As we gather this evening, so many images surround us. In our midst are a beautiful bride and handsome groom surrounded by their parents, family, and friends. Alone, these images seem sufficient. And yet, there are more. In the celebration of marriage, other visual images are present: the church, altar, the Book of the Gospels, rings, candles; and yes, even a deacon. My dear friends, hold these images near to your hearts. They are God’s gift to you!
These past months, I’ve had the privilege of preparing this couple for this day—and moment. On numerous Sundays, they made their way to the parish to discuss images of marriage from the perspectives of the Church and wider culture. Last month, they selected the readings that we have just heard from the Book of Genesis (1:26-31), St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:31-13:8), and the Gospel of John (15:12-16).
In reflecting upon them, I found myself drawn to a rather famous chapel in Rome. When walking into the Sistine Chapel, our eyes are filled with powerful images. As they move upward, one really catches our attention: Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. There, peering down upon us, is God the Father breathing life into the first man. With God’s hand extended toward him, it is though He is saying to Adam: Be. Out of love, I have created you!
A great mystery, don’t you think? But, to recall Paul Harvey’s famous words, is that the end of the story? Or is there something more? In continuing to reflect upon God’s hand, we will note that it is fully outstretched and His index finger is pointing at Adam. God says: I choose you! In the 139th Psalm, isn’t that precisely what the psalmist reminds us of?
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.
Yes, God carved us in the palm of His hand. Before creation, His dreams were of us. From the divine love, He chose us out of love and for love. Now there is an image!
At the end of the reading from Genesis, however, God says something else: Be fertile and multiply. This is important and one lesson that I hope this couple will remember from their time with me. For truly, how can love not be—fertile and fruitful? Once given, does love remain in a box? No, it is shared. It expands. It multiplies. And what does it multiply into? A family! This is where love is formed, where love is practiced, and where love is learned.
As this special couple knows, my wife and I have four surviving children—four girls! When some of my brother deacons and priests see me, they often chuckle and remark: “Oh, how blessed among women you are.” And indeed, they are correct. But sadly, for an increasing number in our society, children and family are scorned. They say that the world is too large and too polluted and that our carbon footprint has outstretched earth’s capacity to sustain us. But this is not what God says.
For a quick moment, I would like to digress from that hallowed ceiling in Rome to Costco. Years ago, while standing in line with my pregnant wife and small girls, a man behind us rudely remarked: “I hope this is your last.” To say that I was shocked is an understatement. Quietly, I stood there as a potential headline emerged that urged a different approach: “Catholic deacon strikes man at Costco.” So instead, I responded: “To tell you the truth, sir, I am unsure of what the ultimate size of my family will be. But you should know that my wife and I do have a relationship with the Lord. The next time we pray, we’ll ask Him and get back with you.” And now, most likely thinking that I was a religious fanatic, he became quiet. But as I walked away that morning, I remember praying for him, for he was certainly a person who would benefit from holding a tiny baby and experiencing the kind of love that only comes from children and family.
Dear friends, the bottom line is this: When it comes to love and family, go with God and forget the culture. For cultures come and go, and ours is quickly going. May you also remember the words that Jesus told His disciples and that He tells us:
This is my commandment; love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
St. Paul reminds us that true love is a way of being, a way of seeing the world as God does: with patience, with kindness, and with a focus upon others. Yes, true love sacrifices for the other. St. John of the Cross once said: “Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.” As a married couple, your love will find itself within the family, to which Blessed Mother Teresa once remarked: “Whatever you do in your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for Jesus.”
As has been noted, there are many images before us this evening. The most powerful, however, is that this couple has invited Jesus to their wedding. Tonight, He blesses and extends His hand toward them. My advice to them is this: Take it, and never let go.