I know I shared this story somewhere recently but can’t remember if it was for a homily; forgive me if I repeat. A few years ago I got called to a parishioners home to anoint his wife. She had cancer for many years and at this point she was losing the fight. She was in her 70s maybe, bed ridden, her body was pretty beat up from both the cancer and the treatments. I don’t think she even knew that I was there. Her husband and I both knew that the end of her journey was coming. Sure enough a few weeks later I was sitting down with him and their adult children to plan her funeral. He let them do the talking and just sat there with a thousand yard stare in his eyes. At the end as we were wrapping up I asked if there was anything else they wanted to add or tell me. He cleared his throat, paused, and said: “you know… in the end, she was more beautiful than on the first day I met her.”
One day a week I work in the Tribunal, which handles all the petitions for marriage annulments. My job is to sit with divorced people and to listen. I hear their story, everything from what shaped them growing up, to a courtship and marriage, and then to divorce. It is hard work, but just as marriage is so beautiful so then divorce can be so painful, and if I can help someone deal with that pain as they seek truth and understanding then it is worth it. I’ve heard hundreds of people’s stories at this point.
Last year it was a day I was downtown when I got a call from another priest at my the parish. He had been working with a couple that were civilly married but had never married in the Church. They had just finished all the preparation work and everything was good to go, when the guy went into the hospital with some chest pains or something. Turns out it was lung cancer. Lung cancer so advanced that the doctor said he had about three days left and that he was not leaving the hospital. I talked with the Vicar General for the diocese and then drove down the road to the main campus. There in the hospital room with their adult children and grandchildren, I married them. Even I couldn’t hold back the tears as I invited them to repeat the words, “until death do us part”, or after that as I said, “may the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, strengthen and bless in Christ the consent you have declared”, knowing this is the God of the living for whom all are alive.
I tell you all of this so that you can understand that while I am not married myself I really do have a unique access to know what marriage is. I’ll never know your particular marriage as well as you do but I know the sacrament and the ideal of marriage. Marriage is beautiful. All of us in our hearts have a natural yearning to love and to be loved. Marriage is not the only way to find that in life but it is nonetheless a profound way to find relationship and intimacy and trust. Think of the ideal marriage in all that it can be, someone who’s heart is yours, always, in all things. Think of being unable to define or describe yourself without reference to this love. Imagine if you had that in your life, and feeling that any of our hearts would respond that yes, this is good, this breathes life into me.
And now I need you to take that experience of a heart engulfed with love that marriage in its ideal could offer us in this life and to realize that that doesn’t even begin to describe the love we will experience in heaven with not just one person, but with every soul standing with us in the presence of God. Breathtaking, right? This is why Jesus says the children of the coming age neither marry nor are given in marriage and why the marriage vows last until death. This is why the brothers from the Book of Maccabees were so absolute in the face of torture and death when it also meant being faithful and on that path to Heaven. This is why St. Paul prayed the the Word of God may speed forward to bring faith to all who do not have it. Overwhelming and indescribable is the love that we were made for and that we will find in the coming age.
It’s a poor analogy, but everything is for what we are talking about; Wednesday I was at a concert. My favorite band, alternative metal, been listening to them for fifteen years or so and never thought I would have the chance to see them in concert. Fifteen years of listening to their albums and could mentally reproduce any of their songs in my head, but seeing them live, feeling the vibrations through the air and floor into every muscle and bone in my body, seeing the light show go back and forth over the sold out crowd moving with the rhythm of the music… I experienced a whole new level of what that music is… now I understand.
There is an experience of love, and understanding of love, that none of us have yet had. Marriage is one imperfect piece of one tiny aspect of what that love is.
I pray that if you are married you have a good marriage and come to faith in God through that love, yearning for what comes next. And if like me you are not married, I pray that you still know love in its seemingly endless manifestations. And for all of us, I pray that we remain faithful and have our breath taken away in the age to come.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.