[from a wedding homily]
What word, what image can reflect the vocation of marriage and family? Many words relate to the vocation, and yet it would be difficult for any one word to encompass the totality of marriage. The obvious candidate would be ‘love,’ almost to the point of being cliché. Therefore, I want to propose another word or image, that can tell us a lot about marriage, albeit not everything. That word is ‘embrace.’
What is an embrace? What does it signify? When close with the embracer, it entails acceptance, love, and joy. You receive the other, quite literally with open arms, removing any physical barriers. You love and cherish them, and you show joy in them by your embrace. Even if the embrace is in a sorrowful context, like the meeting of friends and family during a funeral, the embrace itself is a powerful antidote to that sorrow. The embrace is healing.
How did Jesus Christ, our model, show his love for God the Father and for us? He did so by fully embracing all that the Father asked of him, and by embracing us. We must do the same.
Before you embrace each other, spouses must first embrace God, and all that he wills or permits in your life. Embrace your vocation to marriage with all its consequences. Accept the lifelong commitment, exclusivity, and openness to life. Embrace the particular challenges that your particular marriage may entail, whether it be finances, health, or the education of the children. In embracing your particular challenges, large and small, you will be embracing the cross, that most mysterious and fruitful sign of God’s love for you. To embrace God’s will is much more than mere resignation; it is to consent fully and joyfully, because in the gift of the cross, God is present.
Spouses must also embrace each other, everything about each other. You must embrace that which you admire, recognizing, appreciating, stating, and thanking our Lord for it. Perhaps it is his smile, or her joy, or his kindness, or her empathy. Be intentional in your admiration and your gratitude. Also embrace that which you find challenging, that which rubs you the wrong way, that which irritates you, whether that is being too messy, or too tidy, or whatever. To embrace the other does not translate into blanket approval of all behavior; that would be a lazy love. To embrace that which challenges is to respectfully and humbly engage it, through dialogue and a mutual effort to grow. Only in embracing the entirety of the other, and the work that it entails, will your love mature.
There is, however, something else that is perhaps even more difficult than embracing, either God or your spouse. It is allowing yourself to be embraced. Time and time again, we hold our lovers at arm’s length. Why is it so difficult to let ourselves be loved? I think it is hard because we have to be vulnerable. We have to acknowledge that we ultimately cannot earn love, but that it has to be freely given. And with all our sins and imperfections, which are very real, we must first accept the fact that God loves us – unconditionally. Only in knowing ourselves loved by God, regardless of our shortcomings, can we recognize ourselves as lovable. Therefore, if you are willing to embrace the other with unconditional love, then you must also allow yourself to be embraced. Accept your need and accept the gratuity of the gift – from God and from each other.
This homily is meant to be eminently practical. Only in embracing God´s will and each other daily can you have a fruitful marriage. Embrace God through regular prayer and the fulfillment of your daily duties. Embrace each other daily and allow yourself to be embraced. In so doing, you will, with God´s help, build a solid foundation for your marriage and family.
Do not be afraid, God´s grace will be sufficient. That is his promise to you as a couple, sealed in this sacrament. God is faithful.
May almighty God bless you.
Fr. John Bullock, LC