27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B); 10-7-12
Gn 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16
Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior Catholic Church
Today, the Church gives us wonderful readings on marriage. I think one of the most significant contributions of Vatican II was its theology and spirituality of marriage. For too long the Church regarded marriage as a second-rate vocation reserved for those who couldn’t measure up to the spiritual calling of priests or consecrated religious. Vatican II convinced us that this attitude is “No where” as Neil Young once intoned; it’s something to be discarded.
As Vatican II reinforced, all people, celibate or noncelibate, married or ordained, are called to holiness by virtue of their baptismal promises As such, marriage is every bit a vocation as the priesthood or religious life is. During the course of this shared reflection, I’d like you to frame it with this conviction that marriage is a vocation, a calling from God.
Married people are meant to work out their salvation in each other’s presence. Each has the responsibility to mirror God’s love to the other and help the other to reach his/her own fullest being. Each has the responsibility to hold the other’s well being equal to—and at times foremost to—one’s own.
A sacramental marriage sees itself as part of God’s plan. The marriage is rooted in God. You might say God is the third person in the marriage commitment. Hence when conflicts arise, it is not him vs. her. Whose ego will win out, but the couple seeks out the third
way, a solution both can live with rooted in God’s love
The Church brings our attention to marriage by going back to the very beginning: to that symbolically charged language in the Book of Genesis—the story of Adam and Eve. God creates Adam, then says “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a suitable partner for him” (GN 2:18).
Why is it not good for man to be alone? The answer gets to the nature of God: though God is One, he is a community of three persons sharing one divine nature. Life is shared equally among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: just as the Father and Son are co-eternal and equal, their shared love spirates the Holy Spirit who is equal to them. Human beings are made in God’s image and likeness and thus we are not meant to be alone; we are made to give and receive love.
When two people come together in this intimacy, in this deep friendship, they are mirroring the way God is. So, in this Genesis account, we see from the very beginning a symbolic rendering of God’s way of being. So, the first human being needed an equal to whom he could relate. The Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to a friend as “a second self.” He thought you couldn’t really be friends with someone who was your inferior, below your intellect or character; but, friendship could be shared with someone who is your equal who could function as your second self as a real friend.
Going back to Genesis none of the other creatures that God created was a suitable partner. Why not? Because they weren’t Adam’s equal. He couldn’t relate to them on the same level intellectually, psychologically, or culturally. Then we hear that from his rib, the first woman is made. Don’t read this indicating Eve’s inferiority; as someone once countered: “God saved the best for last!”
Seriously though, coming from Adam’s rib is a sign of Eve’s radical equality with Adam. When Adam sees her, he exults: “This one at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v 23a). Marriage is then this deepest, most enduring type of friendship, a relationship of equals.
We hear this next: “That why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh” (v. 24). Notice how vivid, dramatic, and even sensual that line is. As we say today: it’s very sexy and it’s a beautiful way to express human sexuality. There is in the Bible none of Plato’s disdain for the body, which is viewed as a trap or prison for the soul. We also find in religious traditions throughout the world a suspicious attitude toward the body, which leads to a distain for sexuality. That’s just not biblical because from the very beginning, God intended these two—a man and a woman—to come together in this great intimate friendship which expresses itself in physical love.
The person who really saw this was Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, in which he says that sexuality does not draw us away from God, but that passionate love is the way that God embraces the world and the reason why sexuality is so central to marriage.
Here’s the theme that I think is the most important to garner from the Genesis account: Marriage is not a secular phenomenon; it’s not merely a social arrangement; rather, marriage has been brought about by God for God’s purposes; it has an essential place in God’s Grand Plan. Now, marriage is found throughout the world and it does have social, political, and economic overtones. But, the biblical perspective is that it’s more than that because it’s part of God’s plan. When two people are brought together, they do so for God’s purposes. All of this is contained in that beautifully understated Genesis account.
With all these principles in mind, let’s turn to the Gospel, which has a similar theme. The Pharisees we see are trying to trip Jesus by asking him about divorce, which was back then as it is today a very vexed question. Moses had allowed divorce under certain circumstances. But, even the Pharisees thought that there was something off about this. Jesus, in answering them, articulates his very strong teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. It seems that Jesus is appealing to the Genesis text that we considered. Then he draws his famous conclusion: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mk 10:9).
This assertion makes no sense within a purely secular context. If two human beings fall in love, enjoy each other’s company, have children together, we can imagine them falling out of love, no longer enjoying each other’s company, and deciding to separate.
However, and this is the hinge, if we place marriage within the context of a vocation from God, then everything changes. If we, indeed, hold that it is God who has brought a couple together, not just for their benefit, but to express symbolically who he is, to accomplish God’s purposes together, then we can’t imagine that couple not being together.
This is why the Church, when it nullifies a marriage, is saying that a sacramental marriage never existed. An annulment is not what some would cynically call “Catholic divorce,” but a recognition that a particular couple was not brought together by God’s designs. The Church is simply acknowledging that fact when she says that this marriage is annulled.
And one more thing regarding the controversial topic of the indissolubility of marriage. Too often this law is seen as an external imposition—an authoritarian Church interfering with our freedom. But, remember what the great spiritual writer G.K. Chesterton once that when two people romantically fall in love, they say extravagant things: “I will love you forever…I will forsake all others in order to have you…You’re the center of my life.” One can imagine two young people falling love and saying these aspirations. What they don’t say is “Yeah, I’ll hang out with you until somebody better comes around.” Chesterton then said that the Church is not imposing a law upon people; it’s simply ratifying this instinct. The Church is applauding this affirmation and recognizing that it comes from God and then raises it to a higher pitch—supernaturalizing it as a sacrament and calling the couple to love each other unconditionally. The Church is helping the couple recognize that the deep love they have for each other, which they are willing to pledge to one another romantically, is actually an ingredient in a much higher love and exists for a much greater purpose which only intensifies their sense of the indissolubility of their love. I think this where the indissolubility of marriage comes from—the very heart of the Church.
Brothers and sisters, spend some time with these readings; reflect upon them and exult in the fact that marriage is a great call to holiness. Marriage is a reality deeply blessed by God and reflects the way God is.