Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wedding Mass of Michael & Emily
Keeping Our Eyes on the Cat

Readings: Ecclesiastes 4:8-12; Psalm 32:12, 18, 20-22; 1 John 3:18-24; Matthew 7:21, 24-29
Picture: cc iMorpheus

Emily and Michael, dear friends, not so long ago I found myself living in a three-storey house, in which there was a flight of stairs. While living there, I could often be observed, on a regular basis, doing something that might have looked very strange, to say the least. I would stand at the foot of the stairs and throw a little rubber toy up to the second floor. I would then walk up the stairs, retrieve the toy, and throw it back down again. This action would be repeated, many times. And it was not done for the exercise. Why, then, you might wonder, did I do it? Perhaps you might begin to suspect the state of my mental health. Perhaps you should have chosen someone else to marry you. And you would probably be right. This was, for all intents and purposes, a meaningless action. An exercise in futility. What possible good could there be for me to tire myself out like that?

Except that, in describing my actions, I left out an important detail. What I haven’t told you is that, at that time, in addition to the other members of the Jesuit community, I was also sharing the house with a young tomcat. And, for some strange reason, this animal loved to chase the toy I was telling you about. Whenever I threw the toy upstairs, the cat would dash after it. Having caught it, it would then wait at the top of the stairs for me to throw the darn thing downstairs, so that it could chase it again. And we would keep doing this until either one of us was too tired to continue.

Like I said earlier, on its own, this was an apparently meaningless activity. And yet, I found myself enjoying it immensely. It was the cat that made all the difference. It got such a kick out of chasing that toy. And it lifted my spirits just to be able to give it so much joy. Not only did I feel happy when watching the cat in full flight, the light-heartedness also remained with me for some time after. It was quite amazing really how, by keeping my eyes on that cat, I managed to transform what was essentially an exercise in futility into an enjoyable, even fruitful, experience. Several moments with the cat on the stairs, and I was ready to face the rest of the day.

I bring this up because it bears some similarity to the lesson that you, Emily and Michael, wish us to recall on this memorable occasion. In the readings that you have chosen, we see similar transformations of futility into fruitfulness. The first reading speaks to us about the meaninglessness of hard work and self-sacrifice, if one does not have another with whom to share the fruits and frustrations of one’s labour. A person is quite alone, we’re told, no child, no brother, and yet there is no end to his efforts, his eyes can never have their fill of riches.... This is... futile, a sorry business. The constant struggle and striving that fills many of our lives is not much different from someone throwing a toy up and down a flight of stairs for no apparent reason. What makes all the difference is when all that effort is centred on a loving relationship with another. Keeping our eyes on such a relationship–as I kept mine on our cat–is what transforms life from an exercise in futility to a fruitful, even at times pleasurable, experience.

But that’s not all. The readings that you, Emily and Michael, have chosen, speak to us of something even more. For it’s not just any relationship that is capable of effecting such a marvellous transformation. In the gospel, for example, we see another reference to the terrible potential futility of life. Two people expend much time and effort to build a house each, only to have the rains come down, the floods to rise, and the gales to blow, and strike their respective houses. One house falls, rendering its builder’s efforts futile. But the other stands. And, as in the first reading, the difference between the two has to do with relationship. And not just any human relationship. The house that stands does so because the builder has erected it on a relationship with God. A relationship of love expressed in a willingness to do whatever  God wants. As Jesus tells us: It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.

The second reading reinforces this message, by reminding us that love is expressed more in deeds than in words. Whether it be for one another, or for God, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active. Love is expressed when, for example, in addition to the sweet nothings whispered in the ear in moments of romance, one is willing also to listen attentively to another’s sharing of difficult feelings in times of trial. Or to get out of bed, in the middle of the night, to see to a crying baby, so that the other can catch up on sleep. It is only when we are willing at least to learn to live in this way that, we know that God lives in us by the Spirit that He has given us. Living and working in us, to transform the futility of our lives into an eternity of fruitfulness. It is this profound truth that you, Emily and Michael, have chosen as the foundation upon which to build your new life together. And what a wise choice you have made.

For whether we choose to recognise it or not, life can indeed often seem like an exercise in futility. And however carefully we may try to insulate ourselves, it is often only a matter of time before the rains come, and the floods rise, and the gales blow. But what you are reminding us today, is that even when these things do happen, we do not have to despair. For, in the words of our responsorial psalm, the Lord looks on those who revere him to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine. And it is in the Lord that we place all our hope. It is upon His love that our eyes are fixed.

Isn’t this why so many of us have taken time off to join you, Emily and Michael, in this moving celebration of your union in Holy Matrimony. As members of your family, your friends and community, we are here also to pledge our commitment to support you in your new life together. To remind you, and to allow you to remind us, of the very same truth of which our readings speak today: that futility can indeed be changed into fruitfulness, if we but remain rooted in the love of God.

Sisters and brothers, in the days ahead, how might we continue to help one another to do this? While climbing up and down the seemingly futile staircase of life, how might we continue to keep our eyes fixed on the Cat today?

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