with such sublime love and the rich tokens of virtues and gifts, she attributes all to Him in the following stanza:
When You looked at me
Your eyes imprinted Your grace upon me;
For this You loved me ardently;
And thus my eyes deserved
To adore what they beheld in You. 
The more profound and complete our union in communion of love with Jesus, the more we will restore all things to Christ, the more souls we will re-evangelize, the more we shall accomplish the missio ad gentes.
The more intense will be joy rising up within us!