It is not uncommon in the Philippines to have mass weddings. By this I mean one nuptial mass with a number of couples being married at the same ceremony. Being there at this type of wedding ceremony is always a thing to remember. I remember when I went to my cousin’s wedding. There were ten couples then being married together. So to save time and for practical reasons, the officiating priest asked the couples to simultaneously put the ring on to their spouse’s finger and at the same time utter the words: ‘Name, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity’. However, the priest noticed that as some of the bridegrooms didn’t even look at their brides as they put the ring on. Instead they were looking at the priest. So the witty priest, with his dry sense of humour said to them. ‘Don’t look at me. Look at your partner. I’m not getting married with you.’
Friends, it might sound funny but the word of the priest remained in me. When he said ‘look at your brides’ that speaks so much of being married. Being married is about looking after each other and looking at the same direction together. This is one of the ideals of marriage. And we know if the couple stopped looking after each other or one goes on his/her way, the relationship slowly breaks down and marriage will eventually suffer.
Jesus in our gospel today is telling us the utmost ground of marriage- the most ideal of marriage if you like. To respond to the Pharisees’ question on divorce, Jesus led them to realize that marriage is more than just a union between man and woman. Marriage is willed and designed by God since the beginning of creation. Jesus is in a way telling them that divorce should not be happening because in and through marriage the spouses are now inseparably and intimately linked with each other as they are designed by God to become one body. (Gen. 2:24)
This therefore shows us that it is not enough for the couple to just look after each other or having the same vision together. Rather, the marriage must always be grounded in God and is an expression of obedience of God’s will. It has to be grounded in God because the Creator has made this ancient of human institution to be part of his divine plan to ‘form an intimate communion of life and love’, to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1660. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio would also note that this communion of life and love between two persons (i.e. man and woman), have to ‘rooted in the personal and total self-giving of the couple’ (FC #20), and to be celebrated through consummation and procreation.
However, we know that no matter how much we try to live out the ideals of things, we always fall short of it as we face the reality. Couples on their wedding day might be so certain in declaring they would live together forever, for better or for worse, till death put them apart, but as they go along and live out the reality of married life, they also have to bear the fact that being human is subject to falling short from the ideals. We know in fact, that not a few marriages have disintegrated. There are quite a number of marital vows being taken lightly or being neglected altogether. We have to note though that falling short in marriage commitment that would end up in divorce or separation is not only an issue in our time. It had always been an issue since the time of Moses. It has also been an issue in Jesus’ time.
So what can we do then?
For those who are married, live by example. Show to everyone that you are happy with your decision on your wedding day. I personally know of a wonderful couple who had just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. I go to see them regularly for communion, and everytime I asked them to express their prayers loudly, the husband (who is on dialysis few times a week ) would just thank God for his loving wife and for her sacrifices for him. The wife in turn would pray to God for the well- being of her husband. Such a wonderful expression of love, commitment, dedication, loyalty, and care for one another.
For the young couple and young families here, keep looking after each other and keep looking at the same direction together- that is, make your vision in harmony and do your mission together to be messengers of God’s love.
For those who are contemplating to get married, discern and pray for guidance of the Holy Spirit that you will be strengthened, empowered and would be faithful to your partner for life.
For those who have separated and are struggling with your marriage vows and commitment, don’t lose hope and keep up the faith. The Church has a special place for you in her heart because you are one of the reasons why Jesus came here for. Yes, He came to show compassion to everyone but he is closer to all who struggle and suffer in many ways. Listen to the Samaritan woman in the gospel of John (Jn. 4:3-42). She can tell you more about Jesus’ compassion and care for those who are struggling in this particular state of life. For those who are called to another state of life besides marriage, be faithful to your calling, live out your commitment daily and renew your ‘yes’ to God everyday.
I know I’m not the right person to give you advice regarding the way to have a successful marriage. I’m not married myself and I am happy as I am now- a priest of God. Yet, there are four things I can leave you since marriage and Holy Orders are both sacraments of commitment. I myself am trying to have this vision for myself as I continue to serve God and his people in the priestly ministry. I am sure you can relate with this. First, pray always that you may be more loving, faithful and committed to one another. Always make space for God in your married life. Imagine, from among billions of people, He made the two you to be compatible with each other and to be concrete witnesses of his love. Second, keep the line of communication open. This is the secret of staying in love according to a Jesuit writer John Powell. Assess your lives and your relationship regularly. See what works and what doesn’t. Third, keep appreciating each other’s gifts and strengths. Fourth, pass on your love with each other to your children and to other people as well.
So as we continue our celebration today, let us make two resolutions: First, let’s pray that we would be keen listener to the will of God in our lives, wherever we may be, whatever it is that we are called to be, and whatever circumstances we are in now at this particular time in our lives. Second, like Jesus, let us be compassionate, forgiving, understanding, non-judgmental and loving to those people whose marriage is broken and to all those who are struggling in their married life. Amen.