Homily for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)
Audio for homily
Perhaps you can imagine in how many different ways
these readings on marriage and divorce
will touch different peoples’ hearts.
• The couple whose wedding I celebrated last week might well take joy
in hearing these words of scripture echo the loving promises,
made in faith, that so recently joined them as one in marriage.
• Married couples in healthy marriages might be strengthened
by the same words, reminded of the solemn pledge they made
on their wedding day, perhaps decades ago.
• Couples in troubled marriages might be stung by these readings,
remembering their initial fervor but so conscious of the difficulties,
the problems and trials that burden their relationship today.
• Couples in marriages not recognized by the Church
might long anew for their vows to receive the Church’s blessing.
• Couples whose marriages have disintegrated might grieve
on being reminded that what was once was their greatest hope,
their greatest dream, became a tale of woe.
• And for the widowed, these words touch tender places in the heart.
• And how about those who heard Jesus speak these words
some 2,000 years ago – how did they hear them?
It’s important to understand that in Jesus’ day,
it was not mutual attraction and romance that led to marriage.
Marriages were arranged by parents,
it was mom and dad who chose your life-mate,
and couples would hope and pray that such an arrangement
might lead to love and affection.
To this understanding of marriage Jesus speaks here -
but he did not in any way critique or correct it.
In our Church today such an arranged marriage would not be allowed.
Such an arrangement would be an impediment to marriage
and render it invalid.
In Jesus’ time, marriages were not between individuals:
marriages were between whole families.
Parents chose their children’s partner with a view
towards binding families together and becoming a stronger unit.
Any divorce, then, would cause not just the separation of two partners
but of two families.
It’s important to note, too, that if a divorce occurred,
the wife’s family – and not the husband’s – would be shamed.
In particular, the wife’s male relatives would have to bear the shame
- and remedy it by seeking revenge, which led to feuding,
and too often to bloodshed.
Hence, the cultural rule was: no divorce.
Jesus’ words here on divorce and adultery
reinforce societal harmony and stability.
His words, spoken first in a time
when no divorce was the cultural demand,
sound today in our ears and hearts, in our society,
where divorce and remarriage are so common,
so much a part of the fabric of western culture.
As you may know, there begins today
a synod of Catholic Church leadership
three weeks of meetings at the Vatican
and the topic of this synod is The Family
and how our church ministers to the family.
Ministry to divorced and remarried people is on the agenda
and it’s a hot-button issue in the media.
While this is only one among many questions before the Synod,
it’s an important one.
It would be foolish to expect
that the church will simply change its teaching on marriage.
What some church leaders do seem to be seeking, however,
is a change in how we minister to those in broken marriages.
More than one commentator noted during the pope’s US visit last week
that much of what he said in his homilies, speeches and messages
was all prelude to this Synod.
What kind of prelude was it?
A prelude of gentle, merciful outreach
seeking to meet people precisely where they are,
to minister to them more effectively
and more genuinely call them to the life of the gospel.
Will there be changes made? Only God knows – and I mean that literally.
But I’m quite sure that if changes do come, they’ll come slowly
and won’t be announced in a press conference in a couple of weeks.
Yesterday at a vigil before the synod, Pope Francis spoke these words:
So let us pray that the Synod which opens tomorrow
will show how the experience of marriage and family
is rich and humanly fulfilling.
May the Synod acknowledge, esteem, and proclaim
all that is beautiful, good and holy about that experience.
May it embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship:
war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness,
which create distress, resentment and separation.
May it remind these families, and every family,
that the Gospel is always “good news” which enables us to start over.
From the treasury of the Church’s living tradition
may the members of the Synod draw words of comfort and hope
for families called in our own day to build the future
of the church community and the city of humankind.
As we come to the altar today, this table of our family in faith,
let’s pray for one another, and for all families,
and for all the ways in which we are family to one another.
Let’s pray for hearts filled with Christ’s mercy,
hearts reaching out to others to meet them right where they are,
and for hearts ready to share the gospel’s truth and joy.
Let’s pray for new families, for struggling families, for broken families,
for families burdened with loss and tragedy,
and especially for families seeking peace and unity.
Let’s pray for the pope, the bishops and the lay people
meeting in the Synod on the Family.
And may the family we are at this table,
may the sacrament we receive here,
strengthen us one and all to be the family of God
and to welcome all to be one with us.
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