And the two shall become one...
(Scriptures for today's Mass)
Audio for homily
We live in a culture often bold in its dismissive disregard
Favoring the needs and desires of the individual, of the self,
we can be quick to expect and demand, to legislate,
that the rights of the many be sacrificed for the rights of a few.
The culture jealously guards the rights and feelings of individuals
often to the point where it’s deemed incorrect, wrong,
to propose or profess or defend an ideal,
even when it’s acknowledged that the ideal can’t always be realized.
As a result, something good, something from which all might benefit,
is sometimes silenced in public discourse
lest some might feel slighted, criticized or judged.
When judgment becomes a culture’s capital sin
then the pursuit of truth and excellence is bound to suffer
as infidelity and failure begin, by default, to border on the virtuous.
It’s in just such a cultural, philosophical mix
that we hear these scriptures today:
the Lord’s word on the indissolubility of marriage.
Judging from what I hear and read, Catholics agree and disagree
with elements of the Church’s teaching on marriage.
In the heat of the current debate over same-sex marriage,
we should take care not to lose sight of more pervasive realities
that have, for a long time, threatened the institution of marriage,
the fabric of family life and, indeed, our culture.
• Consider how the influence of families and churches
over young peoples’ sexual conduct grows increasingly permissive
and, not surprisingly, less significant.
This is true in particular with regard to decisions to cohabitate
as a way of exploring a relationship
even long before the question of marriage
is on a young couple’s shared kitchen table.
• Consider the failing attendance statistics for Sunday worship
and how the number of marriages celebrated in Catholic churches
has plummeted over the last 25 years leaving faith communities
with increasingly less involvement and influence
in preparing engaged couples for married life.
For example, the directory of the Archdiocese of Boston reports that
while in 2002, archdiocesan parishes celebrated 7,263 weddings,
in 2011, only 3,012 weddings were celebrated in Catholic ceremonies --
less than half the number of Catholic Church weddings 10 years ago.
• Add to all of this how little is left in the culture at large to support
the hope, the prayer, the promise a bride and groom make
to love and be faithful to each other
“for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer;
in sickness and in health, until death.”
While couples still speak these or similar words at their weddings,
whether at a church or in a town hall,
it’s often the case that they, their families and certainly their culture
no longer believe in what’s being pledged
or in any way hold the couple accountable to their promise.
In fact, about 4 in 10 marriages in the United States end in divorce.
These issues have been steeping in our culture
for at least the last half-century.
While the issue of the day may be same sex marriage,
it’s at our own peril that we fail to attend
to broader and deeper realities undermining our society
and the vitality of family life.
A huge question facing Catholic Christians is this:
• How do we propose, profess, defend and invite couples
to consider our ideal of marriage,
with faithfulness to the scriptures and appropriate sensitivity
to people’s individual circumstances?
• How do we call engaged couples to pledge their love and fidelity
as a sacramental promise,
in an age when so many promises are so often broken?
• How do parents, how does a family,
how does a parish religious education program
speak to children today of what the scriptures and the Church teach
about married love, sexuality and family life?
• For that matter, how does a pastor preach, this morning,
about the indissolubility of marriage
in a parish where so many have lovingly and painstakingly worked
to heal and hold together the children and family relationships
that suffer when a marriage and its promises have failed?
In the gospel today we heard Jesus call the people beyond
the accommodation Moses had once made for divorce
-- to a greater, deeper, more generous fidelity.
2,000 years later, our circumstances and our questions about marriage
are in some ways different and in some ways the same.
But the Lord calls us to the same ideal, to a particular kind of love,
marked by fidelity and a generous spirit of sacrifice
-- for the sake of the marriage, for the needs of others,
for a lifetime.
Not all marriages will meet or achieve this ideal
but unions grounded in anything less
than such beautiful and demanding promises
will have little hope of success.
Those who marry in Christ sacramentally
are called to image in their union
the love Christ has for the Church.
The scriptures often image Christ as a groom
and us, his people, as his bride.
To this marriage of Christ and the Church,
Jesus is ever faithful,
generously sacrificing himself for us -- even to death.
This altar is the table of the wedding feast of the Lamb of God
where we are nourished, intimately,
with the very Body and Blood of the One who loves us.
No love greater than his will ever be ours.
May his be the love that blesses us all:
married, single, widowed and divorced,
and may his be the love we share with one another.
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