Friday, August 9, 2013

homily - 19th sunday in ordinary time (year c)

The unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews, from which today’s Second Reading comes, offers a wonderful definition of faith: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Father/Monsignor spoke of such faith last weekend, reminding us that we are called to have a faith in something much bigger and greater than what we could ever possess or even experience with our human senses. The author of the letter to the Hebrews expresses a faith that is not wishful thinking, but that is certain and full of confidence. This a similar point I try to make with the couples I prepare for marriage – that the rainbows and butterflies you now feel are great and important, but marriage more than just feelings or wishful thinking, it is about a vocation of service, helping your spouse grow in a such certain and confident faith in each other and in God. Over the past several months I have been focusing my homilies on some of the myths and misconceptions of the Catholic Church. During this Year of Faith, I have tried to use Sacred Scripture – the readings for that Sunday - and the insights and commentary of many smart and faith-filled theologians and scholars to confront popular culture’s distrust, distain, even hatred toward the Church. This is the sixth in my series of seven homilies in this effort. The sixth myth, which is from Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book – The Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church, is that “The Church Opposes Same-Sex Marriage Because of Bigotry: The Myth That There Is No Rational Basis for Limiting Marriage to One Man and One Woman.” In the eyes of the Church, marriage is a natural institution. It predates both religion and government and is grounded in the nature of the human person. Despite cultural variations, every human society in the entire history of the human race has understood that marriage is a sexual union of man and woman with the purpose of procreating and educating the next generation – and for this reason, marriage has also been given a unique status in the law. Jesus elevates Christian marriage to a sacrament, in which the couple’s relationship expresses in a unique way the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and his people. Dr. Kaczor does a wonderful job of further breaking down this issue and provides fair, logical and honest arguments in support of the Church’s position. And there are certainly many others providing great clarity (and compassion) on this issue, including the bishops of the United States, the Knights of Columbus, and Catholic radio, television and newspapers. So, I will not now repeat these arguments, because honestly without more time to explain or for dialogue on this issue anything I would say will only sound hateful and irrational. So instead, I will focus on the good news the Church holds and teaches on marriage. As I referenced last month, Bishop Campbell recently wrote that the state of marriage is a covenant of life and love between a man and a woman freely united by the vows of fidelity, permanence, openness to the transmission of life and the upbringing of children. In focusing on what these elements of marriage, the readings for this Sunday are most helpful. A covenant is basically an agreement that is mutually and freely entered, and has no exit or termination clause. Marriage is a covenant relationship between spouses – they mutually and freely, without reservations or conditions, enter into this lifelong relationship. And so, we can speak of marriage as permanent - a lifetime commitment to help one another – and that it is indissoluble – as they promise to remain together “until death do us apart.” The love of the husband and wife is also a sign of God’s covenant with His people – the promise to stay with us and not reject us, even if we offend or reject him. It is this same covenant that is recalled in today’s first reading with great joy and as a source of strength in the midst of difficulty and hardship. And so, we also say that marriage strengthens our covenant relationship with God, which is the ultimate goal of marriage: to get your spouse to Heaven! In today’s second reading, we recall the model of great faith Abraham had in God – the trust and obedience Abraham had to leave the safety and security of his home and even sacrifice his own son. In marriage, we are called to trust in and be obedient to our spouse, which helps us to in turn have the faith-of-Abraham in God. Such trust creates a unity between husband and wife – a bodily, intellectual, and spiritual union. This faith and unity also allows for exclusivity and faithfulness between spouses. No other intimate relationship should come between you and your spouse –you want and need nothing more than your spouse – that exclusivity and faithfulness is affirmed and strengthen in the bond of marriage. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to a complete trust in God. Not to worry about “stuff” – possessions and belongings – because God the Father will care for us. He will “Provide money bags for [us] that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.” Not worried or concerned with material wants or needs - we are called to be ready and willing to serve Him. It is in marriage that we serve Him in our service to our spouse and children. In marriage, we are called to be the “faithful and prudent” servant to our husband or wife and to our children. The Church goes even further and calls married couples to a total self-giving of self that mirrors total self-giving of the steward in Gospel and, even better, Christ on the Cross. And more specifically, married couples are called to a fruitfulness in their marriage that can only come through self-giving. This fruitfulness can be expressed in acts of social justice as well as procreation. Their total gift of self to their spouse generates life in the form of children AND is life giving to everyone they meet, especially, those whose lives are touched by the care and love of a married couple. Catholic teaching holds that sacraments bring grace to those who receive them. Grace is a way of describing how God shares the divine life with us and gives us the help we need to live as followers of Christ. We will receive such grace in the Eucharist we are about to share. The grace from sacrament of marriage brings to the spouses the particular help they need to be faithful and to be good parents. It also helps a couple to serve others beyond their immediate family and to show others that a loving and lasting marriage is both desirable and possible. My friends, let’s us pray that marriages may be filled with this grace, so that couples who have been entrusted with this great gift, may every day renew their vow of fidelity, permanence, openness to the transmission of life and the upbringing of children. May God bless you.