Wedding Anniversary Mass – June 30, 2019
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

This is a pretty unusual gospel passage, don’t you think?  It just doesn’t sound like Jesus.  …  Someone who wants to follow Jesus says, “I’m really happy to do this, but can I go and bury my father first?” to which Jesus replies, “No.  Let the dead bury the dead.”  …  Then another says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say good-by to my family.”  To him, Jesus responds, “No one who looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

What’s really going on in this rather unique passage?  What is Jesus saying to us?  I’d suggest that it has nothing to do with insensitivity on his part and everything to do with the urgency of living out our faith.  …  There’s a true story that I’d like to share with you that was first shared by a Buddhist monk who lived in Southeast Asia during the Vietnamese war in the 1960’s that I think puts today’s gospel in some healthy perspective.

During the conflict, a Vietnamese woman was tragically killed as the war enveloped her village, leaving behind her husband and her young son.  Alone with his son and desperately in need of work to provide for him, the husband arranged to leave the boy with neighbors whenever he would have to work away from his home, often for days at a time.

After one such trip, the man returned to find his village destroyed – burned to the ground, having been the site of a particularly intense battle.  Searching through the rubble of what remained of his neighbor’s home where he had left his son, he discovered some small bones that he was certain were those of his son.  He wrapped them carefully in a cloth and carried them with him wherever he went.

Many years past and the war was long over when there was a knock on the now old man’s door.  “Who’s there,” he called out.  “It’s your son,” the voice replied.  “How cruel of you to torture an old man.  My son is dead.  Leave me alone,” the man responded.  The young man pleaded with the old man to see him, but the old man would not be moved.  Eventually, the young man left, never being the given the opportunity to reunite with his father.

The monk reflected on the tragic exchange, “The old man never found happiness and lost his son who was still alive because he was determined to cling to the lifeless bones of the past rather than risk something new, which had the power to bring him much joy and peace.”  …  A pretty sobering image.  Clinging to the past prevented the old man from experiencing a life worth living.

In today’s gospel, Jesus encounters a number of individuals who express their desire to be his followers – disciples.  But there appear to be some very compelling things from which they can’t seem to disengage.  And because they can’t seem to let go of this baggage, they never fully engage Jesus nor do they experience the life, promise and hope that he can give.

My friends, there’s a lot of baggage that we carry around in life, isn’t there?   Some of these things to which we cling, especially those rooted in our past, can deprive us of engaging life and faith in a positive manner – just as they did for the poor old man in the story I just shared.  …  We can hold on to a hurt from our past that evolves into a resentment – a disappointment – a regret – that never goes away.  …  Mistakes – sins – that have long been forgiven by God and even by those whom we’ve hurt can hang on because we can’t forgive ourselves.  …  Memories of experiences and people that are consoling can also at times stand in the way of new experiences and life-giving opportunities.

But there are also many things to which we hold fast that can be life-giving – like cherished family members and friends – experiences of authentic, selfless love, both given and received – and, of course, faith – all of which can become the seed-bed for a deeper relationship amongst ourselves and ultimately with God.

Brothers and sisters, each one of you who gathers for this Wedding Anniversary Mass today knows the difference between the baggage that can wear us down and deprive us of life and those things to which we hold fast that ultimately bring us joy and peace.

What we celebrate today in your marriages of 25, 50 or more years is not merely endurance and determination but the mystery of God’s love for us and how that love is revealed and lived out in your lives.  Pope Francis describes that love in his exhortation on the joy and blessing of marriage and family life – Amoris laetitia – as he upon Saint Paul’s great hymn to love found in his letter to the Church at Corinth.  Most of us know this passage well.

This “love is experienced and nurtured in the daily lives of couples and their children,” Pope Francis noted.  …  “Love is patient.  …  Love is at the service of others.  …  Love is not jealous.  …  Love is not boastful.  …  Love is not rude.  …  Love is not irritable or resentful.  …  Love is generous.  …  Love forgives.  …  Love rejoices with others.  …  Love bears all things.  …  Love believes all things.  …  Love hopes all things.  …  Love endures all things.  …  This Christian ideal, especially in marriage,” Pope Francis shared, “is a love that never gives up.”

Indeed, this description of love, for all of its likely reminders to us of missed opportunities, provides us with a lens into the relationship of every couple committed to nurturing the bond of marriage in a permanent, faithful and fruitful manner.  …  It also provides you with a way of understanding the essence of your marriage and how and why it has endured and flourished for all these years.

As you think about the many years of your marriage, the stories and events that are likely racing through your minds and hearts probably don’t give evidence of a fairy tale notion of an ideal relationship.  …  To the contrary, your stories and lives likely reflect hard work, struggle and pain, and a selflessness that seeks the well-being of another.  …  They likely reflect your determination to face life as it comes – with its challenges, disappointments and fears – and the resolve to live each day not bemoaning the loss of the past but with hope for what the next day will bring.  …  Your marriage has endured not because your years together have been perfect, but because you have come to see your marriage as part of something much bigger than yourselves – the mystery of God’s love woven into creation – embraced in your lives – and lived through God’s grace.

Somebody once said, “All marriages are happy.  It’s the living together afterwards that causes all the trouble.”  …  Perhaps a better way of expressing such sentiments would be to say that in your relationship as husband and wife, you have found a fertile environment for living your faith in an authentic manner.  …  And therein, we all find the key to understanding the words of Jesus in this afternoon’s gospel.  Simply put, he challenges those of us who seek to live lives of faith to let go of those things to which we cling that tear us down and that amount to so little.  Instead, he invites us to hold fast to the true blessings of faith, family, forgiveness, love in and through which we ultimately find our peace.

My friends, you’ve done that well.  Congratulations!

Now do me a favor.  …  Take a look at the person sitting next to you.  …  Look into his eyes – her eyes.  For all that is a part of this exchange and this moment, realize just how sacred your relationship is.  …  For all that you have been through, realize how blessed you are to have each other.  …  For as familiar as those eyes are, see through them to discover the face of God abiding within the heart of the one you love.  …  And give thanks.  …  Amen.