Can't resist posting my homily from today’s wedding of Lydia Shives and Robert Shyleyko. Longest wedding homily ever given, but I blame their wonderful choice of readings. Lydia is a nurse and Bobby a doctor, so I thought I could get away with talking about medical matters (even though I wasn’t about to try pronouncing sphygmomanometer!) Their obvious commitment to the faith made it easy to speak from the heart…
Not because the bride and groom weren’t a lovely couple, but because I was wearing something only a doctor could love: an automatic blood pressure monitor. Poorly hidden under layers of vestments was a machine that beeped and inflated a blood pressure cuff every half hour for the 24 hours I was hooked up to it.
I asked the clinic if I could take it off, but the nurse gave me that look reserved for seniors and said “no, because you wouldn’t be able to put it back on properly.”
It was a highly uncomfortable situation as I tried to finish the ceremony before the darn thing was due to go off again. I failed, producing a big grin from the groom as it inflated during the Our Father.
Under those circumstances, I felt I had to say something.
And what I said was this: maybe God’s trying to tell us something! This device—ask the groom later for the proper name, which is harder to spell than Shyleyko—measures your health by putting pressure on your arm. Under pressure, the veins (or arteries—I gave up my hopes for medical school when I saw my marks in grade nine science) disclose important information.
The same general principal works in marriage. When everything is going along smoothly, when life is free of worry or disagreement, we may think our relationships are perfect. But that’s fair-weather sailing. The real proof of married love comes under pressure, when you weather storms and rely on the grace of God rather than your feelings.
How do we live with grace under pressure? St. Paul spells it out for us in a one-word formula: “Rejoice!” Think about it for a moment—you don’t need to tell happy people to rejoice. You don’t need to tell carefree people not to worry. You don’t offer peace to those who are calm and serene.
The apostle knows what he’s talking about. He knows what it is to be well-fed, and he knows what it is to be hungry; he’s been rich and he’s been poor. But his attitude remained the same, rooted in the peace of Christ. Under pressure, his faith did not falter.
The readings you have chosen are, quite frankly, the best of all possible choices. But Paul’s words offer more than inspiration on this happy day: they are a program for life. The famous Protestant preacher Norman Vincent Peale made a whole career of repackaging that reading in practical terms: his book The Power of Positive Thinking sold five million copies.
To fill your hearts every morning with positive affirmations of faith, hope and love, to live according to the Christian teachings you have learned and received and heard and seen in your parents and other role models, is to be assured that the God of peace will be with you. By cultivating an attitude of gratitude you can face life challenges together, but not only together—with God, the only source of the peace that surpasses all understanding.
I could stop there; perhaps I should. But since you’ve come all the way from Calgary I feel it’s my duty to add two more things.
The first is that pressure also tests the strength of our relationship with the Church. Our lives as Catholics have something in common with marriage, as St. Paul points out somewhere else. It’s not just at home that we have ups and downs; the Church—whether nationally, internationally, or in the parish—can try our patience and lead us to wonder whether it’s worth hanging in.
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of the earliest Christian community, right after the Ascension of Christ: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
Someday, biblical archaeologists will find the missing page of the manuscript, where it adds “This lasted for about six weeks.”
The rest of the story appears in Paul’s letters, which are full of accounts of friction, misunderstanding, and human sinfulness. But he, and generations after him, rejoiced in the good he found in the Church and recognized the radical holiness that human weakness cannot destroy.
So when your parish or your pastor or a choir that’s nothing like this wonderful group you have brought here today makes you want to become a sun-worshipper rather than a Christian, do not worry. The Lord is near.
Finally, there will be times when pressure will test the state of your relationship with God. It’s well known that God allows difficult times in our friendship with him. After a long period of dryness, St. Teresa of Avila received a vision of Jesus. She asked why he had allowed the darkness. When Jesus said “This is how I treat my friends,” she is said to have replied “Well, that’s why you have so few!”
If God ever seems more distant from you than he is today, the first thing to do is made clear in the psalm you chose: wait for him. Trust in his holy name. Wait for the fog to lift that obscures the Lord.
And if following him ever seems more than you can manage, remember the Gospel you chose for this day: the wedding feast of Cana. Know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is aware of your needs and will make them known to her son.
And then, with confidence and trust, follow her advice: “Do whatever he tells you.” Live as disciples, not churchgoers, and all that is promised you today will be richly fulfilled through the years of your married life.