Saturday, April 05, 2014

Putting the Horse before the Cart

Wedding Mass of Benjamin & Cheryl

Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8; Matthew 5:13-16
Picture: cc Emilio Labrador

Ben and Cheryl, my dear sisters and brothers, I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase putting the cart before the horse. You know what it means. To put the cart before horse is to have things in the wrong order. To confuse our priorities. And it’s not difficult to see why. People don’t usually load a cart just for the fun of it. They do it for a specific purpose. To transport their stuff from one place to another. They have a particular destination in mind. But the cart cannot get to this place on its own. It needs the energy, provided by the horse, to pull it to where it’s supposed to go. And the horse can only do this if it’s placed first. In front of the cart. Not the other way round.

Putting the cart before the horse will, of course, result in the cart remaining stationary. You may load it with as many things as you like. You may even decorate it so that it looks beautifully attractive. But, without the horse in front to pull it, it will never move. It’ll never get to its intended destination. Which defeats the whole purpose of loading the cart in the first place.

All this is common sense. It’s easily understood in theory. And yet so easily forgotten in practice. Easily forgotten even when the cart that is being loaded is something as important as a marriage. Or a family. The common life that a man and a woman commit themselves to sharing by professing their vows. By saying I do. Which is why I think that you, Ben and Cheryl, have really chosen your Mass readings very wisely and carefully today. For the readings help to remind us what a marriage should look like, when the horse is placed in front of the cart.

First of all, Ben and Cheryl, you remind us that the marriage vows you will soon be professing, do have a very specific purpose. They are meant to transport you to a particular place. An intended destination. The gospel that you’ve chosen for us today helps to remind us just what this destination is. You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…

The life of love that you will soon commit yourselves to share, for the rest of your earthly lives, is not meant to be a static state. But a dynamic, an exciting, journey. A holy pilgrimage. And your goal, your destination, on this pilgrimage is to somehow give flavour to an often tasteless world. To somehow bring light to those who remain in darkness.  The opening prayer that we prayed just now makes this even clearer for us. There, we said that God the Father has made the bond of marriage… a symbol of Christ’s love for his church. And we asked that your married life together always bear witness to the reality of that love. In other words, we were praying that your love will always illuminate the darkness of selfishness. That it will always give flavour to an environment marked by the blandness of self-absorption.

Bearing witness to love. This is your intended destination. This is where the cart of your marriage is meant to go. And the other readings help us to see what this love looks like. The specific route your marriage is meant to take. The beautiful second reading does this by describing some characteristics of love. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous… And what the second reading describes, the first reading portrays in a story. The story of Adam and Eve. The story of how God creates the relationship of love between the first man and the first woman. Between two human persons equal in dignity. Suitable helpmates for each other.

The process involves three things. The first is sleep. The man is tranquilized. His ego–his tendency to selfishness–is put to sleep. The second is self-donation. A rib–a part of himself–is taken from him. And given to the other. And the third is the action of God. It is God who helps the man quiet his ego. It is God who enables the man to give of himself. It is God who fashions a new being out of what the man donates. It is God who creates a new bond of love. This at last is bone of my bones and flesh from my flesh!

But that’s not all. Thus far, we know our destination. And we know the route. We know that the cart of marriage we are loading today is meant to bear witness to love. That it is meant to embark on a pilgrimage of love. But how do we get this cart to move? Where is the horse that might supply the energy to propel and to keep us on our way? Again, the readings that you, Ben and Cheryl, have chosen, point us in the right direction.

The moving hymn that we sang for our responsorial psalm connects us with the power of love. Not so much our love for one another. Or even our love for God. But God’s love for us. Loving and forgiving are you, O Lord! Slow to anger, rich in kindness, loving and forgiving are you… When we truly allow these words to turn our thoughts to the love that God has for us. To our experiences of God’s love in the past. Then we also begin to see the rest of our readings in a new light. The story of Adam and Eve becomes more than just a story of God creating love out of nothing. It is also a story of how God rescues love from danger. For what happens to the first Adam at the beginning of creation is also the experience of Jesus, the second Adam, at the dawn of our salvation.

On the Cross, Jesus suffers the sleep of death. His side is pierced. And out flows the blood and water into which we are baptised. The love out of which the church is born. Refashioned in the image and likeness of God. In Christ, then, we see the same three elements found in Adam. Sleep, self-donation, and God’s powerful action. In Christ we see, in concrete, what St. Paul describes in the abstract. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. In Christ, we find the power that propels us to our intended destination. The energy we need to receive love. To give love. To bear witness to love.

And it is this power, it is this love of Christ, that we will need in the days ahead. Especially in those days when the heady emotions of the honeymoon are past. When the mundane details of daily living set in. When we continue to face the challenge of love, and bearing witness to love, even though we may no longer feel the euphoria that marks love’s beginnings. Especially in those days, we will need to remain in touch with the love of Christ. Especially at those times, we will need to tap into the love and forgiveness of God. To put God first in everything.

Isn’t this also why we are gathered here today? Not just to witness you, Ben and Cheryl, committing themselves to each other. But also for the rest of us to commit ourselves to you. To supporting you in your mission of bearing witness to love. To helping you to continue putting God first. And we can do this only to the extent that we ourselves remain in touch with the power of love. Only to the degree in which we ourselves continue to put God first.

Ben and Cheryl, my dear friends, the cart of a happy and fruitful marriage has an intended destination. As well as a designated propulsion system. What must we do to continue putting the horse before the cart in the days ahead?

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