Marriage Mass – February 11, 2007

In today’s gospel, from Saint Luke’s “sermon on the plain”, Jesus outlines two ways to understand life.  And we see these two ways illustrated both in the first reading, from Jeremiah, and in the psalm – the first the Book of Psalms.  Many of you might have heard that song from the 60’s: “What’s it all about, Alfie?  Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”

Today’s Scriptures put before us a choice: we can live either for the “kingdom of God”; or, for our own “consolation”.  Is our pursuit of happiness – or in more biblical language, our pursuit of “blessedness” – to be exhausted only in terms of this earthly life; or do we look beyond a greater horizon – to eternal life?  Or to continue from Alfie: Are we meant to take more than we give Or are we meant to be kind? And if only fools are kind, Alfie, Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel. And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, What will you lend on an old golden rule?

Blessed are you…Woe to you.  Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours…Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”  Two categories, two worlds.  The poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are persecuted because of the gospel belong to the category of the blessed.  The rich, the satiated, those who laugh now, those who are praised now, belong to the categories of the “unfortunate”.  To which world do we belong?

Of course Jesus is not simply talking in sociological terms.  One of the reasons we find Scripture so hard to understand is that we are no longer used to “religious language”.  By that I mean, a language that asks us about ultimate meanings, a language that leads us into the supernatural. In a secularized world, we do alright with a psychological or sociological way of speaking, the theological and the philosophical is a bit more difficult.
And so it is important to understand that Jesus is not simply canonizing all the poor, the hungry – just as he does not demonize all the rich.  He is drawing a distinction that is deeper than just sociological understandings of poverty and riches– it has to do with knowing what we put our trust in, on what sort of foundation we are building the house of our life, whether it is on that which will pass away, or on that which will not pass away. That’s what it’s all about indeed.

Today, we honor and celebrate those married couples celebrating silver, golden and other significant anniversaries.  And we thank you for your witness – a witness that so much needed in our world today, a world which like Alfie has forgotten what it is all about.

According to statistics reported in our newspapers, less than half of the households in the United States today are made up of married couples.  For the first time in history, there are more people not married – we put in this category those never married, not yet married and not married anymore – there are more in this category than those who are married.  This is a serious problem that begets a litany of woes, like the woes of today’s gospel– and I know that it touches you as you look with concern on your children and your grandchildren.

Today, we talk a lot in this country about the lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  But this crisis is not just about celibacy – as it is sometimes seen.  Young people do find it hard not only to commit to the vocation of being a priest, or a sister; they find it hard also to commit to the vocation of being a husband and wife, a father and a mother.  We see this in the number of young people who are reluctant not only to marry in church – but even civilly.

Perhaps, they are afraid – afraid of failure.  And certainly today we see so many failed marriages.  Perhaps, they are afraid of the finality of it all:  to definitively commit oneself to another till “death do you part” can seem so daunting and so limiting.  Sometimes marriage is described as “the old ball and chain” – commitment seems to be against one’s personal freedom.

Yet, today, in these couples, we see the beauty of marriage, the depth and beauty of love brought to full maturity, a mature love that knows true freedom because it is committed, a love tried and purified in the crucible of suffering and sacrifice.

Again, from the theme song of that movie, Alfie:

As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie.

Or as Jesus said  “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are now hungry; blessed are you who weep….  “  As you look back on your of marriage, you know that it wasn’t all sweetness and harmony; but I hope that you can say that you were indeed blessed.  Certainly there were crisis – crisis that you had to learn to live through.  Just getting use to each other – to your differences, to your otherness, did not just happen – without some struggle, without sacrifice, without learning to accept each other with each one’s quirks and idiosyncrasies over and over again.  But in overcoming the moments of crisis, new dimensions of love developed and opened the door to new dimensions of life.

Sometimes, we priests think that because we are celibate, we make a big sacrifice.  But we can learn much from married people, precisely because of your sacrifices.  And what sacrifices you make – think of the children, the problems that arise, of the fears, suffering illnesses, rebellion, the problems of the early years when nights are almost always spent sleeplessly because of the crying of the small children.  We all (not just us priests but all of us, especially your children and grandchildren) we all certainly can learn much from you about the meaning of sacrifice and suffering.

We need your witness.  We need to learn that it is beautiful to mature through sacrifices – and thus to work for the salvation of others.  And that is precisely why marriage is a Sacrament – an encounter with Christ that gives grace that leads to salvation not only for oneself but for others.  We are all called to holiness – and husband and wife are called to help the other to become holy.  Marriage is a Sacrament for the salvation of others – first of all for the salvation of the other – of the husband and of the wife – but then of then children, the sons and daughters, but also of the entire community.

Marriage is difficult, marriage is hard but “blessed are you” – for God does not deny you his grace.  The gospel today presents us with a stark choice: either you live by God and for God or you can try to live for yourself and by yourself.

It is important to remember how St. Paul reminds us that God’s marriage with humanity through the Incarnation of the Lord is achieved on the Cross, from which is born a new humanity, the Church.  Christian marriage is born from these divine nuptials.  As St. Paul says in Ephesians chapter 4, it is the sacramental concretization of what happens in this great mystery – thus we must learn over and over again this bond between the Cross and the Resurrection. Thus, we must learn ever anew this bond between the Cross and the Resurrection, between the Cross and the beauty of the Redemption,. Pray to the Lord to help you proclaim this mystery well, to live this mystery.  Let us all pray so that we might learn from married couples how they live this mystery of the love between Christ and his Bride , the Church,  in order to help us live the Cross, so that we may also attain the joy  of the Resurrection.

The gospel of Jesus is like a double edged sword – and it cuts up reality and separates as if it were two distinct destinies – one of beatitude and one of woe.  Either you live by God and for God or you can try to live for yourself and by yourself.  That is the fundamental choice of the drama which is human life.  And without Jesus, all human drama would end in tragedy – and certainly in movies like Alfie or in current events there is no lack of tales of woe. But, as Dante’s great poem indicated, mankind’s story is meant to be a Divine Comedy.  And this is Jesus’ invitation to each one of us.  Dramatic comedy, of course, is not slapstick humor – but it does involve an unexpected reversal of fortune, a turn of events that comes out better.  And that is Jesus’ invitation – he invites us into the drama of his own life – so that through his cross and resurrection, which might seem to be the way of poverty, of weeping, of persecution and exclusion, we might become truly rich by possessing the kingdom of heaven.

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there’s something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie.
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie