Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Exercising Gratitude

Thanksgiving may well-be the healthiest holiday we celebrate.  Those of you whose minds went straight to the artery-clogging double portions of deep-fried turkey, sausage stuffing, marshmallow sweet potatoes and pecan pie may think I’m crazy.  Well, I’m clearly not talking about the food; I’m talking about the exercise.  Now those of you who are plopped on the couch with a drumstick in each hand may think I’m crazy.  Well, I’m not talking about the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5K kind of exercise either.  I’m talking about spiritual exercise.  On Thanksgiving, we dedicate a whole day to exercising gratitude, which is one of the healthiest spiritual exercises we can do. 

Gratitude is an emotional and spiritual muscle that grows and strengthens with regular use.  Studies show that gratitude is directly linked to happiness and well-being.  You see, each person’s basic level of happiness rests at a natural set point.  When something bad happens, our happiness level can drop.  When something good happens, it can go up, but ultimately, our happiness level always returns to its natural set point.  That’s where gratitude comes in:  Practicing gratitude can raise our natural happiness set point as much as 25%, which allows us to remain at a higher level of overall happiness regardless of outside circumstances.[1]

A 25% increase in overall happiness?  That’s a pretty good return on investment for any exercise, especially since exercising gratitude is so easy.  It’s easy because there’s always something to be grateful for.  Of course, we all experience times when we aren’t feeling very grateful.  But when we focus on something we’re grateful for in the midst of our most difficult times, our “gratitude shines a light on the darkness, the struggle, the difficulty and in the pockets of brightness, we notice the grace that seemed before to be hidden from view.”[2]  That ever-present grace lifts us from the depths of our troubles by allowing us to relive - to enjoy and linger on - the kind word, the companionship, the help, or the gift that we’re grateful for.  In the end, exercising gratitude, like any exercise, is our choice.  As you make that choice, think of the “glass half-full” and “glass half-empty” people in your life, and ask yourself, “Who’s happier?”  Personally, I aspire to Alphonse Karr’s worldview:   “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”[3]

                While exercising gratitude is easy, it does take practice to attain its full benefits.  So here are a few simple ways to exercise gratitude:

1.       Identify your obstacles to gratitude – perhaps envy, greed, pride, narcissism, entitlement, fear, inattention, or ego - and deal with them;
2.       Keep a gratitude journal – Each day write down one or two things that you’re grateful for and look back at past entries every once in a while;
3.       Learn a gratitude prayer – I like the last stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, We Thank Thee:  “For this new morning with its light, Father we thank Thee.  For rest and shelter of the night, Father we thank thee.  For health and food, for love and friends, for everything Thy goodness sends, Father in heaven, we thank Thee.”
4.       Write a thank you letter - You know how good it feels to get one.  It feels even better to send one;
5.       Hang out with people who are grateful – Gratitude, like misery, is infectious.  It’s your choice;
6.       Hang out with people who are less fortunate than you – ‘Nuff said. 

Pick one or two, and give it a try for a few weeks.  I guarantee that if you exercise gratitude every day, in a month’s time, you’ll be a happier, healthier person.  And there’s no better day to start than today – Thanksgiving Day – the day we dedicate to exercising gratitude.

[1] Robert Emmons, Thanks!:  How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).
[2] M. Renee Miller, A Guide to Spiritual Practice: Gratitude Practice.
[3] Alphonse Karr, A Tour of my Garden.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


My great-Aunt Louise died last weekend.  Here’s a reflection on a wonderful life well-lived.

            When I walked into Aunt Louise’s wake the other night, I was happy to see so many pictures of her gracing the easels set up around the room.  Her grandson, Michael, told me that Aunt Louise loved her pictures.  He would often find her flipping through her photo albums cherishing her memories as she reminisced about times past.  Having known her for nearly 50 of her 101 years, I recognized many of the people, family gatherings and life events captured in those pictures, but I learned a few things, too.  I learned that 101 years generates a lot of pictures; and I learned that Aunt Louise was quite the bathing beauty in her day.   But the pictures also confirmed what I already knew:  that Aunt Louise loved her life and the family and friends who shared it with her; and most importantly, that Aunt Louise understood that life is a priceless gift from God.

            In the Gospel passage proclaimed at Aunt Louise’s committal service, Jesus calls all of us to come and “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  (Matthew 25: 34)  Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is both in our midst, and there’s more to come.  You see, heaven isn’t a place; it’s a way of living.  So by humbling himself to take on our humanity, Jesus brought us a share in God’s life; he opened the gates of God’s Kingdom to us now and for all eternity.  That’s why we celebrate life at a Catholic funeral – not just the life of our loved one who died, but the promise of an eternal life of peace, love and happiness in God’s Kingdom for our beloved dead, and for us.

God’s Kingdom is ours for the taking, right now, if we choose.  So our challenge is to live the Kingdom now, to treasure life, enjoy it, and love it.  You know, Aunt Louise didn’t live a pollyannaish life that was practically perfect in every way.  She faced tough economic times, sickness, death and broken relationships like most people do.  Hard times notwithstanding, Aunt Louise still loved her life, she treasured it.  How do I know?  Because she herself was a treasure:

-         I know because In every snapshot in my mind of Aunt Louise, she’s smiling and laughing (and sometimes smacking Uncle Lou on the arm when he got too silly);

-         I know because she always spoke lovingly about her children, her grandchildren, her family and her friends;

-         I know because I’ve seen countless Facebook testimonies saying how sweet and special she was; and

-         I know because whenever Aunt Louise’s name is mentioned, the immediate response from everyone who knew her is:  “I love Aunt Louise.”

Aunt Louise proved that she understood her life as a priceless gift by living her life as a priceless gift.  We have every hope and expectation that she has inherited the Kingdom because she lived God’s Kingdom here on earth.

       I’m sure that each person who looked at the pictures at Aunt Louise’s wake the other night found a favorite among them.  My favorite is a picture of Aunt Louise walking along a roadside when Aunt Pauline and my mother were young girls (I think it was the last time Aunt Louise would have passed off as the tallest person in a picture).  The story goes that Aunt Louise, Aunt Pauline and my mother were driving with Uncle Lou to Pennsylvania when they got a flat tire.  So what did Aunt Louise do while Uncle Lou fixed the flat?  She didn’t gripe or complain; she took the girls to the side of the road to pick flowers.  They say a picture paints a thousand words, and that one speaks volumes to me.  But the hundreds, maybe even thousands of pictures that chronicle Aunt Louise’s life could never capture the treasure that she was because Aunt Louise was priceless.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Je Prie Pour Paris

                When I first heard that there was an attack in Paris, I didn’t turn on the news to find out what was going on.  To be honest, I couldn’t bear the thought of another terrorist attack.  I said a quick prayer that it would be an isolated incident and another for potential victims, then I went back to what I was doing.  As evening faded into night, I knew that I’d have to face reality at some point, so I checked the news.  To my horror, it wasn’t just one attack, it was several, with 118 people dead.  The number may be higher by now.  I felt a tremendous sense of solidarity with the people of France and profound sadness for the suffering that they were enduring, so I decided to do the best thing I can do in times like these:  Je prie pour Paris – I’m praying for Paris.

                In times of deep sadness, I often hear, “Why do we pray?  It doesn’t seem to do us any good anyway.  If God can’t change, then we can’t change the mind of God, so why bother praying?”  Such feelings have to be handled gently because they’re most often spoken by people who are at their lowest – at times when they really don’t feel that God is with them at all.  I understand the feeling; I’ve been there myself.  I’m sure we all have.  Perhaps ironically, these are the times when we need to pray the most.

                Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God, an act of spiritual communion by which we unite ourselves, our concerns and needs with God and with each other.  Through prayer we step into the transcendent, spiritual world to fill ourselves with God’s eternal love and share it with others.  It’s true that we can’t change the mind of God, but we don’t need to.  God’s mind is perfect.  In it we find perfect truth, justice and love.  We certainly don’t need to change that.  We need to unite ourselves with it so that we can have perfect truth, justice and love on earth as it is in heaven.  We do that through prayer, and it’s always effective.  Every act of prayer is an act of love, so with every prayer we bring a share of God’s love into the world. And love always triumphs over evil.

                Think for a moment about how many people around the globe are uniting themselves with the people of Paris through prayer.  Think about all of the religious services that will add special prayer intentions for the people of Paris this weekend; think about the prayer groups that will join hands in loving solidarity with all who died and all who suffer their loss; think about the countless rosaries that will rattle for the intercession of Our Lady of Paris; think about the small child, the little old lady, the soldier, the soccer Mom, the police officer and every individual who will pause for a moment to offer a prayer for peace, security and an end to terrorist attacks.  That’s a lot of love coming into the world, and if you thought about it for just that moment, you, too, joined the multitudes around the world in prayer. 

           Together, let’s post, share, tweet, and hashtag these simple words to bring a lot of love into a world that needs it:  Je prie pour Paris – I’m praying for Paris.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Prayer for Veterans

Lord God, Almighty Father,
Creator of humankind and author of peace,
As we are ever-mindful of the cost paid for the liberty we possess,
We ask you to bless our veterans, past, present and future.
Give them courage, hope and strength.
May they always experience your steadfast support, gentle love and merciful healing.
Be their comfort and protection as you lead them from darkness to light.
To you be all glory, honor and praise, now and forever.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

It’s All About Love

            Michael Banks is faced with a dilemma.  His father George wants him to invest his tu’ppence in the Dawes, Tomes, Mousely, Grubbes Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.  Michael just wants to use his tu’ppence to feed the birds.  His father and the bank directors assure him that that if he invests his tu’ppence in the bank, he’ll “achieve that sense of conquest as his affluence expands.”[1]  But just the night before, Mary Poppins had sung the words of the Bird Woman who sells bread crumbs on the steps of Saint Paul’s:  “Come feed the little birds, show them you care and you’ll be glad if you do.”[2]  Michael’s dilemma boils down to one thing.  It’s all about love, and that’s the message of today’s readings. 

          Our readings this morning call us to give special attention to the poor and powerless among us.  They call us to love.  In our first reading and in our Gospel, we’re introduced to the selfless widows who generously share all they have for the benefit of others.  And our second reading from Hebrews reminds us of God’s ultimate act of love:  Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross to take away our sins once for all.  These readings are all about love, and they challenge us to ask ourselves, “Whom do we love more, God or ourselves?”

          The answer to that question turns on our deepest convictions, on what we truly believe.  Our psalm this morning defines “God’s love “in terms of ‘justice for the oppressed’ . . ., ‘food for the hungry’ and ‘setting captives free.’”[3]  So believing in God isn’t so much an intellectual pursuit as it is moral action.  “When a man once asked the English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins what he must do in order to believe, Hopkins replied, ‘Give alms.’”[4]  So if we want to abide in God’s love, we have to attune ourselves to the needs of others.  If we truly love God, we have to truly, selflessly love our neighbor.  

          It’s not always easy to focus our attention on the needs of others.  We “dream of walking with giants, to carve our niche in the edifice of time.”[5]  Like the scribes, we tend to “gravitate toward anything that makes [us] the center.”[6]   Then, like the Banks family we get so caught up in ourselves and our own happiness and security that we give little thought to the needs of others.  We do this out of insecurity, fear and a lack of trust.  To give selflessly, we really have to trust that God will keep his promise of eternal happiness and that true happiness is found in loving God and neighbor.  Many of us, myself included, aren’t quite there yet.  So we spend our lives looking out for number one, guarding our financial and social status and worrying about what may lie ahead.   Sure, we donate to charity, we participate in charitable activities, but when we do these things, do we really put our self-interest aside and act solely for the benefit of others?  Do we selflessly love God and neighbor? 

Sadly, there’s almost always something we hold back.  It’s sad because “if we put all that we have and are at [God’s] disposal, he can do things with it and with us that are beyond our imaginings.”[7]  He can make us truly happy now and for all eternity.  Only one word can describe the joy we’ll experience if we give ourselves fully to God and neighbor – the biggest word you’ve ever heard and this is how it goes:  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

          So how do we get there?  Complete self-giving sounds like a pretty tall order.  Well, “[l]ike the widow, Christ is our model of faith, trust and complete giving of self for others.”[8]  And Jesus taught us that “his yoke is easy and his burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:30)  He might even say that “with every job that must be done there is an element of fun.  You find the fun and *snap* the job’s a game.”[9]  That’s because following Christ isn’t a matter of suffering grand gestures; we don’t have to bankrupt ourselves, donate everything to the poor and live a mendicant life in the streets to love God and neighbor.  As a certain “practically perfect in every way” nanny once said, “Sometimes a little thing can be quite important.”[10]

† We love God and neighbor selflessly when we lace our advice and direction with a spoonful of sugar instead of brimstone and treacle;

          † We love God and neighbor selflessly when we achieve a sense of conquest by investing our time, talent and treasure in the well-being of others;

† We love God and neighbor selflessly when we take a moment from our busy day to teach a little child how to fly a kite;

          † And yes, we love God and neighbor selflessly, when we give our tu’ppence to the little old Bird Woman and feed the birds. 

Trust me, you’ll be glad if you do because in the end, it’s all about love.

          Now, if you want to find out what happens with Michael Banks’ tu’ppence, you’ll have to come see today’s performance of Mary Poppins at 1:30 in the Immaculate Conception School Multi-Purpose Room.  But I will share with you a story told by Robert Sherman.  While he and his brother Richard were composing the music and lyrics for the 1964 motion picture Mary Poppins, they spent a lot of time pouring over the Mary Poppins books written by P.L. Travers.  As they read through a chapter in the first book called “The Bird Woman,” they realized that this chapter was the metaphor for why Mary came to 17 Cherry Tree Lane in the first place – to teach the Banks family the value of charity; to teach them how to love.  After they wrote “Feed the Birds,” they took it up to Walt Disney’s office and sang it for him.  “[Disney]  leaned back in his chair, looking out the window, and he said:  ‘That’s it, isn’t it?  That’s what this is all about.’”[11]  It’s all about love.

[1] “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,” Mary Poppins, Robert Stevenson, dir., Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2004.
[2] “Feed the Birds,” Mary Poppins.
[3] Biagio Mazza, “Authentic Discipleship,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 52, no. 11 (October 23-November 5, 2015) at 27.
[4] Robert Barron, “Lent Day 1 – Judged According to Love,” Lent Reflections with Fr. Robert Barron (March 5, 2015).
[5] “A Man has Dreams,” Mary Poppins.
[6] John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers:  Eating with the Bridegroom, Mark Year B (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2005) at 265.
[7] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) at 353.
[8] Mazza at 27.
[9] “A Spoonful of Sugar,” Mary Poppins.
[10] Mary Poppins.
[11] Tony Brown, “Finding ‘Mary Poppins’ from Book to Movie to Stage: Follow ‘Feed the Birds,’” The Plain Dealer (July 11, 2009),

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wise Choices

          Jynessa was just 13 years old when she smoked her first joint on a dare from her older sister. By age 17, she was an addict. In just four years, she had gone from a high-achieving, straight- A student and varsity softball catcher, to a high school senior who couldn’t handle more than four classes because she smoked marijuana several times a day.[1] Jynessa would be the first to tell you that she made bad choices. Our readings today are all about choices, but especially about how to make wise choices.

          In our first reading from the Book of Wisdom, King Solomon is given a choice: riches or wisdom? Solomon chose wisdom and soon discovered that “all good things came to him in her company, and countless riches at her hand.” Solomon made a good choice. In our Gospel, the rich man was also given a choice: treasures on earth or treasures in heaven? He chose earthly treasures, “and went away sad.” The rich man made a bad choice. Our readings teach us that the difference between a good choice and a bad choice is wisdom.

          Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit that enables us to know God’s purpose and plan. “Wisdom is not a reflection of academic brilliance but a consequence of an eager desire to do God’s will and give him glory.”[2] Wisdom helps us discern right from wrong. It helps us navigate difficult and contentious issues – to make good choices and avoid bad choices. Wisdom encourages us to live as Jesus taught us. Wisdom leads us to eternal life.

          So how do we get ourselves some of this wisdom? Well, “[a]cquiring true wisdom consists of trusting God and allowing him to lead and inspire us. . . . [W]isdom involves the effort to know the truth about history and the natural sciences as well as philosophy and theology.”[3] In short, obtaining wisdom requires a lot of humility and a little effort. But God in his great mercy has given us all of the tools we need to obtain his wisdom. These tools include scripture, our consciences and wise people.

          Let’s start with Scripture. As our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “the word of God is living and effective.” God’s word in sacred scripture speaks to all people in all times and in all circumstances. Scripture is filled with God’s Wisdom. We just need to crack open the Good Book to find it. Our conscience – it’s is our most secret core and sanctuary. In our conscience we’re alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths.[4] “The well-informed conscience has a genuine integrity that cannot be dismissed.”[5] That’s why we’re under a moral obligation to adhere to the cry of our well-informed conscience in all circumstances. Inform your conscience and listen to it. As Pope Francis warned just the other day, “When the devil manages to numb your conscience, he has won a real victory.”[6]

          God has also given us the gift of wise people. Wise people certainly can include those who have studied history, the natural sciences, philosophy or theology, but most importantly, wise people are those who learn from their mistakes, who inform and listen to their consciences and who make wise choices more often than not. Wise people tell you what you need to hear, which may not always be what you want to hear. But they always do it lovingly – the way Jesus spoke to the rich man in today’s Gospel. Surround yourself with wise people, listen to them, and never dismiss the elderly. Just because they may not be able to maneuver their way around a smartphone doesn’t mean that they aren’t wiser than you are.

          Life is filled with difficult choices. ONE VOICE, the coalition of local law enforcement and faith community leaders of which Monsignor Randy is a member, has asked that we address a particular difficult choice that our young people increasingly face right here in Hunterdon County: marijuana use. With the push in certain states to legalize recreational marijuana, our society has become somewhat numb to its dangers, particularly its danger to teens and young adults. Here are some facts:
- One in six adolescents who ever try marijuana will become addicted;[7]
- Adolescents who smoke marijuana once a week over a two-year period are almost six times more likely than nonsmokers to drop out of school and over three times less likely to attend college;[8]
- Persistent marijuana use from adolescence into young adulthood can result in verbal, learning, memory and attention deficits that can be permanent;[9]
- Today’s marijuana is five to ten times more potent than the marijuana available in the 1960s and 70s.[10]

          There are many more scary facts out there and also a lot of information that suggests that marijuana isn’t harmful at all. What I can tell you is that I didn’t just copy a bunch one-liners into this homily. I made sure that I found several respectable sources for each fact I mentioned – scientific, peer-reviewed studies that I’ve cited here in my text. From what I’ve seen, information claiming that marijuana is potentially dangerous is largely supported by research scientists, medical clinicians and law enforcement officials. Information claiming that marijuana is harmless is largely promoted by people who want to smoke more marijuana and by people who will profit from its wide-spread recreational use. I’ve weighed the evidence, I’ve considered my own observations, and I’ve examined my conscience on the issue. For what it’s worth, I’m convinced that recreational marijuana use can be very harmful, especially in adolescents and young adults. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Jynessa.

          Like Jynessa, our teens and young adults will be given a choice: smoke marijuana or don’t smoke marijuana? When faced with that choice, I hope you’ll turn to your well-informed conscience before you choose. Let’s face it, if someone hands you a joint, you probably won’t say, “Hold on a second while I crack open the Bible and call my mother and Deacon Mike for advice,” so I hope you’ll inform your conscience with the wisdom of scripture and the counsel of wise people long before you’re ever given that choice. And always remember that you’re never alone. God speaks to you in your conscience at all times, in all places and in all circumstances, especially when you’re being tempted with a bad choice. Listen to him and – please, please, please – make wise choices.

[1] Jenny Brundin, “Addicted Teen Struggles to Break Marijuana Habit,” Colorado Public Radio, March 20, 2014,
[2] “The Book of Wisdom,” Didache Bible (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2014), note, Wisdom 7: 6.
[3] Id. at note, Wisdom 7:7-21.
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1776.
[5] John W. Martens, “The Spirit of Wisdom,” America, vol. 214, no. 9 (October 5, 2015) at 38.
[6] Pope Francis, Homily at Daily Mass (October 9, 2015).
[7] J.C. Anthony, L.A. Warner and R.C. Kessler, “Comparative Epidemiology of Dependence on Tobacco, Alcohol, Controlled Substances and Inhalants:  Basic Findings from the National Comorbidity Survey,” Experiential and Clinical Psychopharmacology (1994) at 2; Wayne Hall, “What Has Research Over the Past Two Decades Revealed About the Adverse Health Effects of Recreational Cannabis Use?” Addiction, vol. 110 at 23, 30.
[8] D.M. Ferguson, et al., “Cannabis and Educational Achievements,” Addiction, vol. 98, no.12 (2003); Hall at 24, 30.
[9] M.H. Meier, “Persistent Cannabis Uses Show Neuropsychological Decline from Childhood to Midlife,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2012); Hall at 23-24, 30.
[10] M.A. El Sohly, S.A. Ross, Z. Mehmedic, R. Arafat, B. Yi and B.F. Banahan, “Potency Trends of Delta9-THC and other Cannabinoids in Confiscated Marijuana from 1980-1997,” Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 45, no. 1 (2004) at 24-30; Z. Mehmedic, S. Chandra, D. Slade, H. Denham, S. Foster, A.S. Patel, et. al, “Potency Trends of Delta9-THC and other Cannabinoids in Confiscated Marijuana from 1993-2008,” Forensic Science, vol. 55 (2010) at 1209-17.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

United in God’s Love

A wedding homily for a wonderful couple.

          All-American boy meets Greek-American girl.  They fall in love and get engaged.  He converts to her religion, not because she wanted him to, but because he wanted to be closer to her.  Their families and backgrounds are different, but each complements the other in wonderful ways.  Sound familiar?  Well, it should because that’s the story of Toula Portokalos and Ian Miller in the 2002 box office hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Whether life imitates art or art imitates life doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you’ve found the secret to a perfect marriage:  you’re united in God’s love.  And that’s what our readings are talking about.

          In our first reading from Genesis, we learn that God created woman to make a suitable partner for man, and that in God’s providence suitable doesn’t mean identical; it means complementary.  In our second reading, Saint Paul reminds us that “God has gifted [us] with diverse gifts and functions”[1] but without love, these gifts are useless.  Our Gospel passage explains why:  love unites us with God and with each other.  “Love is the absolute norm that must govern the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit.”[2]

          Let’s face it, men and women are different.  We’re not meant to be the same; we were created to be different.  “No one person can have all the gifts and perform all the functions.”[3]  No one person can clean up Justin’s mess.  So our goal in life, and especially in marriage, isn’t to conform our being to another person’s; we’re not called to lose our individual identities.  Our goal is to appreciate each other’s differences and use them for mutual benefit.  This fact is particularly evident in marriage.  Think of marriage as a voyage of two ships to the same port.  “Grapple the two vessels together, lash them side by side, and the first storm will smash them to pieces. . . .  But leave the two vessels apart to make their voyage to the same port, each according to its own skill and power, and an unseen life connects them, a magnetism [that] cannot be forced.”[4]  That unseen life, that magnetism, that unifying factor is God’s love.    

          God’s love is the unifying force that allows us to exercise our gifts for the benefit of others.  “The proper movement of love begins with attention to the needs of the other person.”[5]  Love isn’t jealous; it’s not pompous; it doesn’t seek its own interest.  Love is patient; love is kind.  Love respects differences.  As the great American contemplative Thomas Merton said, "The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image."  When we truly love, when we enter together into God’s love, we understand that God created the person we love just as he or she is for a reason.  When we truly love, we join with God in loving the one we love.  It’s always through God that we find unity in love, notwithstanding our differences.  And what God has joined, man cannot divide.

          Loving isn’t always easy.  Life is hard; it involves sickness and death and unimaginably tragic circumstances.  It’s in the challenging times that our differences can become grating and can disrupt our unity.  So it’s especially in the difficult times that we have to challenge ourselves to love, as hard as that may be.  As the poet Kahlil Gibran said, “When love beckons to you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep.”[6]  If you follow the ways of love, you’ll be united in God’s love in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health because “[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”

          Jess and Justin:  you are two wonderful, talented, fun people.  It’s been such a blessing for me to meet you and your families – even Greg – and to journey with you over the past year as you prepared for this special day.  In that time, I’ve learned that you have many similarities, and a few differences.  You’re not identical, but you complement each other in wonderful ways.  What has impressed me most about you as a couple is how much you appreciate your differences.  Nearly every time I pointed out differences identified in the FOCCUS survey, I’d quickly learn that you were already aware of them, and that you’d worked out how to use them for your mutual benefit as a couple.  You’ve found the formula for a perfect marriage:  You are united in God’s love.  I think the only issue that isn’t fully resolved is Justin’s iTunes obsession.  And the only advice I can give you on that one, Jess, is to “Let it go, let it go . . . .”  Sorry, wrong movie.  Well, if that fails, follow Gus Portokalos’ advice in My Big Fat Greek Wedding:  Put a little Windex on him, it cures everything.

Readings:  Genesis 2: 18-24; Psalm 33; 1 Corinthians 12: 31-13: 8a; John 17: 20-26.

[1] Maria A. Pascuzzi, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2009) at 532.
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Rabbi Marc Gellman, “Jesus’ Miracle,”, December 21, 2005. 
[5] J. Paul Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002) at 952. 
[6] Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1983) p. 11.