Thursday 2 June 2011

A family wedding

This weekend one of our friars will be celebrating with his family the wedding of his nephew. Marriage is an awesome vocation and the public profession of mutual love and a desire to be united until death is a moment to pause and thank God for love. Marriage is an icon for us of God's love. The love that God has for us cannot be diminished, it cannot end, it is unconditional and boundless. Let us pray for all married couples and all those preparing for this sacrament over the coming months.

A Wedding Homily
As I gaze around I see many familiar faces, and I must say that you have all scrubbed up very well. The hat shops of Grenoble, Evian and the UK have obviously done a roaring trade. One of the benefits of being a friar is that I don’t have to worry about what to wear, as the attire is pretty much standard issue. But the very fact that we have dressed up in our finery tells us that what will take place today is of great importance, so for a few moments I will be serious, for what we witness, and the sacrament that Louis and Ann celebrate here today is of great importance and significance to us all.

If I were to ask each one of you ‘Why are you here?’ I am sure that I will hear some humorous answers. Maybe you wanted to see what James would look like in a suit, or just how beautiful Shirley would be in her dress. It could be the promise of a free meal. Maybe you are all waiting for the best man’s long anticipated speech; I know that James is particularly looking forward to that nougat of entertainment. But if we were to allow ourselves an honest answer the simple response would be love. We are here because love has called each one of us here. Each one of us in this room has a connection with James and Shirley that responds to the love that they proclaim today. In some way we have been touched by James and Shirley and our presence here today is to affirm them in their love for one another. We are also to learn something more of God as we glimpse him in the love that is proclaimed today. We are not merely spectators here, but participants in this great day for the Church and for society as a whole. We have a role to play, and that is in our prayer and support of James and Shirley. For those of you who are married use this liturgy as an opportunity to renew your own commitment to your spouse. For those of us who are unmarried let us pray in this celebration that we will always be open to the invitation to love and be loved.

Marriage is a vocation, a call within the Church. And like all calls it gives a new dimension to what seems ordinary and transforms the ordinary into something precious and unique. God has called James and Shirley to life through the love shared by their respective parents and families. He has called them to life in the love they have found in one another. He has called us to life by our witnessing this sacrament and our involvement in their lives  The Love that they proclaim is a message of hope for the whole church.

John in his Gospel gives us an insight into love that is rooted in God. It echo’s the theme of the wonderful poetry of the Song of Songs. Love, authentic love has to be shared. It cannot be silent or constrained. Love yearns to speak, and as Love is spoken its word resounds and fills empty spaces. Love is about life, the fullness of life, human beings fully alive. Love gives glory to God. This is why our presence here in this place is necessary; we are to hear what love has to say. We are called here to be attentive to our longings and to place them in the embrace of God. We are commanded to love so that we may truly reflect the loving community that is God. Love rooted in God is always fruitful. It generates life and hope. The sacrament that James and Shirley celebrate here today invites us into the embrace of God. James and Shirley today become a tangible sign of the Love that God has for each and every one of us.

Sometimes I feel that we have lost much of our understanding about love because we have become over familiar with the word. See you later love, love you, Ta love. We say I love chips and I love people with the same word and often the same enthusiasm. Our sense of language has become impoverished because of the way our language has developed. Society seems to be looking for the fleeting experience of love but without the responsibility of relationship. People see commitment as something that is negative rather than a choice for life. Today we gaze at love and see in it something of great beauty, a pearl of great price. Something for which we would give away all that we own. The following words from Captain Correlli’s mandolin capture something of this experience

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because that is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion … that is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two."

I have known James all his life. I am his uncle and we share much. The family say we share the same sense of humour and fun. I know that Shirley has brought him tremendous joy and there is a unity in his life now. They are people of integrity and their journey to this day has been considered and prayerful, and a great example to those who know them. Today, they are our teachers. What is the lesson - First love is gift. It is the acceptance of another and the acceptance of ourselves. I guess that it is much easier to live who we are when someone loves us without preconditions. Yes, love will change us, but this can never be the basis on which love is shared. Love is about give and take, with more giving than taking. Secondly, love is an encounter with God. There is a beautiful line in the musical ‘Les Miserables’, when the principle character, Jean Valjean, is looking back over his life and not liking what he sees, then in a moment of grace he joyously proclaims that ‘to love another person is to see the face of God.’ And in singing this line he realises how blessed his life has been. I find that awesome. At the heart of our understanding of marriage is this sense of encountering God. In this sacrament God is communicated through the love that James and Shirley have for one another. For each other they will be the face of God. And for the Church they will be a sign of the enduring love that God has for his people.

So James and Shirley thank you. Today you have reminded us of the awesome love that God calls us to participate in and receive. Be assured of our prayer on this first day of your new life together. Never forget the graces that God bestows on each of you today, and draw strength from these. Never forget the love that surrounds you today. You belong to a community of people that we call Church, and we rejoice and thank God for what the Lord has called you to.

A Prayer in Thanksgiving for Marriage

Dear God, we give you thanks for creating each of us and for bring us together in love. We ask you to bless us with health, happiness and a long life together. We ask you to be with us during all the times of our marriage, both the good and the bad. Help us always to listen to each other with respect and tenderness. May we always know the joy and the love we feel today. Amen

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