Homily for October 7

Homily for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass 


I assure you that the irony of a celibate individual
preaching about marriage and divorce is not lost on me.
Also not lost on me is the humbling reality that I stand here,
preaching about marriage and how it binds those who enter it
on behalf of an institution (the Church)
that has used texts like this
 (and ecclesiastical laws derived from these texts)
to hold married people accountable
to incredibly high and demanding standards --
while many leaders of that same institution excused themselves
from faithfulness and accountability
to the high and demanding standards of their own calling in life.

Still, the Word of God needs to be heard and needs to be preached
and needs to be lived.

As we can see in the gospel today,
Jesus raised the stakes on marriage.
Moses had permitted divorce as a concession
to the hardheartedness he found among his people.
But Jesus calls his followers back to Genesis, to the first marriage
and the divine plan that two become inseparably one.

“Two become one…”  that may be bad math but it’s good theology.
From the very beginning, God has desired unity for us - and with us.
So much so that we believe there’s something about us,
something about you and something about me,
that does, indeed, image God.
Genesis not only tells us that God made us
but also that we are made in God’s image.
So the marriage bond is meant to image, to mirror,
the intimacy, the unity, the one-ness between God and humankind.

And because God’s love for us is unfailing,
because it survives our greatest infidelities and our worse sins,
partners in a marriage are called to be faithful to one’s spouse
as God is faithful to us.
and we are all called in Christian life to be as faithful to one another
as Christ was faithful to us.

What distinguishes Christian marriage from any other kind of union
is the expectation that the bond of married love
is meant to mirror God’s faithfulness to all of us
and God’s unity with us.

But this kind of love, this understanding of marriage is in trouble.
For example, in the Archdiocese of Boston, 7,263 weddings
were celebrated in Catholic parishes in 2002.
While 15 years later in 2017, those same parishes celebrated
only 2,617 weddings -- a decrease of 64%.
There’s little left in our 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
or at the shore with Uncle Bob as a “minister for a day,”
it’s often the case that they and their families friends
no longer believe in what’s being pledged
or hold the couple accountable to what they promise.

In fact, about 4 in 10 marriages in the United States end in divorce.
And the incidence of domestic violence in marriages is equally tragic.
These issues have been steeping in our culture for a long time.

Questions facing Catholic Christians are many:
• How do we profess and defend the ideals of Christian marriage

and how do we and invite the next generation, our children,
to aspire to the heights and depths of love and self-giving
to which Christian marriage calls a couple?

• 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?

I, as a priest, am called to no less a fidelity, no less a love
than the one I find poured out for me from the side of Christ.

Indeed, every Christian: married, single, engaged, widowed, celibate:
every Christian is called to image, to mirror in his or her life
the love of God revealed in the love of Jesus.
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.

The scriptures today call us to remember the unity
God desires to share with us through Jesus.
God calls each of us to image in our own lives
the sacrificial love of Jesus for all of us.

I fail in this, often.

Two partners in a marriage often fail also
in loving their spouse as they promised on their wedding day.

All our single brothers and sisters fail, too,
in loving their neighbor as they love themselves.  
Nor, in these troubled times in the Church
do I fail to see the irony and pathos
of hearing Jesus counsel his closest followers
to allow the children to draw close to him,
so he might bless, touch and embrace them.
Indeed, there has been domestic violence in the family of the Church,
in the household of God’s people.
We lament and grieve this violence and the harm it has done
to innocent victims, to their families and to the whole Church.
The scriptures image Christ as the 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, God’s family, God’s household, are nourished, intimately,
with the very Body and Blood of the One who loves us.
No love greater than his will ever be ours.
No one will ever love us more faithfully, more fully,
with more mercy and forgiveness
than Jesus himself.

May his be the love that blesses us all:
married, single, widowed and divorced and celibate
and may his be the love we share with one another.


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