Saturday, June 13, 2009

Oswego, part II

Oswego, part II

If you've already looked at the pictures of the St. Mary's Church (previous post), you know it's a perfect place for a wedding. God also blessed Fred and Michele with a nearly perfect day as regards the weather on Saturday, May 23.

Michele Joyner is Fred's love, and his family has very happily received her as one of their own (and her family has received him just as happily, it appeared to me).

I was privileged that Fred and Michele invited me to officiate at their wedding. We were also very fortunate that their pastor at St. Mary's, Fr. Richard Morisette, was on hand to guide us thru the rehearsal on Friday evening. I don't do this very often!

Some reflections to introduce the sacramental liturgy:
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this beautiful church of St. Mary. In case you’re wondering, Fr. Morisette says it’s in English Gothic style, with yellow brick to give a feeling of warmth—which, however, doesn’t help much with the heating bills. All of us Catholics are invited to return and admire the church again tomorrow morning for Sunday Mass.

We’ve come to this beautiful church for the beautiful occasion of Michele and Fred’s wedding. [To Michele and Fred:] The time for nerves is over, guys: all you have to do is follow directions and not step on any dresses. So take a deep breath and relax.

We come to a church because this is also a sacred occasion. Marriage involves this wonderful couple—and each of the families is very blessed in the in-law they’re gaining—and it involves God. For God is part of an authentic marriage and part of our lives as disciples of Jesus.

Marriage takes place before the community. It involves not just Fred and Michele but all of us. Their marriage is for the strengthening and enrichment of the community, and we in turn must support and pray for them.

It’s most fitting that we perform this rite in the context of the Eucharist, of God’s greatest gift to us, his Son for our salvation.

I gave my camera to Fred's brother-in-law Steve to take a few pix during the rite. Here Fred and Michele are either exchanging their vows or one of them's getting a ring. Michele's sister Erin is the maid of honor, and Fred's brother Pete is the best man.

After Mass, a very long reception line outside church.
The groom, yours truly, and the bride: the proverbial thorn between two roses!

The Vigeants have been dear friends ever since I baptized Ben (back row, center) in 1986. Fred and Pete (behind Michele) were my altar boys at Holy Cross Church in Fairfield, and Pete asked me to be his Confirmation sponsor. Fred Sr. (back row, 3d from left) and Anita (front row, 3d from left) asked me to be godfather for Mark (back row, 2d from right), a very great honor for me (for him too, I hope). Margot (front in green) and Steve (front, far right) asked me to preside over their wedding in 1996 and later to baptize Gabe (between them). And we've done countless meals together, museums, the theater (The Fantastiks), a ball game, lots of e-mail, a funeral, and more. God bless them all!
For a lot more on the wedding, including many photos, go to Margot's blog:
And here's the homily, based on these texts: Songs 2: 8-10, 14, 16; 8: 6-7. Rom 15: 1-3, 5-7, 13. Mark 10: 6-9.
I haven’t done many weddings in 31 years as a priest—it’s a good sacrament not to be officiating at for high school students, who’ve been half of my priestly ministry; the other half has involved mostly books and such. So my wedding experience has been mostly with family, a few former students, and Vigeants.

Let’s reflect on the readings that Fred and Michele chose and see what they tell us about their aspirations, and what God’s telling us about this holy sacrament of Matrimony.

“Hark! my love—here he comes, springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Songs 2:8). This leaping lover of course is Fred as Superman (at least in Michele’s eyes; not in his sister’s eyes, for sure, and, Lord knows, not in his brothers’). He leaps tall buildings, such as Oswego may have. Perhaps it’s more serious to say he’s crossed great distances—the state of New York, and not a few mountains and hills, to find his beloved.

“My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag” (2:9). He’s athletic, handsome, and strong: noble qualities, to be sure. Now we know why Fred’s blog is always talking about looking for good ski slopes.

“Here he stands behind our wall, gazing thru the windows, peering thru the lattices” (2:9). In fact, a few minutes ago Fred was looking thru a peep hole back there to see whether the moms had come up the aisle yet. But it sounds like this lover has a habit that could get him into big trouble. More positively, he longs to see his beloved, to be with her.

“My lover speaks: he says to me, ‘Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!’” (2:10). And a lot of sweet words follow, such as lovers coo to each other—or so I’ve heard. Their hearts speak to each other thru words, looks, gestures, and they respond to each other. The words, looks, gestures should be drawing them always closer to each other: “My lover belongs to me and I to him” (2:16).

Then the lover speaks to his beloved—and we ought to read these words as belonging to both husband and wife, addressed to each other: “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm. For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away” (8:6-7).

As I’ve walked around Oswego, I’ve come to realize that the city’s main business isn’t the port or the university. It’s tattoo shops. This seal on the heart or on the arm is more than a tattoo. For many centuries, letters and public documents were sealed with wax and a signet ring or an official stamp to show their authenticity. We still do something similar with official documents like diplomas, transcripts, marriage certificates, anything that has to be notarized.

But a seal also could indicate ownership. Some valuable household item could have a seal; trade goods could be sealed. People still place fancy bookplates in their more valued volumes. In ancient times slaves were branded, like cattle on the open range.

In sacramental theology, you may have heard—I know the older generation of Catholics did—that 3 sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders) imprint an indelible seal or character on one’s soul, marking one forever as belonging
to Jesus Christ in a most personal way, which is why those 3 sacraments can be received only once.

And this image of the seal is what you, Michele and Fred, are evoking now in this sacred scripture that you’ve chosen for your wedding: that your hearts and your whole selves will belong exclusively to each other from now until death. Your hearts will burn with fire and devotion for each other, unquenchably. Nothing can break the bond of your relationship except death: “Stern as death is love; relentless as the nether world is devotion.”

Such everlasting devotion of husband and wife for each other, Fred and Michele remind us, is God’s will, God’s plan, for marriage. The gospel reading they chose, in its 4 simple verses, quotes Jesus our Lord quoting Genesis: the two, wife and husband, become inseparably one, and no human power can alter that. By their physical union, the bodies of husband and wife say: we are also one of heart and mind and soul, for each other and before God. Jesus reminds us that this is God’s doing at least as much as it’s Michele and Fred’s or any couple’s. At the beginning of creation God made male and female, and a man and woman leave their parents to become one with each other, to form one new entity, one new family, one new household of God—what the 2d Vatican Council calls a “domestic church,”* a little image of the universal Church. “They are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:8).

We regard Matrimony as a sacrament because it’s a sign or image of a sacred reality, that reality we call the Church, the assembly of God’s people. Husband and wife replicate the union between Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:25-27; Rev 19:7,9; 21:2,9). That bond is unbreakable and everlasting, destined even to carry over beyond death into eternal life. Jesus can never forsake his bride, nor she him. Every sacramental marriage is a sign of that bond between Jesus and the Church. And so husband and wife in this sacrament can’t be separated by any human law, any court, or any public opinion. Michele and Fred, when you say, “all the days of my life,” that’s exactly what it means.

Is marriage hard work? Does it demand sacrifice? As a certain politician said on other subjects last year, “You betcha!” But couples do in fact persevere until death, whatever spats and difficulties they’ve faced; countless millions of couples have done so. You, Fred and Michele, are very fortunate because you’ve had the example of your parents before yours eyes all your lives: over 40 years for Fred and Anita and 30 years for Edie and Dick. Thank you for that healthy and holy example!

The 2d reading, from St. Paul, gives some advice on how to make a marriage work. The advice is good not just for marriage but for all manner of relationships.

“We ought to put up with the failings of the weak” (Rom 15:1). Fred, some day you’re going to be shocked to find out that Michele isn’t the goddess you think she is. Michele, some day you’re going to be shocked to discover that Fred’s not Superman, after all. You already know that in theory, I know. (We all know thru hard experience the difference between theory and reality.) But eventually some habit, some mistaken judgment, some failing from human weakness is going to upset you terribly. That’s when you’ll need to remember Paul’s advice, or even the example of our Savior, who’s so patient with us. Forgive each other as often as necessary. Paul says, “Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you” (15:7).

Paul goes on: “We ought…not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good” (15:1-2). And your first neighbor is your life’s partner, your best friend, your heart’s desire. Seek not to find fault but to please—and as Paul adds, to encourage, to think in harmony (15:4-5).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13). As disciples of Jesus, you have the power of his Spirit to draw upon and to give you joy and peace in whatever lies ahead, so that your lives may give glory to God and good example to your children and to all of us, and lead you in God’s good time to a place at the heavenly banquet, where we shall all celebrate with our Lord Jesus Christ, forever and ever!

* Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church), n. 11.

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