I was in Colorado Springs for a wedding this weekend, and am now stuck in the Denver airport because of a missed connection. I haven't posted anything for awhile, so I thought I'd share some of my reflections from the homily I gave at the wedding of two dear friends. They had a lovely, simple nuptial Mass - not a lot of frou frou, but a real focus on the sacraments of matrimony and eucharist. The bride was sponsored by her husband through RCIA two years ago (they weren't dating at the time, but were friends), and she comes from a large evangelical family (although her folks were Catholic once upon a time) There were many Protestants and unchurched people at the wedding, including some folks I know from the local gym, so that had an influence on my preaching.
Here are the readings they chose:
Here's the homily, with a few personal bits of information excised...
A few days ago Christianne (not her real name), a friend from Tucson, sent a message to me via my hated Facebook page.
She suffers from a sometimes crushing depression, but I wouldn’t have known that if she hadn’t told me.
She has raised a wonderful family, is happily married, and is a journalist dedicated to getting at the truth of things.
But because of the depression and her desire for truth, she struggles with God.
She and her husband were talking about God, and questions they had about him, including what kind of God would need eternal praise – & wouldn’t an eternity of praising God be a bit boring?
Usually our questions reveal our presumptions, more than ignorance, and I had to respond to Christianne.
The God Eve and Adam (not their real names) have come to know doesn’t have self-esteem issues; God isn’t needy.
In fact, the Christian scriptures, which are God’s patient self-revelation, unveil a God who is loving and inexplicably humble.
It begins with creation, with all it’s beauty, diversity and mystery - which is absolutely unnecessary.
Christians understand God as both unity and community: a mutually shared love of Father for Son and Son for Father, with that reciprocal, total gift of self being the Holy Spirit.
God is perfection, lacking nothing, and absolutely complete in His self-effacing love.
And yet, anyone who has ever known the freedom of mutual love knows that it finds deeper fulfillment and joy in being shared with others.
A love that must remain simply “me and thee,” is infected already with selfishness, and so God freely chooses to create - simply to have a creation to love.
This is the heart of humility, which is self-forgetfulness.
True humility does not consist in putting down one’s self, or downplaying what one has done.
True humility isn’t preoccupied with the self at all, but seeks to increase the dignity of others.
And God creates us, we are told, in his image and likeness.
We are meant to be a reflection of God Himself.
There is no greater dignity we could receive.
And yet, from the beginning, Genesis tells us, we creatures, with the freedom God gave us, chose -and continue to choose - our will over God’s.
We say, “I don’t want to be just a reflection of you. I gotta be me!”
But of course, we who were created out of nothing have nothing of our own, and so we literally choose non-existence: a.k.a. death.
And then the Scriptures reveal God humbling himself yet again, establishing a covenant with His fallen humanity, through individuals like Noah and Abraham, and then a whole people – albeit a stubbornly disobedient people.
And this is humility – God once again increasing our dignity, making us partners in a relationship God promises to never break off, no matter how often we are unfaithful to our end of the deal.
St. Paul rejoices in this covenant love and faithfulness in his letter to the Romans you chose.
Even in the midst of his own misfortunes Paul could claim, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is in Jesus that we find God’s humility expressed once again.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul urges us to imitate that humility.
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…”
The eternally beloved Son – God Himself – takes on our humanity and is born in time, and in the Gospel of Luke angels tell poor shepherds they will find him lying in a manger – as though he were food for animals.
But again, because humility is all about looking out for the interest of others, this incarnation is for our best interests – and in so many ways.
One of them we hear in the Gospel you chose.
Jesus reminds his Jewish listeners of how God gave his chosen people, whom he redeemed, - i.e., set free from their slavery in Egypt, - manna, a bread-like substance while they traveled through the desert.
But as miraculous as manna was, those people still died. They were still disobedient.
Jesus promises to give them a new bread from heaven, a bread which, incredibly, is his own body, and a drink that is his own blood and thus, in the Jewish mind, the very essence of his life.
John, the evangelist, is always very careful about his language, and in this passage, the Greek verb for eating that he uses is odd – not the typical word for humans eating something, but the word for animals munching or gnawing.
Jesus, laid in a manger at birth, offers to give his body as real food; food which will lead to eternal life: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
And his listeners rightly take him literally, and find this teaching difficult to hear.
Jesus tells us his body overcomes the death that is ours because of our disobedience.
How? Once again, it is because of God’s humility.
St. Paul revels in it in his letter to the Philippians, “found human in appearance, Jesus humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
God our Father, knowing that we, his fallen, yet beloved creation, will never be able to be obedient, sends his beloved Son to be obedient – as a human – for us.
And we brutally rejected him, nailing him to a cross because his obedience only highlighted our disobedience.
In God-made-flesh hanging on a cross we finally reach the deepest expression of God’s humility and love for us.
God did not spare his own son, but handed him over for all of us.
God keeps the covenant for us; and in Jesus, God-made-man, man is finally obedient.
So death has no power over Jesus, who is raised from the dead by His Father.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the night before he dies, Jesus takes bread and wine, blesses them, and gives them to his disciples, saying, “Take, and eat, this is my body; this is my blood.”
His body, which will be the final sacrifice on the altar of the cross for them; his blood poured out upon the thirsty ground as obedience in place of their disobedience.
Adam and Eve, in a few moments we will remember what Jesus has done for us.
As Catholics, you believe that his one perfect sacrifice is made present, and his body and blood given to you as true food and drink.
God loves you so much, He wants you to be like him.
Jesus loves you so much, He wants to be a part of you – and you a part of Him – in the most profound intimacy.
Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
You cannot become like Jesus unless He remains in you and becomes the beating heart of your marriage.
Now there’s a reason I went through all this explanation.
Because just as Tobiah and Sarah married for the noble purpose of bringing life into the world, so too, you, Adam and Eve, may be raised by God to the dignity of being co-creators of new life with Him.
St. Paul says that anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword will not separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Just so, God is raising your dignity by allowing you to promise in a few moments to love each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health – with his help.
And only if you remain in Jesus, you will be able to keep that promise and imitate the faithfulness and love and humility of God.
Humble yourselves each day. Do not look after your own interests, but each other’s.
And not only for the interests of your spouse, but the interests and well-being of any children God may give you.
And not only their interests, but the interests of the people with Alzheimer’s that you serve, Eve; or the homeowners who employ your carpentry skills, Adam.
And then, in your humility, you will be imitating the God who is humble, self-forgetful love.
You will truly be a living image and likeness of God; an icon of God, a light in darkness.
Can there be anything more pleasing to God than seeing his children learning to be like Him?
This is the greatest praise we can give Him, who is love, both in this life, and eternally, in the next.
Be humble enough to love. That's one experience I've never heard described as boring.