My Aunt Dot was 86 years old. And she was ready to go home. She missed her husband desperately in the 18 years since he died, and she had increasing mental and physical health issues that weighed on her. And so on Monday, surrounded by her family, she quietly slipped free from the bonds of this earth, there to be reunited with her beloved Duggan. (Doug) Did she recognize him, when she reached heaven? Did he still know her?” We’ve all heard those questions before.
What I believe and what our faith tells us is that “yes, yes she will.” All that we have loved becomes a part of who we are, part of what we take into the life beyond this life. In the beauty of the communion of Saints, love is forever.
That being said, what’s with Jesus’ answer about marriage in today’s Gospel? The Sadducees, who do not believe there is a life beyond this life, pose their hypothetical question which is not about marriage at all. Rather, it is about the afterlife: specifically a woman, who married each of seven brothers in succession. You can hear their cynicism as they get to the punch line: “Now, at the “resurrection”, whose wife will that woman be?” Jesus’ response? “I can tell you spent a lot of time on this question. It’s just the wrong question to ask.”
“Those deemed worthy to attain the coming age neither marry nor are given in marriage” Jesus tells us. Marriage is not an end in itself. Authentic marriage never was, and never will be an end in itself; so too, our best friendships. Marriage is more a means to the end, the launch pad for everything else. And everything else is described this way by the Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh. “Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone… If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone… This is the real message of love.”
And THAT, my friends, is the best reason I could ever give to be married. And that is also the best reason I could ever give to dare a deep friendship. Marriage and friendships are training grounds for the soul. They are meant to open us up THROUGH this one relationship to better love this entire world. Marriage is not an end in itself. Nor is friendship.
And so a different way to summarize the response of Jesus: “No, you won’t be married the way you are talking about it. And you won’t need that. Yes, that person will still be a part of who you are, and you a part of them. But there is something much bigger here, for your love will become like the love of angels – a love that is there for ALL.”
Here is the kicker, we need to learn on earth how to be open to that in heaven. Each particular relationship is to help forge our souls for the BIGGER unity. My friendship to this one person is meant to help break stuff down in me that needs to be broken down. My marriage is where I learn to let go of the walls and protections I tend to surround myself with, so I can be more present to whomever is before me. And if my marriage/celibacy/friendship with one person does not make me more loving and caring for everyone, then something is not healthy and it needs to change. A good and healthy and holy relationship will always make me more loving to all. This one friendship/ marriage to this one person is to show me the God who is Love here so that I can find the God who is Love in everyone, everywhere.
And even when this marriage or friendship fails, or does not last for any reason, it still – even in its failure – can bring out the best about love and for love in us.
I smiled at the funeral with the image of my Aunt Dot having a great reunion – with her husband Duggan, my uncles Wally and Joe and my own dad. All that we have loved becomes a part of who we are, part of what we take into the life beyond this life. But I hope she’ll know in its fullness that which Thích Nhất Hạnh said so powerfully:
“Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone… If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone…”