Gn 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16 or 10:2-12
October 3, 2021
Thank you very much for your very generous donations to the Salt Lake Priests Retirement Fund: $1420!
Today’s readings seem specifically designed to make us feel really bad. We all have loved ones and people we really care about who have been divorced and we probably know some who are remarried without obtaining a proper annulment. Because the incidence of divorce in our culture is so common we have to understand this phenomenon in a larger social context while also recognizing the pain in each individual occurrence. So hopefully today, we might go away from Mass just feeling bad rather than being weighed down with tremendous guilt. We can even allow ourselves to feel hopeful. I believe we are actually in the throes of a great breakthrough moment in the Church, if not yet in the wider American culture.
One of the better lines I can remember from my six years in the seminary was from a Marriage and Family class where we were advised that, “Marriage preparation begins in second grade.” This line makes an extremely important point both in its understanding of how complex and challenging marriage is, and thus the need for more focused preparation at as early a point as possible. But also, it acknowledges how central the sacrament of matrimony is to the whole mission of the Church and the functioning of a stable society. Jesus is not emphasizing how bad divorcees are, but rather how important marriage is.
It doesn’t take long to realize that most Catholics (and everyone else) get married and are probably thinking about it from the middle school years on. If you talk to young people you will realize that most do not want to be alone, but rather hope to at least ‘hook up’ in some fashion eventually. Ultimately this is inevitable because humans are wired for ‘becoming one flesh’. We have this irresistible attraction energy in us that needs to be fulfilled. It’s central to our very sense of being and identity and central to our spirituality. To fully appreciate the needs and desires of the human person requires a sacramental understanding of life and the universe. As Americans we are put at a bit of a disadvantage since we have been becoming an increasingly secular culture over the past few decades. Even to whatever extent we have been Christians, we are predominantly Protestant and hence in most cases deliberately NOT sacramental.
St. John Paul II helped us to understand the centrality and beauty of matrimony in a series of his teachings which has come to be known as the Theology of the Body. An important point he emphasizes comes out of the gospel and first reading today. When explaining his teachings on divorce and why Moses allowed men to write of bill of divorce to decouple from their wives was because of the ‘hardness of their hearts’. Due to minimal marriage preparation or a pervasive failure to communicate and recognize the sacredness of the other person, people become jaded, and dulled and hardened. They seem to reach a point where they simply lack the capacity for genuine intimacy, for making a total gift of self to the others.
And then Jesus goes on to say that, “but from the beginning of creation God made them male and female and the two become one flesh and what God has joined, humans cannot separate.” The calling to marriage comes from God with the intended purpose of becoming a perfect union that reflects the very image of God. Today we are reading from the Gospel of Mark, but in this similar episode in the gospel of Matthew Jesus adds the phrase, ‘that was not so.’ “From the beginning that was not so.” From the beginning the hearts were not so hardened. So we have to ask ourselves, what was going on ‘in the beginning’. We recall in going back to the creation story that in the beginning Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and were able to experience the harmony and order that God intended for the world. What He creates each day was ‘good’ and somehow flowed out of a Divine plan where everything was ordered to everything else. Adam and Eve saw the world as God saw it and experienced the harmony of all life. It even says that they were ‘naked without shame.’ They saw each other as the Divine reflection of the God that created them. But right after they ate from the Tree o Knowledge it says that ‘their eyes were opened’, which meant that their human vision kicked in. They now went from seeing and experiencing the harmonious and complementary world that God created to seeing everything through the distorted and myopic lense of human vision. If we continue to read the next seven chapters of Genesis we see the inevitable human catastrophe that results from the distortion and confusion of the human mind.
But more importantly is the main point that humans were meant to have, and indeed DO HAVE the capacity to recapture this sense of transcendent oneness that existed in the beginning. Because of the power of grace that flows from the faithful living out of the sacraments, humans can have a very real ‘foot in heaven’ even right here on earth, not in the fullness of Heaven, but a real step forward into the personal presence of God and the God in each one of us. This access to the living, transcendent experience of God is also just as available to those called to celibacy; those called to the single life of one type or another. We tend to waaaaay under interpret sexuality and love in general.
John Paul II referred to marriage as the primordial sacrament and that it existed before Christ …. ‘from the very beginning’. The inclination to become one flesh (which is never completely separate from the soul) prefigures the Eucharist where we are called to ‘become one body, one spirit in Christ.’ The end point of all our efforts is the heavenly wedding banquet we are told in Revelation. Not the heavenly 4th of July picnic or the heavenly Thanksgiving dinner or EVEN the heavenly Super Bowl party. Interestingly, in the heavenly WEDDING banquet, the Church teaches that no one is married!
The journey to heaven or the journey to transcendent oneness is obviously not easy. It is in fact impossible without the grace from the faithful living out of the sacraments. As with Jesus, as we are told in the second reading today, we are perfected in suffering. By imitating Christ’s love, we are also expecting to imitate His suffering; a suffering that has meaning because it is part of our purification process; a process that allows us to experience the depth of love for which we were created FROM THE BEGINNING.
Your marriages are one of the greatest gifts to the Church. It’s very important that probably the most powerful personal witness you have to the presence of God and grace in your life is your marriage that has weathered the ‘purification’ process. It’s something very tangible, and yet full of mystery, that you can point to when evangelizing your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even though many of the children may have rejected the religion you have attempted to pass along to them, many are seeking all kinds of help from you. This is a good time to mention, in just the perfect tone of course, that your participation in the Church is largely why you have any capacity to help them in the first place. That might sink in a little…. Or might NOT.
At the beginning of this homily I mentioned that the message was not just about guilt and grief, but it actually has a strong message of HOPE. There is a very real renewal going on in the Church. We live in a very complex and mysterious world so we might expect to be confused and struggling much of the time. Sacraments themselves are visible signs that point to a fuller reality which we cannot see.
One of the gifts of our global pandemic has been the wider usage and development of ZOOM conferences and webinars. Where formerly only a few hundred or less may show up at a retreat, seminar or conference, now thousands can attend from their own homes and churches at a more suitable time. A couple months ago I ‘attended’ a virtual conference on the Theology of the Body where 70 Thousand people had logged in. We were able to hear a variety of around 50 persons and couples give a personal witness to the power of God and grace in their lives especially in marriage. Several others shared about negotiating the complexity of relationships as single persons. It is indeed inspiring to hear such a well catechized and personal witness coming from mostly younger people. (Of course by younger I mean forty and under). Later in the week please check out our website at kanabcatholicchurch.org for some samples of resources to investigate this newer and dynamic evangelization. Even though most of you have been married for some time now, it might be interesting to become sufficiently familiar with some of the resources so you can more spontaneously explain things more effectively and to refer others to these learning opportunities.
Now as we continue to enter more deeply into this sacred mystery this morning, let’s ask God to help us stretch a little more to receive Him more deeply into our lives and relationships.