Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass for the Family on the Occasion of the March for Marriage in Washington, DC
June 19, 2014
Sir 48:1-14, Ps 97, Mt 6:7-15
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- On Sunday, we pondered the mystery of the Blessed Trinity and how we have been made in the image and likeness of our Triune God. We examined St. John’s simple yet absolutely most profound phrase “God is love” implied a Trinity, a loving communion of persons; in order for God to be love in a time prior to Creation, when God alone existed, God couldn’t have been solitary, one-Person-one-God, because then he wouldn’t have had anyone or anything to love. If God is love, the early saints said, there had to be a Lover, a Beloved and the Love between them and that’s one of the principal ways they grew to understand and teach about the Trinity, that God the Father is the great Lover, God the Son the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit the Love so strong between them that he took on personality. We also meditated on how we were created in God’s image and likeness. God said in Genesis, “Let us make man in our image and likeness. In the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.” The language suggests an interplay between the three persons (“let us”) and the one God (“he created”) on the side of God and, on the side of the human person both unity (“man” and “created him”) and duality (“male and female,” “them”). God who is a loving communion of persons created man in the image of that loving communion of persons. That’s why the most important thing we can say about our being in God’s image is not that we’re rational beings like God capable of thinking and choosing — unlike our pets — but that we’ve been created to live in a true communion. The greatest image of God is therefore that bond of loving communion between husband and wife that can be so strong that, in imitation of the generatively within the Trinity, another person can flow from that love who is a fruit and sign of that love and a means by which that love grows. The earthly trinity, the communion of persons who are mom, dad and child(ren) is an analogous icon of the celestial Trinity. At the beginning, God created marriage and the family. That’s how important marriage and family are in God’s plans from the beginning. If we begin to tinker with the understanding of the nature of marriage, therefore, we’re going to be tinkering with our understanding of who God is, who we are, and how we’re called to grow in God’s likeness and be happy in this world and forever.
- But that’s the importance of marriage from the perspective of creation. When we look at it from the lens of Redemption, it’s importance only grows. Jesus raised marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament, a sign and means of intimate communion with God, a sacred family bond. Jesus came and revealed himself not as the “Bachelor,” not principle as the “Buddy,” but as the “Bridegroom.” He revealed his Church not as his “posse” or “team,” not as his “girlfriend” or “boyfriend,” not as his “widow” but as his “Bride” and “Body.” St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians said that the passage from Genesis that a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and become one flesh applies first to Christ and the Church and then to human marriages. To tinker with the understanding marriage, therefore, also means to risk confusing who Christ is, what the redemption is about, and what are the sacramental paths he has given us to enter into his life. It’s to vandalize one of the bridges God has given us to enter more deeply into communion with him and with each other.
- Today is the March for Marriage in Washington, DC, and we unite ourselves in prayer with all our fellow citizens who have convened in the nation’s capital in order to give witness to the beauty, importance and true meaning of marriage. Marriage and the family that flows from marriage are the building blocks of a society. If marriage and the family are weakened, all of society suffers. We’ve always had challenges to marriage. There have sadly been unhappy marriages, even abusive ones. There’s been the problem of infidelity outside of marriage, cohabitation instead of marriage, and the mutual utilitarianism of contraception within marriage. But what we’re experiencing today — and why it’s so important for people to march in Washington — is the worst conceptual attack on marriage human civilization has ever undergone, and it’s coming as a blitzkrieg. Over the last dozen years, there has been an organized effort to redefine marriage from a “union of one man and one woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together” to a “union of two people (whether of the same sex or opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life” (Professor Robert George). All of this has led to the understanding that marriage can be a husband-less or wife-less institution — and, for all practical purposes, by design a childless institution. While there have been many contributing factors to this push for a shift in the understanding of marriage flowing from the sexual revolution, the real impetus has been to clear the way for the redefinition of marriage to embrace same-sex unions. Over the course of the last 12 years, various courts, beginning with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, have been declaring the traditional understanding of marriage unconstitutional discrimination in response to lawsuits from the those seeking to enter into “gay marriages.” Today is a day in which we seek to turn the tide, by prayer, fasting and public witness. We do this as citizens who love our country and are concerned for our present and our future. But this morning at Mass, we also do so as believing Christians.
- Today in the Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to pray. In the prayer that future generations have been accustomed to call the “Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus gives us not so much a formula but a way of communicating with God the Father and a clear indication of what our priorities ought to be when we pray. It begins with a clear reminder of the unity that should flow from our recognizing that we’re God’s sons and daughters. We pray, “Our Father.” But then Jesus seeks to help us to relate to the Father in imitation of the way he related to him. He teaches us to pray not for our own glory, kingdom or will, but for God’s glory, kingdom and will: “hallowed by thy name,” “thy kingdom come,” “thy will be done.” And what is God’s will with regard to marriage? Is it that marriage be whatever those in the gay movement, or the media, or a majority of judges on a particular court say that it is or what he has revealed? Are cohabitation, divorce-and-remarriage, and same-sex unions the way to enter into his kingdom or is it through the institution and, for Christians, the sacrament of marriage he instituted? If the loving marriage between a man and a woman open to the blessing of children is the greatest expression of the image and likeness of God, is the redefinition of marriage something leading to the “hallowing” of God’s name or its desecration? Those aren’t hard questions to answer. The way that some in the gay movement treat those who with charity uphold what God has revealed about marriage as the committed union between one man and one woman for death, it’s only a matter of time until God, too, is treated as “homophobic” and “hate-filled” because he doesn’t treat same-sex unions as a sacrament but as an occasion of sin.
- I’d like to take up three objections here that are commonly heard when we discuss the subject of same-sex marriage. The first is that Jesus never spoke about same-sex marriage, implying that he would be fine with it. It’s true that Jesus never spoke about same-sex marriage, in the same way he never explicitly addressed nuclear war or in-vitro fertilization: such things were inconceivable 2,000 years ago. But Jesus did speak about marriage in a way that makes absolutely clear what his evaluation of same-sex unions would be. No one has ever loved those with same-sex attractions more than Jesus and so none of what I’m about to say should be understood polemically. Jesus was teaching us all the truth about marriage, the truth that makes us free, the truth we need lest we become enslaved. He said that in the beginning God made them not “male and male” or “female and female,” but “male and female.” Original differentiation is part of God’s plan. Next he said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother.” Notice he didn’t say his two daddies or two mommies; he didn’t say his “parent A” and “parent B” or “parent A, B, C and D,” which legally is now happening in different jurisdictions; he didn’t say his sperm daddy through in-vitro, his gestational mother through surrogacy, his embryonic mother through egg donation and adoptive gay parents; he said his “father and mother.” Not every child’s upbringing corresponds to this ideal in God’s plans but it’s quite something else to say that every other type of parenthood and familial arrangement is pleasing and acceptable to God. Jesus next says, “And clings to his wife.” He doesn’t say, “to whomever he is sexually attracted,” he doesn’t say to his “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” He says “wife.” He wants a commitment relationship between a man and a woman. Then he says, “And the two shall become one flesh.” This doesn’t mean that their bodies will touch in sexual activity; it means that his flesh and her flesh will become one flesh in a new human being, who is the union in one flesh of their coming together, in today’s terms the fusion of his 23 and her 23 chromosomes. That is something impossible for same sex relations. Finally he says, “What God has joined, man must not divide.” That refers not only to the union between one man and one woman whom God joins together in marriage, but more broadly to the union between man and woman in marriage. We should never allow the two to be rent asunder, which is something our culture is doing conceptually.
- The second main objection is over how God approaches same-sex love. Is it possible for those with same-sex attractions to love each other? The answer is “absolutely.” But love is not a feeling. Love is willing the good of another for the sake of another. Love is a capacity to sacrifice one’s own pleasures or even life for the sake of the one loved. God is by no means condemning those with same-sex attractions to a loveless life; the question is what practices will be consistent with genuine love and the objective good of the people involved. The Church teaches that those of the same-sex can clearly exercise the love of friendship (philia) in which the other becomes like a second self. The Church teaches that they certainly can — and are called to — have true Christian love (agape) toward each other, a willingness to die to themselves and their gratifications for the other’s true good. But the Church stresses that they need to ensure the romantic attractions (eros) they have for each other do not damage the one they love by opposing or destroying the love of agape and philia. For this they need chastity, which helps them raise their romantic attractions up to the sacred dignity of the person, which is violated by same-sex sexual activity. The way those with same-sex attractions love each other in the truth is not to lead each other into sinful behavior — how is it consistent with love to lead others to spiritual suicide? — but to help each other keep their love for each other chaste, pure and holy.
- The third objection involves how we’re called to treat those among our parish, our families, our friends, and our communities with same-sex attractions. In a particular way, how are we to respond to those with same-sex attractions who are pushing for a redefinition of marriage to embrace gay unions as a means to place same-sex relations, love and unions on the same plane as the particular form of heterosexual relations that has always been understood as marriage? Today in an emotivist age, far too many people think that the worst thing you can do to someone is to hurt his or her feelings. None of us wants to hurt anyone. We want to love people with the love of Christ. But what’s at stake here is the choice between risking hurting someone’s feelings in seeking to help someone return to the path of true love Jesus has indicated or letting someone continue down a path with their feelings assuaged while risking their eternal salvation. I’d much rather risk hurting someone’s feelings today — and even suffering vile insults as a result, as if I’m full of “hate” or “homophobic” or “on the wrong side of history” — than risk their feelings and every other part of them being hurt through alienation from God in the moral life now and forever. Today in the first reading, we chronicled the heroism of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who suffered much for their witness to the truth about God and the moral good during the time of the worship of the sex-god Ba’al. We can also cite the witness of the one who came in the “spirit and power of Elijah,” St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded for giving witness to King Herod that it was “not right” for him to marry his sister-in-law and niece. We can remember the example of St. Thomas More, whose feast day is Sunday, who died because he refuse to acquiesce in King Henry VIII’s pretension that his marriage to Anne Boleyn was valid and sacred in God’s eyes. The Lord wants to give us a similar courage against today’s present worship of Ba’al under the guise of the sexual revolution and against false versions of marriage.
- How will he strengthen us? Jesus tells us in the second half of the Our Father he teaches us today. He has us ask the Father for four things the Father wants to give us.
- The first petition is, “Give us today our daily bread.” As I’ve mentioned many times, this is far more than a petition for our material necessities for which God always provides. The word for “daily” is “epi-ousios,” literally “supersubstantial,” which the early saints of the Church interpreted as a clear indication to the “Living Bread” who is Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. God strengthens us by bringing us into communion with Jesus, who teaches us how to love those with same sex attractions and everyone else with the love he has for them, and also to love and give witness to the truth about marriage to which he testified.
- The second petition is “forgive us our trespasses just as we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.” He gives us the help of his mercy. And we need it! The reason why we’re in the situation we now are in is because of so many sins against the truth of marriage, against the communion of persons in love, against true love of others. From porn, to self-abuse, to promiscuity, to cohabitation, to contraception, to adultery, to serial divorce-and-remarriage, even to conjugal sodomy (which breaks my heart to the core every time a woman with tears asks for advice to get her husband to stop abusing her in the way he’s seen happen in hardcore porn), all of these have led our society to be far more accepting than we ever should have been to the redefinition of marriage as God made it. If heterosexuals aren’t living according to God’s teachings, the good question is asked, why should we single out those with same-sex attractions to a higher standard? We need God’s forgiveness for this whole litany of Ba’al worship. We also need his help to forgive those who have hurt us, too, those whose sins have broken up families, those who insults have stung us.
- The third petition is “lead us not into temptation,” which really means, “let us not fall when tempted.” Every temptation is a test, a test we can pass or a test we can fail. Today all of us, and our entire culture, is being tempted with regard to the truth about marriage and family. God wants to strengthen us to pass those tests and help our whole nation pass it, but we need to receive that help and respond. When we meet Jesus face-to-face at the end of our life, if we’re asked about what we did when the institution of marriage was being desecrated during our lifetime, will we be able to say that we did all we could out of love for him, for the divine gift of marriage and family, and for love of others, or will we say we were on the sidelines? God wants to give us the help of his holy Word so that we will be confident in the truth. He’s give us time and instruction on prayer so that we can pray our knees off. He’s given us various financial resources so that we can support all of those who are collaborating with us and for Him to promote and defend marriage and family. But we have to recognize this is one of the great tests our age faces.
- Finally we pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.” We know that the Devil is always seeking to attack marriage and the family. He attacked the first marriage of Adam and Eve and we saw what happened in the next generation with Cain and Abel. He seeks to attack every marriage. And he’s ultimately the one behind this conceptual attack on marriage. The devil isn’t stupid. If we’ve been created in God’s image and likeness for love and in love, if we’re called to live in a true loving communion of persons in love, then if he can change how we understand love, how we understand marriage, “making love” and family, then he will have struck God’s plans for us at the foundation level. That’s what’s involved here at a supernatural level. But God wants to give us the grace he knows we need to live up to the promises of our baptism, to recognize the devil exists and renounce him, to recognize his empty promises and lies and reject them, to recognize his evil works and avoid them and help others to avoid them as well. He wants to put enmity between us and the devil and between our works and words and his.
- So today as we come forward to pray for and in union with all those Marching for Marriage, as we prepare to receive Jesus as our supersubstantial nourishment, we ask him to forgive us and others all our sins against God’s plans for our good, we ask him to strengthen us to pass the test and help our culture pass it, we beg him to deliver us from the evil that the devil seeks to wreak with regard to love, marriage, sexuality and family, so that we may live as we pray and in our whole life hallow God’s name, announce his kingdom, do his will and truly enter into loving communion with Him and others.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You brought a dead man back to life
from the nether world, by the will of the LORD.
You sent kings down to destruction,
and easily broke their power into pieces.
You brought down nobles, from their beds of sickness.
You heard threats at Sinai,
at Horeb avenging judgments.
You anointed kings who should inflict vengeance,
and a prophet as your successor.
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you
And who falls asleep in your friendship.
For we live only in our life,
but after death our name will not be such.
O Elijah, enveloped in the whirlwind!Then Elisha, filled with the twofold portion of his spirit,
wrought many marvels by his mere word.
During his lifetime he feared no one,
nor was any man able to intimidate his will.
Nothing was beyond his power;
beneath him flesh was brought back into life.
In life he performed wonders,
and after death, marvelous deeds.
PS 97:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many isles be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes round about.
His lightnings illumine the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
All who worship graven things are put to shame,
who glory in the things of nought;
all gods are prostrate before him.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.“This is how you are to pray:‘Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.’“If you forgive others their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”