My wife’s parents, Gerry and Brenda Meyer, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August of 2008. They renewed their vows at a special Mass. This is my homily for that occasion.
Last week, Maureen Dowd, the columnist for the New York Times, wrote about all the celebrity divorces going on. People like Christie Brinkley and A-Rod, she concluded, had married the wrong people – and Dowd wanted to find out what people should look for in a spouse. So she spoke with a priest in New Jersey, Father Pat Connor, 79 years old, who for 40 years has been giving a lecture to high school girls called “Whom Not To Marry.” And Fr. Connor gave his two cents worth.
It contains a lot of common sense wisdom: Never marry someone who doesn’t have friends; make sure he has a sense of humor; check out if he’s responsible with money; see what his family is like. And avoid the strong, silent type. More marriages, he said, are killed by silence than violence.
Good advice, I thought. And if you had to boil it all down to just one sentence, it would be what we just heard in the gospel.
Build your house on rock. It’s really that simple. Find solid ground. Build on rock.
When I was looking over this gospel, it got me to thinking about the house Gerry and Brenda have built, and lived in, for most of their marriage. And that house tells part of their story.
I can still remember the first time I came to your front door, to pick up your daughter for a date, over 30 years ago. I’ve been to that door hundreds of times since then. Spending time around the kitchen table. Thanksgivings in the dining room. Christmases in the rec room, the floor littered with wrapping paper…and the house overflowing with people and food and music.
Like so many houses, it has been a place for joys, and sorrows, laughter and tears. A place for making plans and sharing dreams. A place where children took their first steps, where grandchildren visited, and puppies struggled – not always successfully — to be housebroken.
It has been a place where the door is always open, the light is always on, arms always waiting in welcome.
That has been your house.
That has also been your marriage.
One of the great joys of my life has been being a part of your family, and watching your marriage unfold. It’s made me realize that, frankly, at this late date, there is nothing I can tell you about marriage that you don’t already know. I imagine there is a lot you could tell ME.
Probably the best homily about your 50 years of marriage is right here, in these pews.
It is in the friends you have gathered around you — the family you have chosen for yourselves.
And it is in the faith that has brought you to these pews today — your love for the God who loves you. I know this mass is your way of celebrating your 50 years together, and of offering thanks to God. But I think that HE is probably thanking YOU. To a doubting and skeptical world, you have shown what a long and happy marriage looks like.
In a moment, you will renew the vows you made to one another 50 years ago.
But I think you have already renewed them, and continue to, every day of your lives.
If there is any secret to making a marriage last, I think maybe that is it.
It’s vowing to love and honor and care for one another, not just on that first day, when there’s the pretty dress and the flowers and the music. But every day: when life is all flannel pajamas and a leaking roof and a car that won’t start and kids who are sick.
It’s a promise kept. And renewed. Every morning. And every night. Across half a century.
It is weathering the storms – while the wind howls and the walls shake…and then you realize, with a sense of blessed relief, that it’s not the wind.
It’s just the person next to you, snoring.
And it is loving the snoring. And the quarreling. And the thousands of small negotiations that go on every day between a husband and wife. Because it reminds you that you are alive. And you are loved. And you are in love.
And your joy is complete. Because, as St. Paul reminded the people of Corinth: love never fails.
That house on Greenlane Court has changed over the years. You’ve built a new kitchen, a garage, added another level. It’s a little different from the house that you built.
But so is your marriage. And that’s how it should be. Change is a part of life. We grow. We adapt. We adjust. Christ’s first miracle was at a wedding, and it was all about change – turning water into wine. The miracle of this sacrament is one of transformation.
But you’ve reminded us that a marriage, like a house, will only survive change, and stand, when it’s made of the right materials. And they’re not the kind you find at Home Depot.
You’ve secured the walls with patience, and tenderness and prayer. You’ve installed a heating system that is cooled by laughter. And you have made sure that the roof is supported with love. Love for one another. Love for your children. Love for God.
Gerry and Brenda, what more can I say?
You have built your house on rock.