Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
27th Sunday of OT, Year B
October 5, 2003
Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mk10:2-16
1) At the beginning of time, God created the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon, the oceans and the mountains, the plants and animals and pronounced each of them “good.” On the sixth day of creation, he created man and called him “very good.” But the first time God found something “not good” we discover in today’s Gospel. It wasn’t sin. It was something before sin. The Lord God said, “it is NOT GOOD that the man should be alone.” On one level, of course, Adam was not alone — there was God, all of the animals and all of creation. But something — or better, someone — was missing. Even though he was perfectly in the state of grace, Adam was lonely. That’s why God said it was not good for him to be alone and created a fitting helper for him. When Adam saw Eve, he was finally able to rejoice in his existence, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” He recognized in Eve an equal — taken out of his side so that they could stand side-by-side in front of God — and through her existence he finally learned to how to love, to love another, to love himself through her eyes, and analogously to love God. God had created man in his image and likeness and, as St. John tells us, God is love; so for man to be most God-like, and for him to be most human as God made him, he needed to learn how to love. He learned that through human love. That’s why Genesis says, “God created man in his image and likeness; in the image of God he created THEM; MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM.” Man was most fully in God’s image and likeness when he was united in love to the woman. From the beginning of time, God willed that marriage be a singular sign and participation in God’s image and likeness.
2) But God’s plan for marriage went even further than this. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that every Christian (sacramental) marriage participates in Christ’s marriage to his bride the Church and is called to model that love. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy,” he instructs; “Women, be under this mission (sub-missive) of your husbands as you are under the Lord’s mission.” When he cites the passage from Genesis, which the Lord Jesus himself quotes in the Gospel — “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” — St. Paul says something a little surprising: “This is a great mystery, which applies to CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.” Christ has left His Father in heaven and has become one flesh with his Bride the Church, which is why Christians are members of his body. Everything we understand about the meaning of human marriage, especially Christian marriage, comes from this nuptial union between Christ and the Church. Since Christ is always faithful to his bride, human spouses are called to be faithful. Because Christ’s union with the Church is fruitful — overflowing to acts of love — so the human couple is called to make love, to be fruitful and multiply. And because Christ will never abandon his bride, no matter how many times she (or us individually) may be unfaithful to him, human marriage is indissoluble. “What God has joined,” Christ says in the Gospel, “no man must separate.” Christ, in fact, came, as he said during the Last Supper, so that we “might all be one,” so that we might all be united, as the persons of the Blessed Trinity are united. Marriage is part of this great plan of God’s wisdom from the beginning to bring us into the loving union of the Trinity. That is why, in God’s plan for his children, marriage is a sacrament, because like all the sacraments, it is meant to bring us closer to God and closer to heaven.
3) But in recent days, the wisdom of God’s plan has been challenged both from inside the Church and outside the Church. Throughout the centuries, because of the sins of one or the other or both of the spouses, marriages have broken down. Because of the effects of original sin and personal sins, other tried to accept counterfeit versions of marriage, like cohabitation. But those were always recognized by the larger community as sad events, falling from the ideal. But in our day, what we have seen is a deliberate effort to denigrate the ideal itself, to attack God’s plan for the human person in marriage, to basically say that God’s plan was wrong, or no longer relevant. Two movements today are very strong. The first is the one pushing for divorce-and-remarriage, as if it is morally acceptable for two people whom God has joined to separate and marry someone else. Because divorce-and-remarriage are so prevalent, many Catholics have even begun to question whether Jesus meant what he said in today’s Gospel. The second movement has been gaining steam in our state of Massachusetts, bringing the attention of the entire nation, and even parts of the globe, on us: It’s the push for same-sax marriage, which is now presently before our State Supreme Judicial Court and before our legislature. Both of these are great threats to our society and we can’t pretend we’re ostriches and hide our heads in the sand about them. As adults, as citizens, as Christians, we have to face them straight on.
4) On Thursday, I attended a conference of religious leaders from the Commonwealth in Wayland. The first speaker there was Archbishop Sean O’Malley. He spoke to both of these threats and why all of us need to awaken to the dangers posed by each and defend the institution of marriage, which God created in the beginning to be the indissoluble union of one man and one woman until death. To try to tinker with the way God made us, he said, is to endanger us all. The wisdom of Archbishop Sean’s homily stunned many of the Protestant and Jewish religious leaders and they were talking about what he said the rest of the afternoon. It was so balanced that even the Boston Globe ran the speech word-for-word. Because what he said is so important, and I think persuasive, I am going to do something I’ve never done before in four years of preaching: quote extensively from another. Before the Lord Jesus sent out his apostles, he told them, “He who hears you, hears me.” Archbishop Sean is a successor to the apostles and is therefore the voice of the Lord. Let’s give the Lord through him both of our ears. Here’s some of what he said:
“The divorce revolution has taken its toll on family life. Between 1960 and 1990, the number of children who experienced the divorce of the parents increased from less that 1 percent to more than 50 percent, and today, over a third of children are being born out of wedlock. Divorce was touted as a means of greater equality for women. Actually, divorce has contributed to the feminization of poverty. After a divorce, mothers and children typically experience a 73 percent decline in their standard of living, while men experience a 42 percent increase. In 90 percent of divorces, the responsibility of raising the children falls to the woman. No wonder the woman in the Irish Dail said, “A woman voting for divorce is like a turkey voting for Christmas.”…
“Believers who are “married in the Lord” and those who consider marriage a sacrament have a special duty to salvage society from the free-fall spiral that threatens civilization itself. The grave problems that beset our world today will not find their solutions around the great oak conference tables in Geneva, New York, or the Oval Office, but around the dinner tables where loving parents share their lives, their faith, their friendship with their children at meal times, when families come together to be nourished by prayer, by conversation, by being together. …
“The Holy Father has written in his letter to families, “It is not an exaggeration to reaffirm that the life of nations passes through the family — and through the family passes the primary current of the civilization of love.” But the institution of marriage, so crucial to the raising of children and sound family life, is in crisis. The cost to society of the breakdown of marriage is substantial. According to one government estimate, the cost of faltering child development approaches $1 trillion a year, by feeding a demand for welfare services and by contributing to a multiplicity of social problems, including poverty, crime, addiction, poor health, lower educational achievement, job instability, depression and suicide. … And, of course, those fiscal statistics just represent all of the human suffering behind them.”
“The ideal way for children to be socialized and raised is in a stable marriage of a man and a woman. Many single parents and grandparents are doing an outstanding job raising children in the most adverse circumstances. However, I am sure that if we ask those single parents and their children what is the best way to raise children, most would agree that a stable marriage between a man and a woman is the optimal basis for raising children. The unique contribution which marriage makes to the welfare of society has won for that institution privileges and prerogatives that bolster marriage, in the service of child-rearing, and for the common good. The nature of marriage as a life-long union of man and a woman, who enter into a total sharing of themselves, for the sake of a family, is not simply a religious teaching. Marriage predates the founding of our government. Indeed, it predates the founding of our church. Marriage is not a creation of the state or of the church, and neither has the legitimate authority to change its nature.
“To dismiss people’s legitimate concerns about the institution of marriage as simply unjust discrimination against homosexual persons is to dismiss the centrality of marriage for the well-being of society. The concerted campaign of Hollywood and TV to reshape public opinion into accepting same sex marriages has been a great disservice to the American people. As for Catholics, the same catechism that demands that people of homosexual orientation should be treated with every respect and with compassion, and their rights should be defended, also defends the unchangeable nature of marriage. One of the reasons for the social fabric’s coming unraveled is that we have placed an exaggerated emphasis on the preferences and conveniences of individuals, elevating these personal preferences to the level of rights and entitlements, to the detriment of society. Any redefinition of marriage must be seen as an attack on the common good. The weakening of the institution of marriage has already had too high a social cost. Our concern must be to strengthen marriage and create a climate that will be supportive and indeed promote the traditional paradigm of marriage.
“We are part of a pluralistic society and in no way pretend to force our religious preferences on other people. But neither can we be intimidated by those who see our defense of the common good as simply mean-spirited, narrow-minded or intolerant of other people’s supposed rights. The rights of children and indeed of the community demand that we support family life by protecting the definition of marriage. Nothing will strengthen family life and society like a strong institution of marriage, and nothing weakens family life and society like a weak institution of marriage. I would urge all the members of our community, regardless of their religious persuasion or their sexual orientation, to realize that is at stake and to oppose any attempt to alter the definition of marriage. I am not so naive as to think saving the definition of marriage is enough to undo all the harm suffered by society, caused by a weakened institution of marriage. I would hope that those who promote same-sex unions will not be so naive as to fail to recognize the impact that redefining marriage will have on American culture, which has already suffered too much because of the deterioration of family life. Strengthening marriage in the face of widespread cohabitation and the galloping divorce rate needs to be the concern of every citizen. Radically redefining marriage will simply serve to intensify the assault on marriage and the American family.”
5) As citizens of this Commonwealth, we have to realize that marriage and family are the building blocks of society. If those building blocks are weakened, the whole structure of the society built upon them is weakened. And so as citizens we need to do what we can to support the family, first by defending it against attacks, as is the attempt by certain gay activists to redefine marriage here in our state. But we have a greater obligation than that. As Christians, as Citizens of HEAVEN, we should take it personally when others say or imply that the God who created us and redeemed us didn’t know what he was doing. Like young kids in school playgrounds who respond naturally when someone verbally mocks their mother or their father, those are fighting words. And we, children, should respond as our Father would want: not with violence, but with great love. Real love. Tough, self-sacrificial love. The type of love Jesus showed us and will help us to achieve. This type of love does not mean tolerating people to do whatever they please even when it means hurting themselves, hurting others, hurting children and hurting society. Real love doesn’t countenance watching others walk over spiritual cliffs and taking others along with them for the ride. Rather real love means knowing that lasting happiness is only able to be found by walking in the ways of the Lord and out of love for others, evangelizing them with the full truth of the Gospel. There is a good news about human love, about God’s purpose for marriage, that we have to re-propose convincingly to our society and preserve for our children. Any of us in God’s plan could have been born 400 years ago or 1500 years ago. But the Lord allowed us to be born TODAY, at this TIME, living in this state, when his plan for marriage is facing new threats. Each of us is a central character in the drama being played out in these days, a drama that impacts far more than the next state elections. The Lord is counting on you. Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It’s time for us to act. You’ve got a crucial role in making sure the great news of this divine love story, made in the beginning, is heard and lived or distorted. Please say yes, roll up your sleeves and get involved.