For the most part, these Monday digests are thoughts about the homily of the day before. However, since yesterday’s Gospel was on the Manifestation at Cana, I couldn’t resist digging up an old homily which I heard some years ago. It is a wedding homily, as the reader will discern; but I have removed the personal elements, and I think the meditation on marriage that remains is worth the read.
St. John tells us that the first of Jesus’ miracles took place at a wedding in the small town of Cana in Galilee. There are many lessons to be drawn from this—but the first and most obvious one is that a wedding was important enough to Jesus for him to be there. And he was not there just as a guest: he saved the day. The wine had run out at that wedding. The wine which had been produced by human effort—growing the grapes, picking them in season, crushing them, fermenting the juice—this wine was depleted; it had run its course and was gone. Jesus was asked to do something, to intervene. In order to produce more wine, he converted ordinary water into wine, a wine of superior vintage and quality. And so he turned what could have been a moment of embarrassment for the bride and groom into a moment of triumph for them. His presence at the beginning of their married life together was a source of relief and of joy—and ultimately was the promise of good things to come in that marriage.
This couple wants Jesus to be present in a special way here at their wedding. All the affection and good will of their friends means a great deal to them—but that is the human wine, a wine which ultimately is depleted. They want our Lord’s presence so that, as at the wedding in Cana, he may provide the good wine, the gift of his grace and blessing.
They realize that it takes three to get married—not a man, a woman, and a photographer, but a man, a woman, and God. In a few moments, during the marriage ritual, you will hear the words, “What God has joined, men must not divide." What God has joined. For ultimately, it is God who joins the couple in marriage here this afternoon. God joins them in married love because, He, God, is love. He is not just a great master of love, he is the personification of love. He is a family of three persons who live only for one another—none of whom has a private life apart from the other two, no separate “space.” The only differences among them are the relationships which distinguish the way in which they love one another: a Father, a Son, love personified in the Holy Spirit. This family life of the Holy Trinity is shrouded in a great mystery, as, I suppose, all great love is shrouded in mystery [Eph 5:32].
We too are all called to a love such as this, to this kind of selflessness, to make a gift of ourselves in love. In fact, as Pope John Paul wrote in his first letter to the world, we “cannot live without love. [We] remain … incomprehensible for [our]self, [our] life is senseless, if love is not revealed to [us], if [we] do not encounter love, if [we] do not experience it and make it [our] own, if [we] do not participate intimately in it.” [RH10] St. Augustine wrote: “Our hearts are made for God and they cannot rest until they rest in God.” Hence if human love is to begin to satisfy the human heart, it must imitate God’s love. To love as God loves, to make a total gift of our self to another as God does is, strictly speaking, unreasonable—indeed, humanly speaking, impossible, for why to love one can allege no cause [Shakespeare, 49]. But it becomes possible and reasonable with God’s help and grace—the good wine of Jesus.
Love comes from God [1Jn4:7]. Consequently, when love seems to be running low in our life… when one kills the spirit of love with a perpetual dullness [Shakespeare, 56]… in addition to whatever objective human difficulties there may be, the problem at bottom is—always—that we have not been turning to God to draw upon his help, to seek the good wine which he alone provides to enable us to love. […] And the solution, above and beyond whatever human means need to be taken, ultimately is to turn back to God and to pray to ask help to learn once again to love—to forgive and to give of oneself anew. And thus “kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind, / Still constant in a wondrous excellence” [Shakespeare, 105].
Finding love, falling in love is the most significant thing that can happen in the life of a man or a woman. Love enables us to overcome impatience and unkindness and selfishness; it transforms our tendency to be boastful and conceited and rude. Being loved frees the heart to love, to run the risk, the adventure of love. It brings the joy of discovery and at last the freedom to escape the selfishness of selflove. Discovering true personal love opens the eyes of the heart toward the discovery of God. And so it often happens that although God is Love, the Great Lover and source of love in us, and the one who leads us to love, it often takes falling in love to be led to God and be transformed by God. The world looks different to a person in love, and that person look different to the world. There is a difference in the eyes, in the look, in the voice, in the demeanor. The Song of Songs reminds us, “My lover belongs to me and I to him.” It has been a great joy, a wonderful thing for all of us to see this couple fall in love and witness the transforming effect their love has had upon them—and on others. Such a love grows without growing old and without coming to an end. Our prayer today for them is that their love may never die—fortis est ut mors dilectio [Song 8:6]—which we might translate: “Love is stronger than death.”
Coming to marriage as a bright and mature couple, the bride and bridegroom have experienced the challenge of love and perhaps already the cost and even some of the pain of love. Hence as you pledge yourselves to one another here this afternoon, you come with a love that is strengthened in the forge of loyalty through suffering and hardship. “O benefit of ill, now I find true / That better is by evil still made better, / And ruin’d love when it is built anew / Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater” [Shakespeare, 119].
The road ahead which you walk together to discover God’s love in your lives is, in reality, a double boulevard, each side of which bears a different name. Your avenue, Bridegroom, is named “Bride.” And yours, Bride, bears the name “Bridegroom.” You will grow in love for one another as you learn to discover God coming to you in each other. Like most streets, with time and heavy traffic there may appear potholes, and the street will need some repair… “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments; love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove. / O no, it is an ever-fixed mark / That looks on tempests and is never shaken; / It is the star to every wand’ring bark, / Whose worth’s unknown, although his highth be taken” [Shakespeare, 116].
Welcome God when he comes to you with his cross in the challenges and difficulties, as well as when he comes to you in the bliss of shared happiness and joy—and perhaps most especially when he comes to you with an infant’s face, in the mystery of a new life and love in each of the children he may send you.
As a reminder of these fundamental truths upon which your love will grow, you will carry with you your wedding rings. In times of old, a ring was the sign of royalty, the mark of a king and queen. It bore the royal seal and was a stamp of authority. For you it is also a sign of the authenticity of your commitment to each other and a reminder of the aristocracy of loyalty in love to which you are called.
Your rings are a circle—the perfect form of unity. Like the ring, your love is always beginning anew with every act of love and service, with every moment of forgiveness; and this should have no end. It must ever continue and develop, for love, like every living thing, dies when it ceases to grow. Thus, you will learn to love not once for all, but continually, not taking one another for granted, but always winning each other through newly found details of love and affection and service.
Your rings are a link—the bond of union and fidelity and mystery. This link integrates joy and suffering, which must always go together in this life, to help you grow in integrity. With the years of your fidelity to one another, your love and awe for each other will grow, you will know each other better, and yet each to each will be evermore a mystery.
Finally, your rings are a crown—the crown of the promise of children, which are a token of God’s confidence in you as parents, and the reason for continued courage in bringing the mystery of new life into the world.
Concluding, I would like to remind all of you here that this is also a moment of grace for you who have come to witness this marriage and give the couple your support. I hope you will indulge me for a moment and forgive me for drawing this parallel, but for those who attend—that is, all but the persons who are most intimately involved and the focal point of the ceremony—coming to a wedding is, in many ways like attending a funeral. You stand on the sidelines witnessing a significant moment of transition in the life of a loved one. A funeral moves you to think of the life and history of the deceased person, to think of the eternal reward to which the person is going, and ultimately to reflect upon your own life: Where you are going, where you have been, what you are living for.
So also, at a wedding, you are not mere spectators, passive participants at the pageant of others’ love. This is a moment of grace for all of you, an invitation to reflect on your love, on your capacity to love, how you have loved, the challenge of giving yourself in love, the love in your life—and for many of you, the love in your own marriage. And it is also a moment in which God gives each of you a grace to grow in your capacity for love and fidelity. That is God’s gift to you for your generosity in coming here this afternoon to witness and support these pledges of love to each other before God at the beginning of their married life.
And this afternoon that gift is a very special gift, for I think I express the sentiments of all of you here when I say that this is a special wedding for a very special couple, and for all of us. As those of you who are older look upon this handsome couple you will find your own love rejuvenated; those who are younger will find an inspiration. “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm: fortis est ut mors dilectio. This couple, with their example of love and kindness, of loyalty and faithful love, will be an example and encouragement to many of their friends and peers—to lead them to God and to teach them how to love, with a love that goes beyond the grave.
Let me end by reminding you that Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, where he transformed water into very fine wine, and thus came to the aid of a young couple on their wedding day. Jesus was at that wedding because his mother Mary was there. He interceded to help the couple at her request. Mary is also present at this wedding. We ask you, Mary, to intercede here today and forever that your Son may bring the good wine of his grace and his blessings upon this couple.