This is a homily I'm preaching today at the wedding of a daughter of two dear friends of mine, Pam and Andy. I've known Melissa since she was about six years old. Their readings are:
Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
My parents have known each other since they were five. They married at the age of 21 and 22, just before dad went to the Pacific theatre in WWII as a B-25 navigator. Now, more than 66 years later, they have three children, four grandchildren and a beloved cat named Abby. My father is in renal failure, had a heart attack on Monday, and has had three surgeries and two rounds of dialysis in the last week. Today he is being discharged from UA MC, and will join my mother in the skilled nursing center at the retirement community where they’ve lived for the last 25 years. That means Abby, the cat, is the sole remaining occupant of their one bedroom, two-bath apartment.
I live in a 250 sq. ft. converted garage.
Melissa and Lucas, you met at an even earlier age, and are marrying at an ever so slightly older age. Lucas, like my father, you’re serving your country at a time of war.
But these are superficial similarities. You share something else with my parents. You share the same faith with them; the same faith your parents shared with you, my parents shared with me.
My father and mother never missed Sunday Mass, and even when we went on vacation, which always started at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning with a 600+ mile car ride, we always ended the day looking for the local Catholic church and the vigil Mass.
And while my parents didn’t talk a lot about their faith, I knew prayer was a part of their life. I remember waking up at night and walking down the hall to use the bathroom and glimpsing through the partially open door of my parents’ room, my father, on his knees, praying at the side of the bed. Nothing he said could have taught me more about the importance of a relationship with God.
Melissa and Lucas, you, too, have the blessing of a family with a lived faith – a faith that has been a continuous element in your parents’ lives. You’ve seen them live it, and have been shaped by it, in ways that you have only begun to discover.
Just wait until you have kids of your own!
You’ll discover yourselves saying things and doing things because that’s what you were taught parents do by your own parents’ example – an example that flowed from a lived faith, a lived relationship with God.
The wise Sirach says that a “good wife is a generous gift bestowed upon him who fears the LORD.” In this age of gender-equity, I would say a good husband is a generous gift upon the woman who fears the Lord, too. The fear of the Lord is not worrying about getting zapped by God for making a mistake, but realizing that God has invited you to enter into a relationship with him, and you have the power to refuse. It’s a fear of losing that relationship that makes the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom and worth the gift of a loving, gracious, thoughtful, virtuous spouse. You see, if you value that relationship with the Lord, you’ll choose a spouse who values that relationship, too.
I know that’s a part of why you’ve chosen each other. I beg you to consciously make it more and more a part of your marriage. Pray together every day – not just going to Mass or saying rote prayers, but dare to speak to God from your pain, your fear, your gratitude, in the presence of your spouse. Do it when you’re disappointed in your spouse, or when you’re angry, and even when you’re tired.
Prayer is a discipline, a choice.
In that sense it is so much like love, which is also a choice.
More than anything else you can do together, prayer will make your marriage strong, good, lasting, and intimate. If the thought of baring your body in front of the other makes you a little nervous, the thought of baring your soul might make you positively queasy. But after you’ve done it for awhile, it will seem as natural - and as intensely intimate – as anything you do together.
And I’m still talking about praying together here, Lucas!
This mutual gift that you can be to each other, this two becoming one flesh, can actually happen only if you each are joined as individuals to the Lord. St. Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. That’s his way of saying when two people are each in a relationship with Jesus, when they both love Jesus and fear losing that relationship with him, that love, that passion for God will overcome whatever other differences there are between them. He says “whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him,” and so when two people are both joined to the Lord, their mutual love for him and obedience to His Spirit becomes the glue that binds them together.
This unity that you are to seek has its foundation in a special kind of relationship not normally found in human life. That relationship is pointed to in the Gospel: when Jesus is asked about divorce, the acknowledgement that marital unity has been lost, he points our attention to the beginning of things – of what God intended.
He says God made them male and female. In that first story of creation, everything is declared good: light, darkness, the earth, the sea, plants, animals, birds.
But in the first story of creation, God makes the man first, alone, and in that second story one thing and one thing only is declared NOT good: that the man should be alone.
The man alone has no one to give himself to, and in that sense, he is not yet created in God’s image. Because God the Father is always giving himself completely to the Son, and the Son is always sharing all that he has received with the Father, and this mutual self-gift is divine love itself: the Holy Spirit.
This is the special kind of relationship that your marriage must mirror – a relationship of self-giving. It’s for this reason that St. Paul calls marriage an image of the very inner life of God.
There’s no room for accounting between two people who are joined by a love for God, and by a love that comes from God; no score keeping, no tallying of emotional debits and credits. The moment you do that you begin separating what God has joined; your spouse is no longer another you.
As you prepare to vow yourselves to each other in the love God has given you, the rest of us have to acknowledge what God is doing. In joining you to each other, he is creating a new relationship between you and us which Jesus, God in the flesh, commands us not to separate.
Lucas, you will always be Zelda and Doug’s son, but now you must first be Jesus’ disciple, and secondly Melissa’s husband. Melissa you will always be Pam and Andy’s firstborn – the practice child – but you, too, must be first Jesus’ disciple, and then you will be a gift who brings a lifetime of smiles to the face of Lucas. Lucas and Melissa, you will continue to be brother and sister to your siblings, great friends to all of us, but you each belong to Christ first, and in Him, to each other.
In a moment Fr. Clements is going to invite you to join your hands and look into each others’ eyes and pledge your love. Before he does that, I want to share one last image with you.
A few weeks ago I visited my mom in the nursing home; dad was already there as I entered the room. They were both sitting in wheelchairs, facing each other across one of those wheeled hospital tables, bony arms reaching across the table, hands and eyes locked together in love. But NOT just like they did on their wedding day, and not like you will do soon. Now, theirs is a love born from 66 years of prayer, reconciliation, worries, and joys surrounding their children and grandchildren; a love forged in the fires of passion and the crucible of sorrow; a love that lasted because it was not simply their own, but a sharing and a transmission of the forgiving, patient, trusting love of God. Whichever one wins the race to the grave, the other will quickly follow, gladly.
As you take each other’s hands, I invite you to look past the strength and beauty and realize that all that will fade with time. Only God is eternal, and those who live in God will live – and love each other – not just for 25, or 50, or 66 years – but forever.