4 October 2009


A homily given today on the Sacrament of Marriage.

Wk 27, OT, Yr B

One day a bishop was visiting children before their confirmation and he asked one small boy, “What is matrimony?” The nervous young man said: “A place where souls suffer for a time for their sins!” “No, no” said the parish priest, “that is purgatory”. “Let him be” said the bishop, “he could be right, what do you and I know about it?” Indeed, what do I, a celibate man know about marriage? Well, I know what Scripture says, and I know what Jesus says in today’s Gospel and I know what the Church teaches!

The temptation to think of marriage as an outdated mode of living together that has served its purpose is roundly refuted by today’s reading from Genesis. We did not think up marriage as a convenient way of organising society. Rather it has always been God’s plan for man and woman to be together as one. The very first action of God in relation to us as a community is to create woman from the rib of Adam.

Many will point to this action of God’s and present the case to show women are, therefore, less than the totality of man, or that they are but a part of man. These people are simply wrong! There is no evidence to suggest that women are subservient to men, indeed it demonstrated that we are all made of the same flesh. We are all created in love by the one God. No marriage will succeed if there is anything less than absolute equality.

That is not to say that men and women are the same. No. They are complimentary to one another; they fit together and, as Jesus says: “they are no longer two but one flesh”. Anselm Grün, in his book: The Seven Sacraments says “husband and wife become one flesh, which terminates any kind of dualism. Our longing for unity is fulfilled in marriage. Human beings suffer from division.”

It is deep within us that we should be together and this is perfectly achieved within a happy marriage with sexual union, the fruit of which is, of course, children. How often do we describe a child as God’s blessing upon a marriage?

Walter Schubart wrote, movingly, of this human longing for unity. He says: “We can hear the distant roar of the ocean’s power in a tiny shell, and in the sound of our beloved breathing we sense nature as a whole. You are made to be freed from this loneliness, it says. Now you can leave yourself and meet the one person to whom you can say You with utter tenderness. He or she is your helpmate, and leads you to God. Ultimately, love between the sexes takes a human being into the arms of the Deity, and removes the gulf between me and you, me and the world, the world and God.”

The Compendium to the Catechism describes the goods of marriage as: “the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children.” A family is, therefore, rightly described as the Domestic Church. The essence of the whole Church is present in a loving family where each family member exercises their “baptismal priesthood and contributes towards making a family a community of grace and of prayer, a school of human and Christian virtue.” This is the lived reality of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Like all the sacraments, it is the visible manifestation of the invisible reality which each partner promises on the day of their wedding.

When Jesus says “let no one separate what God has joined”, He speaks of the indissolubility of marriage. God has, if you like, created the marriage and, therefore, it is not within the power of man to dissolve that marriage. There can be no divorce, no matter how much we may want it, how much we may justify it or how often we experience it. This is why the Church has always rejected divorce, as it rejects adultery, polygamy and bigamy. It is of God which we speak.

Marriage is not, however, an ideal to which we aspire, never expecting to achieve it. It is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy; far from it. You and I come from parents who, almost as soon as they were created, were ejected from Eden because of their choices. We are a sinful people, and we are in need of God’s love and mercy and compassion, and He is a compassionate God.

Of course we go astray. Of course we live lives that are not worthy of the name Christian. Of course we are challenged by the teaching of the Church. We must, however, not heap sin upon sin by falling victim to pride and begin to write the teachings of Christ as we would have them written. It is such a temptation: to imagine that I know best. Because what I ‘feel’ is love it must be of God and, therefore, the Church’s ancient Tradition must be wrong. Not so, not so. John Henry Cardinal Newman once said that to the Pope, yes, but to my conscience first. The best guidance we can have, if not the Tradition of the Church, is a well informed conscience to which we are honest with ourselves in the light of God’s direction.

Whatever state in which we find ourselves: let in the love of God. He created us, male and female, He created us. We are his loving creation and he seeks only to love us. He is closer to us than the air we breathe. His love is unconditional and though we sometimes find the road hard, He is there to guide us and bring us to eternal life with him. We can, confidently, agree with the psalmist who says: “May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.”



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