Wedding of Mary and Michael Wendell

[Scripture Readings: Ecc 3:1-8; 1 Cor 31-13:8; Mk 10:6-9 ]

Today we are witnessing the union of Mary and Michael in a covenant of love. Let us reflect on what it means to love another person.

One of my favorite books of the bible is the Song of Songs. It expresses the love of a bride and her bridegroom as a visible sign of God’s love for each of us. The Song begins with a very erotic wish: “Oh, that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. Oh, that his left hand were under my head and that his right hand embraced me!” Then bridegroom looks at his bride and says: “Behold you are beautiful , my beloved, truly lovely. You have ravished my heart. How fair and pleasant you are!” The bride responds: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. He is all radiant, distinguished among ten thousand. His speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend.

Today, at this wedding, we see in Mary and Mike this same love and friendship. In our English translations of Sacred Scripture we use the word “love” to translate four different words in the Greek editions of the bible.

The first word is eros, erotic love, the sexual love between a man and woman which is expressed in physical passionate union. It is altogether delightful and desirable.

The second word is philia, the Greek word for friendship and appreciation. The bride says, “This is my beloved and this is my friend.” Philia is used in our English word “philanthropy” which means a love of people, and in “philharmonic” which means a love of music. I came to love classical music through Jim’s appreciation of symphonies which he shared with me as I was growing up. Mary and Mike have shared this love of friendship since they were high school students. They appreciate each other, they are friends as well as passionate lovers.

The third word is sterge, a Greek word for familial love, the love of parents for their children and of children for their parents and for their brothers and sisters. I experience it in my love for JoAnne and Francie. I see it in Mary’s love for her son, Tim, and all the good she has done for him. Tim is especially fortunate in having such a good mother. He is also blessed with five fatherly relationships: first, God the Father who created him, then his biological father, George, who begot him; next his step-father Mike, who also loves and cares for him; and myself, as his godfather, praying for Tim’s physical and spiritual well being; and finally Fr. Coleman, who baptized Tim, giving him supernatural life. We are all fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, to each other. In various ways we share familial love.

The fourth word is agape, which is selfless love, generous concern for the needs of others, like the good Samaritan who poured oil on the wounds and cared for the needs of the man who was overcome and beaten by robbers on his way to Jericho. The first three forms of love are spontaneous and naturally pleasing. But agape is self-sacrificing love, difficult, and hard to learn. Yet it is this caring love that makes the other forms of love more beautiful and charming by keeping them from being self-centered. Agape makes us concerned for the happiness of others.

For example, a lonely person once wrote: “I live in a shell that is inside a wall, that is inside a fort, that is inside a tunnel, that is under the sea, where I am safe from you. But if you really love and care for me you will break through and find me.” When Michael signs his letters he often writes, “Take care, because I care.” That’s agape, a love that responds to the needs of others, beginning with those who are closest to us, a spouse, children, relatives and friends. Then it goes beyond the natural ties of family and friends to care for the needs of strangers and even of enemies.

This is the love St. Paul was talking about in our reading today from First Corinthians: He wrote, “Love, (agape), is patient and kind, it is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

That is the ideal to strive for in marriage and in life. We could substitute our own names for the word love in Paul’s letter. Mary is patient and kind, Mike is not jealous or boastful, Stephen is not arrogant or rude. Tim does not insist on his own way. JoAnne is not irritable or resentful, Francie does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Jim bears all things, Linda hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things.

Dear Mary and Michael, the three readings you have chosen are important not only because they are taken from the bible, God’s own book, but also because they express values you hold as precious. They speak of your three basic needs: your need for another human person, and for a divine person, and for that caring love which brings these together.

The first reading speaks of your need for another human person: a time to be born, a time to laugh, a time to dance, a time to embrace, a time to love — all these require another person. Today it is a time to marry, to turn to each other and vow life long fidelity and love. It is not easy to make such a commitment.

That is why you need a divine person in your lives. The third reading from the Gospel of Mark makes a breath taking statement: “What God has joined together let not man put asunder.” Jesus is saying that your union is not like the contracts of civil marriages, because your union is a covenant in which you give to each other a grace of union that comes to you from God. This covenant means that you promise to be faithful to each other. It also means that God will be faithful to both of you, supporting you with his love. In this way your marriage becomes a sign of Christ’s love for the whole Church. Christ is with us in good times and bad, in sickness and health, in poverty and in wealth. This is your second need, the need for the presence of a divine person to help you. But remember that presence can never be one-sided. You have to be present to God as well throughout the whole of your marriage.

The third reading you wisely chose speaks of your third great need. First, you need other human persons, second, you need the help of a divine person, God’s presence, and God comes to you as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your third need is for that love called agape, which is more than erotic love, more than friendship, more than parental and family love. It is the love which God pours into your hearts through the Holy Spirit. This is a precious gift which you receive because God is joining you together. It is his gift to you today.

All of us need this kind of love, to be patient and kind, free of envy and arrogance, not selfish or resentful. Mary and Michael, we thank you for showing us this love today by wanting your marriage to be a sacrament, an enduring sign of Christ’s love for you and for all of us.

Now we come to this most precious moment of your lives together. Let all stand to witness the gift of Mary and Michael to each other in the presence of God.