Monday, May 7, 2012

At Notre Dame, 120 Married Couples Celebrate Anniversaries


[Texts: Acts 9.26–31 [Psalm 22]; 1 John 3.18–24; John 15.1–8]

It’s always a great joy for me to welcome wedding anniversary couples to the cathedral, along with your families and friends. It is wonderful to celebrate the renewal of your vows in this beautiful Easter season.

You have walked a long road. That reminded me of an icon of the encounter of Jesus with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Sister Mary Paul of the Benedictine monastery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem painted this icon. A unique feature of the icon is that the disciples are presented as a couple, the husband Cleopas and his wife.

Can you see yourself in their place? Imagine the three of you journeying together, Jesus instructing you in his word and revealing himself to you in the breaking of the bread.

What wellspring did you draw from…to stay in love? …To persevere against all odds? …To grow together? If you chose to celebrate your anniversary in the church, it’s probably because you have held strong, as a couple, to someone stronger than the trials and the storms. He has supported you and fed you all your life.

Today’s liturgy speaks of discipleship but also of married life. It reminds us that life is fruitful when it is shared, but a little of the self must die to make room for the larger projects of God.

The words Jesus speaks in today’s gospel evoke ancient biblical images: the vine, vine-grower and viniculture practices such as pruning, breaking off dead branches for burning, and harvesting others that produce abundant fruit (John 15.1–17).

For example, Isaiah described God crooning a love-song to Israel under vineyard imagery (5.1–7); so the vineyard and God’s people became interchangeable (“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel”).

Jesus describes himself as “the true vine” and his Father is the vine-grower. He said that “you,” his disciples then and now, are already pruned because of the word he has spoken to you. His word may have pruned away sin or some other distraction in your life. As branches, you abide in him (“as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me”). Pruning makes way for more fruit.

My dear married couples, I know that you have experienced painful pruning. Yet here you are, still in love with Jesus, and still in love with each other, trusting that “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Romans 8.28). You have produced—and continue to produce—much good fruit: your children, help for the needy, spreading the gospel, and more.

As the vine stock, Jesus nourishes us with sap. His blood is our life-blood. Without him, we would be dead, unproductive branches, fit only for disposal.

The First Epistle of John further develops the vision of unity of purpose with God. He argues that it is obedience to God’s words, given by Jesus, that lies at the heart of this spiritual “abiding” (“all who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them”).

For God’s commandments are two-fold: to believe in his Son’s name and to love one another. As the Christian lives out these two commands, the Holy Spirit mystically unites the Christian and the Lord (“by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us”).

Believing in the name of Jesus Christ is more demanding than it may seem. Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, means God saves. Christos in Greek means Messiah, the chosen one sent by God. To believe in his name, I must first admit that I need a saviour and I’m not God. The pruning has begun!

Loving my neighbour is not easy either. It means to share my time, my possessions, my money; with my spouse, my children, and my neighbour. It means forgiving all their offences, without limit. Who could possibly do that? Only God, who is greater than our condemning hearts. Ask, and he will share his heart of mercy with you.

You must already know this, because you have made it this far, and you are still smiling. I am sure each of you could teach me some lessons in forgiveness!

Your example encourages us to faithfulness in a time when popular culture invites us to chase after counterfeit pleasures and infidelity. Thank you for being here today, as a public witness that, with God, all things are better and all things are possible. I pray the Holy Family’s intercession that your marriage vows continue to be life-giving and that your families be blessed with faith, joy, love, health, long life, and life eternal. Amen.

[Photos courtesy of Heribert Risebeck]

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