My high school juniors are planning their weddings!!
That’s right! They’ve named their bridal parties, picked the readings, and are in the process of designing the worship aid (pamphlet)!
Here’s the good news…They’re not getting married. They’re just working on a project for Religion Class.
I developed this project years ago as a way of seeing how well they understand what I’ve been teaching them about the Sacrament of Matrimony. And so, yes, they pick the readings and plan all that goes into the wedding…that is the Nuptial Liturgy.
…no cakes, no dresses, guest lists, or invitations or any of that…
The most important thing that they have to do is write a “homily” based on the readings that they selected and connect those readings to the four things that we promise in marriage about our love: that it is and will be free, total, faithful, and fruitful.
As they began working on this project, one of my students challenged me. She asked, two very important questions. First, she stated that she had never been to a wedding, so she didn’t know what to do. What should she do to better understand the task? Second, she asked me if I had ever written my own wedding homily.
The first, I had a ready solution for. Each class watched my wedding which was captured on video and digitally converted some years ago. That way, they had a sense of how a wedding went if they hadn’t ever been to one. As they watched, I taught and explained the meanings of the different things that were happening.
The second, I hadn’t ever written a homily for my wedding, so as I watched the video, I wrote a “homily” that was nearly 22 years in the making. I delivered this homily to my students the day after they watched the wedding and am sharing that with you today!
I have provided a link to the texts of each reading within the “homily” so you may download and read over each one at your leisure.
My Wedding “Homily”
My friends, nearly 22 years ago, I made the best decision I ever made, and that was to marry my wife, Janet. Back then, and today, aside from God, she was and is, the most important person in my life. As I look back on that day, I have to smile. There were all kinds of interesting things that happened. The groomsmen showed up wearing beanies with propellers, and the flowers were left at Janet’s house. The priest read the “wrong” gospel, he knocked over the crucifix that was on the altar, and Janet and he had a bit of a disagreement in front of everyone about the vows we were about to exchange. In fact, many people in attendance thought she was changing her mind right then and there. The “limo” had no gas, and when we stopped after church to fuel up, the rest of the bridal party went to McDonalds.
But, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, “for to all who love God, who are called according to his purpose, everything works out for the good (Rom. 8:28). These events made our wedding memorable and led me to reflect on what we celebrated that day…what we still celebrate today!
The most important thing to remember is that what we are celebrating is not an end in itself…that the wedding is not the marriage. Rather, the wedding, the Nuptial Liturgy, marks the beginning of a life-long unfolding of the graces God that offers us in marriage, and the readings tell us more of what marriage calls us to do and to be than I understood 22 years ago. So, today, I share with you why we picked the readings then, and what those readings have taught me about being married. In sum, though, what I’ve learned most about is what it means to make a total gift of myself to Janet.
Song of Songs
When we first sat down with Monsignor (then Father) Bevins at the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, he handed us the book, Together for Life, which had all the options for the readings and the prayers we could have. The first reading we chose was from the Song of Songs. Our reason was really simple, she loved the imagery of me as a “gazelle or a young stag” and I loved the thought of Janet as a “dove hidden in the clefts of the rock.” She had a beautiful face and a sweet voice. We were so in love; that was how we saw each other…she really needed glasses.
In our reading – or at least in our understanding, we must have stopped right about there. Today, I look at that reading, and two particular parts jump out at me:
First – “My lover belongs to me, and I to him.” Today, I understand that all that I am, all that I have, and all that I do is for Janet and my children (and of course for the greater glory of God). There was a time when both of us would have said that was nonsense. However, today, I know I’m hers and so must take care of myself for her sake and make sure that all that I do is for the good of us both.
Second – “As stern as death is love, relentless as the netherworld is devotion.” Marriage is not for wimps, weaklings, or the lazy. It takes work. It demands 100% (total) devotion. Anything less will lead to ruin. And God help me, God help us because anything less would allow us to put other things before our marriage.
What Can Separate Us?
Then came the second reading. We purposely avoided 1 Corinthians 13, the Great Chapter on Love – mainly because most of the weddings we attended included that reading. So, we went with Romans. Why? Well, we liked it because of the way it started, “If God is for us, then who can be against us?” That was it for us…we’re in love, and God’s got our back…after all, we were “churchy” people. Besides, we knew that we love God and God loves us…good to go, right?Not so much. Paul says here that he is convinced that nothing ever created can separate us from “the love of God found in Christ Jesus…”and that is right…nothing, of its own accord can do that. However, what I’ve learned is this. In marriage, I am called to be the presence and the love of God extended to my wife – and she to me. Nothing can come between us, nothing can separate us – except what we put there.
I have to take care that nothing I have or do…not my job, not my hobbies, not even our children can come before my relationship with her, and my relationship with her is a huge aspect of my relationship with God. So, anything that encroaches on that must be cut back or must go altogether…and there are people, places, and activities that have been pruned back or dropped for love of her. Some of that has been difficult – but very much worth it.
The Gospel that Was Read
During our Nuptial Mass, Fr. Burnett proclaimed the Gospel passage in which Jesus tells us what the first, and greatest, commandment is. It really boils down to, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” It was a reading we hadn’t even considered. Of course, it matters in our marriage today…how much more of a neighbor do you get than the one sleeping next to you every night? But did I love her as much as I loved myself? That was something I have had to learn how to do. Did I seek her good, even before my own…sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’m far better at that today than I was…if I’m giving myself to her totally, then the answer needs to be a consistent yes…after all in marriage the two become one…and in failing to love her, I fail to love both myself and God!
The Gospel We Picked
Fr. Burnett did not proclaim the Gospel passage we had picked – it was the Wedding at Cana. We picked it for two reasons. First, this was the only wedding story in the Gospels. Second, Jesus had picked a wedding to do his first miracle…Jesus went to a party to celebrate two people who were in love…and look, God had their backs – it fit our young, naïve reasoning well.
The reading’s absence from the liturgy as it happened, has caused me to think about it all the more…while the narrative recounts Jesus intervening to help a newly married couple avoid the scandal of running out of wine at their multi-day reception, that wasn’t really the point.
It’s really about marriage. Wine is a symbol of joy, of grace, and of celebration. This newly wed couple failed to properly plan for proper stores of wine. All that they had left was water. What he gave them in place of the water was the best wine of the entire reception. Not only did he save them from embarrassment but gave the guests something good to talk about later.
I must admit that we hadn’t effectively planned to ensure the proper stores of God’s grace to sustain our marriage. Over time, the joy and love we felt got watered down. And there were times we weren’t in a good place. There were times when we didn’t like each other very much. But Jesus intervened. We began praying together each day and blessing each other every morning and often at night as well. The watery love in our marriage was replaced, not just with wine, but as Jesus did at Cana, he replaced it with the best wine. That only happened because we gave ourselves over to each other totally in love and in prayer. And yes, those close to us can see the difference!
A Wedding Invitation for You
I am so glad that we recorded our Nuptial Liturgy. Not only have I been able to use it as a tool for teaching my students, but more importantly, God has taught me through this process…God has kept his promise in my life, in our marriage.
“...so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11).”
I want to invite you to a wedding – to celebrate a marriage – not a new one, but to yours. I invite you to go back and revisit it.
- If you have a video watch it, listen to the Word of God proclaimed again –
- If you don’t have a video, maybe you have the pamphlet or worship aid with the readings listed in it…go back and read them to yourself, or better yet to each other.
- Don’t just hear the Word of God…listen to God who spoke the Word. What is he saying to you as individuals, as a couple?
- How can you make a total gift of self to your spouse today? Then give the gift of self.
- Pray with and for each other as you did on the first day of your marriage! You won’t be sorry you did.
May your marriage become a way that you are living the overflowing cup!!