Two friends got married yesterday. For the first reading, they chose this passage about friendship from Ecclesiasticus (6:14-17):
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price;
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
and those who fear the Lord will find them.
Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,
for as they are, so are their neighbours also.
Here are a couple of thoughts – not the whole sermon, just the reflection on friendship:
It’s a lovely thing that they were friends for a good period before they started dating, because it helps them to see that friendship is the foundation even of the great romance that has brought them to marriage.
An enduring friendship, through all the inevitable ups and downs of life, is a key part of what sustains a marriage. It’s why the word ‘honour’ is so important in the marriage rite. You honour a person for who they are, for what their innate dignity deserves, and not just because you happen to love them.
The last verse of the reading is particularly thought-provoking: “Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright, for as he is, so is his neighbour also”. As you are, so will your friend be, so will your spouse be.
A simple interpretation of this is to say that ‘like attracts like’, we are drawn to people who are similar to us – and there is some truth to that.
But a deeper meaning is this: that the person you choose to be at any moment will have a formative effect on your spouse. If you are loving, patient, cheerful, forgiving; this will have an effect, for the good, on your spouse. If you are ratty, resentful, complaining, mistrustful; the chances are, before too long, so will your spouse be too.
Everyone wishes that their husband or wife were more loving, more perfect. The secret is to be more loving yourself. The effects, as anyone knows, are not always immediate (if only they were!). But if you want your spouse to be good, and you want your friendship to last, there is no clearer path than trying to be a good person yourself; and persevering on that path.
And, since I’m cutting and pasting, a final section about the openness of a couple within marriage:
There is a special beauty about a marriage that is open to God and open to the gift of children. It’s hard to describe, but it’s true.
If you live your Catholic faith, and pray together, and make your home and family a place of faith and holiness – in one sense it makes you less intensely focussed on each other.
You can’t say to each other, like in the romantic novels, ‘You are everything to me’ or ‘You are my all’, because it’s simply not true. There’s God also, there’s life after death, there’s the family, there’s all the other stuff too. (Now I’m not a hardliner; and we’ll allow you a bit of romance and exaggerated lovers’ language.)
But in a strange way, the fact that two people are less focussed on each other (because of their faith) allows them to love each other more freely, with more passion and more purity. And you really see this.
It’s not a bargain, as if to say, ‘If you love God, he will bless your marriage’. It’s a spiritual truth, that your openness to God in faith, and your openness to the gift of children that he may send you, will have a direct effect on your openness to each other in love and friendship.