27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Bishop of Lake Charles
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 4, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
The union of man and woman in marriage is a crowning moment in the work of God’s creation. We read about that moment in the Book of Genesis. God realizes that a need exists. “It is not good for the man to be alone,” He states. “I will make a suitable partner for him” (Genesis 2:18). Once Eve has been formed, Adam responds, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her-man’ this one has been taken” (Genesis 2:23).
Thus begins the history of a union that God sanctions and protects. Enshrined in the Decalogue, the sacred law secures the rights of the couple. “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The writings of wisdom in the Old Testament remind man that he must avoid the adulteress, “Who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the pact with her God” (Proverbs 2:17). In the later writings of the Old Testament, after the exile, marriage is spoken of in the most exalted and poetic forms, as when Raguel gives her daughter, Sarah, in marriage to Tobiah. “She is yours according to the decree of the Book of Moses,” Raguel declares. “Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven! Take your kinswoman; from now on you are her love, and she is your beloved. She is yours today and ever after” (Tobit 7:11). From the very beginning, any devout Jew understood that God’s hand was in every marriage. In a charming and beautiful passage in the Book of Genesis, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The prayer of the servant is a model of confidence in God’s plan. “Lord, God of my father Abraham, may it be your will to make successful the errand I am engaged in! While I stand here at the spring, if I say to a young woman who comes out to draw water, Please give me a little water from your jug, and she answers, Not only may you have a drink, but I will give water to your camels, too—let her be the woman whom the Lord has decided upon for my master’s son” (Genesis 24:42-44). It is true that Mosaic Law had made provisions for imperfections in human relationship, but the biblical ideal surpassed these. This ideal is brought to Jesus for further transformation.
Jesus takes marriage and enshrines it as a Sacrament. Marriage will become in the teachings of Jesus a sign of the Divine presence. God will dwell in the midst of the couple, sanctifying their spiritual as well as their bodily union. It is a question from the Pharisees that occasions this great teaching. “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2). Again, Mosaic Law admitted the harsh reality of separation and divorce. However, Jesus counters this solution to the problem. He answers, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment” (Mark 10:5). Then, Jesus to prove His teaching quotes the passage from our first reading in Genesis. From the beginning God did not intend it this way.
Jesus is taking the institution of marriage and returning it to the Garden of Eden. A great many accommodations were made for the weakness of man and woman, since the original fall into sin. Now, however, a new kingdom of Grace is being proclaimed. Jesus has come to restore what was lost. The marriage of a Christian man and woman is something entirely new because it reflects an original intent. “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mark 10:9).
In the Kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed, marriage is a sacrament that reflects the union of Christ with His Church. St. Paul, following this teaching, understood it quite well. St. Paul writes in Ephesians, “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall becomes one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:28-32). The “great mystery” is that every marriage of Christian man and woman should reflect the union of Christ with the Church. In every Christian marriage, the husband and wife hold up a mirror to themselves and see a reflection of Christ and the Church.
The “World”, as Jesus spoke of it, tries to destroy this “great mystery.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York in a recent address to a national gathering of the Knights of Columbus said that the real vocation crisis in the Church today is marriage. Failing to see the truth about marriage is the real crisis. We must ask ourselves what is the “great mystery” about marriage? Much could be said, but I would like to point out one aspect of the “great mystery” and the crisis it faces.
The World belittles and de-emphasizes the necessity of the Church. All that is needed, it says, is a personal relationship between you and God. For what purpose do we need a Church? In doing this, the World, I think, denies the wife. For St. Paul the Church is the wife of Christ. Deny the Church, and Christ has no spouse, and union becomes meaningless. The next step is to deny commitment, because marriage is one of the greatest of commitments. The World will say that commitments are transitory and ideals impossible to live. Once the Church and commitments are disposed of, then the next step is to deny the value of the human body. In doing this, the words of St. Paul are reversed. St. Paul thought that no one could really hate his own flesh, but the World with its denial of commitments tells us that hatred of self is all too possible. The World will tell us that human sexuality is dirty and prove it so with promiscuity. St. Paul will teach, on the other hand, that the union of man and woman is a beautiful gift, transformed by the Grace of Christ. “You have been purchased at a price,” he writes. “Therefore glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:20). A husband and wife have a right to each other in this transforming union. “Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer” (I Corinthians 7:5).
The “great mystery” that Christ taught and St. Paul preached is that every Christian husband and wife is a reflection of a higher union between Christ and His Church. Every Christian marriage is a sacred zone, to be reverenced and honored. The World may teach otherwise, but the Christian should know better. The “great mystery” is that every Christian marriage is a living sermon about a union that God intended for His Church with His Son. The “great mystery” is that every Christian marriage returns a husband and wife to the Garden of Eden, when there was no shame in human sexuality. Shame is a result of sin. The Christian, on the other hand, lives in Grace. For him or her, the body is a gift from God and marriage is the “great mystery” of perfect union.