THE SACRAMENT OF MARRIAGE

(Homily delivered at a Wedding Mass celebrated on December 2, 2013 in Boracay Church)

My dear friends,

Advice concerning the nitty-gritty of married life is of course something that you should get from the experts–namely your parents and married friends who love you. What I can share is my reflection on the sacrament of marriage and its role in the fulfillment of our lives.

I believe that there is one very fundamental task that each of us have in life, and that is: to grow to the fullness of life, to develop as fully as we can all the potentials that lie within each of us. Recall the joy and sense of fulfillment the first time one learned to drive; or when one succeeds in a business venture; or when one performs a difficult feat. One finds great joy in these achievements because in a real sense one has created them through one’s own work and in doing so, has created something of one’s self.

At the same time, I also believe that we cannot grow to the fullness of life or fully develop our potentials unless we are first loved. Someone has first to love me before  I can become aware of the value that is “me”;  and in the spontaneous impulse to respond to that love, one finds the motivation and the courage to tap into one’s talents and potentials,  to go out of one’s self and create. A baby finds the courage to take his first faltering steps in response to a mother’s loving beckoning arms.

It is being in loved that we find our self-worth, and gain the confidence to love in return;  and in going out of ourselves to reach out to another in love,  we grow and develop. To be known by another, to be accepted by another, to be appreciated by another–in short, to be loved by another is that which gives us a truly human life, beyond the merely biological life we share with brute animals. Practically the first act that we make when we leave the womb of our mothers is an instinctive cry for attention, a wailing that announces: “I am here, someone please cuddle me!” .

There was a popular book by the psychiatrist Dr. M. Scott-Peck entitled, “People of the Lie”, where he tries to find the reasons why there are in our society such individuals who are simply amoral. They are full of anger and hate, they destroy and wreak havoc, and through it all they feel no sense of guilt or compunction. His conclusion is that these people have never really experienced the care and love of anyone,  and therefore they don’t feel they owe anything to anyone. Often these people have no families to speak of, or have had to survive on their own,  and have been victims of all sorts of abuses. We are not often aware of it, but the love that surrounds us from our parents and families and friends as we are growing up, cumulatively build up our sense of self-worth and gives us the confidence and strength to grow. And our successful achievements of course bring forth the fruits of success: wealth, honor, and power.

But here is where the confusion sets in. What we desire deeply is to be loved and to have the courage to love in return. But one can forget that  the love that another  person gives to us is an act of free choice. One cannot force another person to love. But so strong is that need to be loved that unless one is careful, one can begin to use wealth, or honor, or power, to force and extract that acceptance and love from others. And of course, it does not work. As the saying goes, “you cannot buy love.”

And one cannot buy love because at some point one realizes that the need is not just for some kind of passing love (“here today and gone tomorrow”);  not just the superficial love of fans no matter how big a multitude;   not just the partial love for some aspect of me—for my looks, or my talents, or my possessions;  but the total, abiding love that accepts the totality of who I am, with my successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, good points and bad points. And more importantly, it is a love that  accepts the totality of me not only as I am now, or have been the in the past, but also the totality of me as I will be in the future.

Now that is a very tall order. The past perhaps one can manage, because one  knows what is past, and that is over and done with and cannot be changed. But the future? That is a great unknown, for who knows what will happen in the future? But that is precisely what is needed. Unless I can be assured that I am lovable, not because someone says so, but because someone actually loves me; and unless I can be assured that whatever I may become I am still lovable, because someone continues  to  love me, there will always be a part of me that is empty, there will always be a longing, an unhappiness that never totally disappears.

The message of the Gospel,  of course,  is God’s unconditional love, so powerfully shown in God’s own Son giving His life for love of me. The gospels are called the “good news”  because they proclaim that whatever we are or have been or will be, God loves us and forgives us.

But no one has ever seen God; and Jesus’ love becomes a reality only in faith, and to arouse the life of faith, there must be reminders, assurances, little hints here and there, that help us believe that God is our Father and that he loves us. And that is what a sacrament is: it is a visible sign of the invisible reality of God’s love. Religious try to find this continuing reminder of God’s love  through the “style” of life they live. They  take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and they bond together in a religious congregation  to help remind each other of God’s love. But by no means is one assured of success, for we all live in faith. Nor is the religious life the only way to find a reminder of God’s love for us. The more common way for the generality of mankind is through marriage and the family.

And that is the sacrament of marriage. The essence of the sacrament is given in the first reading and gospel of the Mass: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother,  and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  And this is made even more specific in the marriage vows: “Grant us, O Lord, to be of one heart and one soul, from this day forward, for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer;  in sickness and in health;  until death do us part.”

Love is a free choice. Through this marriage ceremony, you, . . .  freely choose to commit yourselves to one another: Whatever happens in the future, you are now making a deliberate decision, that you [the groom] will be for [your bride] the sign, the reminder, that she is lovable because you love her, and that no matter what she does, you will continue to love her. Similarly, you, [the bride] are now making a deliberate decision, that you will be for [your groom] the sign, the reminder, that he is lovable because you love him, and that no matter what he does, you will continue to love him.

The price for living up to that commitment, of course, will often be the sacrifice of one’s self. And that is the meaning of the cross on which hangs the Son of God. In this world where none of us are perfect, when we all fail every now and then, when we can be worse than what we would desire to be, Someone loves us–always. But at the same time, in this world, we cannot see that unconditional love of God, because we do not see God. That love we can only see  “through a glass darkly,”  through the love that others have for us. And so you, then, . . . , will be for each other the sign, the reminder of that abiding love,  through the faithful and forgiving love you give each other. And we, who love you and wish the best for you, will always be there to help in every way we can.

God bless you both.