Saturday, October 06, 2012

Wedding Mass of Jarrold & Julia
Loving Unto Completion

Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 148:1-4, 9-14 R:v.12; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8; Matthew 5:1-12
Picture: cc JF Sebastian

Julia and Jarrold, dear friends, there’s a modern-day proverb of sorts that I’m sure some of you have come across before. It’s sometimes found on coffee mugs or T-shirts or bumper stickers. It goes something like this: A man is incomplete until he’s married... and then he’s finished.

I know. It’s a rather male chauvinistic statement, right? It seems to imply that marriage to a woman spells doom for a man. Marriage marks the death of spontaneity. The end of his freedom. Perhaps not the most appropriate statement for an occasion like this. And I can imagine that, at this moment, you, Julia and Jarrold, are thinking that maybe you should have asked someone else to officiate today. For not only does the statement appear sexist, in a sense, it’s also obviously untrue. At least to those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. After all, we Christians believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. He was a complete human being. And yet, we also believe that, right until the end of his journey on this earth, the Lord remained unmarried. Unmarried, but completely human. Quite the opposite of what the proverb tells us. Or so it seems.

And yet, if we were to ponder a little more deeply, perhaps we’ll find that there is a sense in which this statement is profoundly true. Indeed, the truth that it contains is the very message that you, Julia and Jarrold, are trying to bring to our attention through the Mass readings that you have chosen for today. A man is incomplete until he’s married… and then he’s finished.

As you know, the first reading from the book of Genesis, tells the story of the creation of the world. And we join the story at the point when the man has already been created. God has fashioned the man from the earth, and breathed into him the breath of life. From what was nothing, God made something. And not just any-thing, but a living, breathing, thinking, speaking human person. And yet, in the reading, even though the man has already been created, he’s still incomplete in some way. Still unfinished. Still lacking something. It is not good that the man should be alone, God says. I will make him a helpmate. A fitting companion. And it’s important to consider how this comes about. The creation of the man is finished only when a rib is taken from him to form the woman. The man is completed only when he is able to give of himself, to contribute to the creation of another. To engage in self-donation for the sake of someone else. And, of course, what is said of the man, can be said of the woman as well. For this is true of all human life: We are all incomplete, until we are able to engage in self-donation...

But this process of completion, this act of self-giving, is not just a matter of surrendering a part of our bodies–preferably a part that we can do without. Something even more is required. And the second reading tells us just what this something is. If I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever. Without love, even the donation of my whole body will do me no good. And this is a truth that, in recent times, we have all come to know only too well. For we live in an age of terrorists and suicide bombers. We know that it is possible to give away one’s body, to even allow oneself to be blown to bits, for all the wrong reasons. For the sake of taking away life, instead of furthering it. To contribute to destruction, instead of creation. I can give away as many body-parts as I can spare–and even those I cannot–but without love, without desiring the well-being of another, I remain incomplete. Somehow less of a person. A nobody even. Truly nothing at all.

Isn’t this the truth that you, Julia and Jarrold, are trying to bring to our attention today? Isn’t this the truth that you are both pledging to live out in your new life together as a married couple? The truth that we are all incomplete until we are able to love others enough to give of ourselves for them. Only then are we truly finished.

But, if this is true, then the next question for us to ask is, of course, how? How do we learn to love in this way? How do we learn to keep putting the interests of the other ahead of our own? And to continue to do it even after the honeymoon–and all the warm fuzzy feelings associated with it–have passed? How do we persevere in doing this, while continuing to live in a world that teaches us to do precisely the opposite. A world that runs on an economy of consumption. A world that speaks the language of selfishness, and not of love. A world that keeps trying to force us to work ourselves to the brink of exhaustion and burnout, to the point where we have no energy left to care for ourselves, let alone to consider the needs of others. Even those of our spouse and children. In a world like this, how do we learn to love another truly, and so to become more completely human?

Again, the answer lies in the readings that you, Jarrold and Julia, have chosen. We notice, first, that the man in the first reading does not complete himself. He cannot. He needs to be completed by God. Next, the reading also tells us how this happens. The man allows himself to be put, by God, into a deep sleep. And we appreciate better the meaning of this sleep when we consider what the man was doing immediately before. While he was awake, the man was giving names to the different animals that God was bringing before him. And, as you know, by giving them names, the man was exerting his mastery, his superiority, over the animals. And it is only when this tendency to lord it over others is put to sleep, that the man is able to learn, first to give of himself, and then to recognise and to relate to the woman as his equal. This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! The process of loving donation of self begins with the putting to sleep of our tendencies toward the mastery and manipulation of others.

Which is why the gospel passage that you, Jarrold and Julia, have chosen is so appropriate. For what are the Beatitudes if not a description of what happens when people allow God to put them to sleep in this way. Somehow, such people, become more complete. The poor in spirit, attain the kingdom of heaven. The gentle inherit the earth. The mourning are comforted. The merciful are shown mercy... And we should not be surprised at this. For was it not Jesus himself who lived the Beatitudes to the fullest? Jesus, who slept the sleep of death on the Cross. Jesus, whose side was pierced, and out of which was born his bride, the Church. Jesus, by whose Dying and Rising, we are all brought to completion as children of God.

My dear friends, it is this same Jesus who is present with us at this Mass. And it is in His self-sacrificing love that you, Jarrold and Julia, have chosen to situate your new life together. And what a marvellously wise choice you have made. For it is only in this love, the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus, that all creation is brought to completion.

A man and a woman are incomplete until they're married… and then they are finished.

My dear friends, Julia and Jarrold, how might we allow the Lord to continue putting us to sleep, so as to bring us to completion today?

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