Monday, July 29, 2019

Philip and Angie: Wedding Homily

On Saturday, I officiated at the wedding of Angie Scandale and Philip O'Reilly. The celebration would have been memorable for the music alone - the choir consisted of Philip's past and present students from St. Andrew's High School, where he teaches music, along with members of the choir of St. Andrew's Cathedral.

But for me, there was something even more beautiful than the exquisite music. I have known the groom since he was three years old and shared the life of his family just before I entered the seminary. In the O'Reilly's dining room I announced my decision to study for the priesthood to my parents, with an adoring Philip on my knee. 

My mother said that made things rather more difficult for her! But no one could say I was unaware of the costs of sacrificing a family of my own. At the same time, sharing in Philip's progress through life has been one of the experiences of fatherhood that has ensured my deep satisfaction as a priest. 

More than thirty-years ago, I took Philip by the hand and walked with him down the hall on his first day of preschool. Since his Dad was a teacher, he was otherwise engaged that morning, so I got to accompany Bernadette.

I cried then—and I will probably cry now—as Philip takes Angie’s hand and walks with her into a future full of hope and joy.

I’ve often wondered what the teacher thought as a sobbing man handed Philip—who was crying louder than I was—and headed back down the hall. Something along the lines of “we are sure going to have problems with that father!”

What she couldn’t have known was that Philip’s first day of school was my last day in Victoria. I left later that morning for the seminary in Rome.

During the three years I spent in Victoria, this Cathedral church was where I began my journey to the priesthood; this afternoon the same sacred space is where Angie and Philip begin their journey to married life.

Can you blame me for being a bit emotional?

But Angie and Philip, you’ve chosen Scripture readings for this celebration that make it easy enough for me to preach today, despite my strong feelings. Like the tapestry that hangs on the O’Reilly’s dining room wall, these texts beautifully weave together the strands of human and divine love.

First, you chose a passage from the Song of Songs. While Jews and Christians alike have found deep spiritual themes in this ancient book, it is first and foremost a series of love poems—some from a man to a woman, some—like the one we heard today—from a woman to a man.

It’s good that we celebrate the human dimension of your love for each other. That alone is something to celebrate.

But you two are mature and wise enough to know that the breathless romance of the Song of Songs needs to be rooted in more than the exhilaration and passion of love. So you chose St. Paul’s famous chapter on love—a concrete, even tough, definition of what you two are freely embracing today.

If I can give you one simple piece of advice today, it’s this: keep a copy of St. Paul’s words handy, and read it to each other every time you find yourselves fighting. Now that I think of it, when I get home, I’m going to laminate two copies and send them to you!

And there’s one more ingredient you need to add to the romance of the Song of Songs and the practical wisdom of St. Paul, to ensure a truly blessed life together. To complete the recipe, I want to recycle part of a very clever sermon I gave at a wedding about six years ago.

The sermon was very clever because Philip helped me write it!

I was celebrating the marriage of our parish organist, and I wanted to make a key point using music. So, I called Philip the music teacher.

What I did was simple—I struck middle C on the piano. It wasn’t a grand piano like we have here, but the note rang out clearly enough.

Then I played E together with the C, creating the first harmonic in a series, Philip expertly informed me: Combining the two notes, each with its own musical identity, produced something one note alone cannot—an obvious musical conclusion obviously related to our first reading, where the beauty of love between two people is so evident.

But Philip sent me back to the keyboard to add G to the first two notes. Even I knew that was a chord, but he told me that for music students it was a triad.

If the harmony of C and E can represent what happens when a man and woman are united in marriage, what lesson can we draw from the chord produced by adding G?

Well, G quite easily might stand for God. Our faith tells us that marriage is not only a natural, original good, but a supernatural one as well.

Jesus elevated the marriage of Christians to a new level. The union of man and woman is no longer just part of God’s plan, but part of God’s work. The couple unite themselves as one flesh, but by no merely human power they are joined together by God himself.

Jesus says this explicitly in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. But Philip and Angie, you’ve chosen words from the Gospel of John where Jesus takes us even deeper into the mystery of human and divine love.

The Lord says that love isn’t just something to which he invites you; love is his own command. And while love is certainly all those things St. Paul says—patient, kind, enduring and the rest—at its deepest level it is sacrificial.

By choosing this Gospel for your wedding Mass, you commit to a total gift of self, imitating Christ who loved us so much that he gave himself up for us (cf. Ephesians 5:25).

There’s both a modern song and a jazz standard that wouldn’t fit with the beautiful and meaningful music you’ve chosen for this wedding. But the title “All of Me” describes just what you are offering each other when you offer to love as the Lord has loved you.

Dear Angie and Philip, may you spend your lives together in complete harmony with each other, and in perfect harmony with God’s plan for your earthly happiness and eternal salvation.

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