Saturday, August 2, 2014

Homily for a wedding

Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Ps 112:1-9; 1 Cor 12:31-13:8a; John 15:9-12

It’s important to note that [the groom and the bride] chose these readings themselves from a lengthy menu of readings for the Rite of Marriage. The event of a wedding, while joyful, one of the most joyful events we are privileged to participate in, is also solemn, which is not meant as a buzzkill. Something can be simultaneously joyful and solemn. So, it is fitting that we turn to God’s inspired word in order to understand both the joy and solemnity of [the groom and bride] being joined together in the bonds of holy matrimony.

The theme of the readings [the groom and bride] chose, which culminate with the Gospel reading, is love. Love is a word we tend to use a lot. When we stop and consider the range of its meaning, the word “love” is rendered almost incomprehensible. For example, someone can say, “I love my wife” and “I love pizza.” Presumably he would be describing a different interior disposition by using the same word. It’s no wonder that the word “love” sheds meaning, ceases to have the significance it should have, especially when it comes to marriage.

Most of all, it is important for you to recognize that love between spouses, while it ideally possesses an affective dimension, it is not, at root, a feeling. At root, love is an act of the will, which is to say, love is a choice. It’s a choice that married couples have to make over and over again throughout the course of their lives together, even when the choice to love, to remain together, becomes difficult. I come from a pretty hot-headed family. One thing I learned early on is that anger is not the opposite of love; indifference is the opposite of love.

While St Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians, is not writing specifically about married love as such, he characterizes divine love, of which married love is ordained by God to be a profound expression. The Apostle asserts that possessing all of the spiritual gifts avail a person nothing if s/he does not love, does not put her/his gifts at the service of love, and use them in a loving way.

It’s interesting that St Paul’s list of what love is not is lengthier than his list of what love is. I think this shows us that while it is fairly easy to grasp what love requires, it is not easy to really love another due to our selfish and, dare I say, sinful nature. Paul David Tripp noted that for a marriage to really work, or, stated another way, in order to put St Paul’s words to practical use, you must both grasp that you are a sinner married to a sinner. This is where your need for God’s grace clearly shines through. By His grace, God will teach you how selfish you are even as grace motivates you to live selflessly. Through grace God will reveal the extent of your weakness even as grace will give you strength well beyond what you believe is possible.

So, [my dear friends] be patient and kind to one another. Bear with one another in good times and in bad. Never lose hope that God is at work in your marriage. The best way to foster that hope, to be open to the grace God wants so desperately to give you, is to cross what I call “the final frontier of intimacy” together. The final frontier of intimacy is not what many might suppose, given that we often use intimacy euphemistically, but rather praying out loud together and doing so often.

Our reading from the second chapter of Genesis consists of what we might call the “Ur” verse in Scripture concerning marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). It is the verse cited by Jesus Himself in His disputation with the Pharisees about marriage and divorce (Matt 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12). It is also cited in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, which is a magisterial passage on the meaning of Christian marriage (5:31). Becoming one body does not so much refer to “the marital act” itself, but to the fruit of that act, which is a child, a new person who is your love embodied, in much the same way that the Holy Spirit is the personification of the love between the Father and the Son. It is no surprise that no less a light than St Augustine of Hippo viewed the family as an icon of the Trinity. As part and parcel of marriage, parenting is another endeavor that moves us beyond our selfishness towards Christ-like selflessness, that is, a life poured out in loving service for others for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Our responsorial earlier was “Blessed the one who greatly delights in the LORD’s command.” In our Gospel reading, which is from John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us just what God’s command is when He says, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:12). It’s funny that yesterday afternoon, as we were rehearsing for today, repeating out loud the responsorial, everyone, including me, kept leaving out the adverb “greatly.” But I think it is an important word in this context. It brings home the choice that is involved in loving as the Lord Jesus loves us.

If we were to push our Gospel reading just one verse further we would hear, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). [Dear friends] today you become more than friends. In a few moments you will be husband and wife. Hence, from this day forward, delighting in the Lord’s command for both of you consists of laying down your lives for one another. This is your calling, your vocation, your path to becoming like Christ.

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