Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homily 4th Sun OT Year B – The Prophetic Nature of Marriage

One of the things I find most fascinating about the Liturgy of the Word, the readings at Mass, is the unity of these readings. If you listen closely, you can detect a thread running through them that weaves one unified message that the Holy Spirit would like to speak to us. Now, on some Sundays this unified theme is easier to detect than on others, like during the Seasons, such as Christmas. But, in Ordinary Time, the season we are in now, these themes can be a little harder to detect. I remain convinced though that on every Sunday of the year the Holy Spirit’s purposes for giving us a particular set of readings can be discerned with careful listening.

Take today’s readings for example. Our first reading, responsorial psalm, and Gospel are about prophecy, its power, and the obedience due to it. Our first reading describes the prophet God promised to His people, a prophet who will speak God’s very words and commands. The responsorial psalm invites us to start every prayer with openness to God’s voice and to not repeat the hardness of heart of our ancestors. And our Gospel presents the fulfillment of the promised prophet, our Lord Jesus Christ. We see him speak with the authority of the Father in teaching his people and in driving away demons who would seek to thwart his Voice.

So clearly we have a theme of prophecy, right? Then what do we make of our second reading from First Corinthians? St. Paul explains that an unmarried man, such as a priest or religious brother, is concerned mainly with “the things of the Lord” and “how he may please the Lord.” But a married man is also concerned with things of the world, like material resources, and his wife and family, so his heart, naturally, is divided and it is harder for him to accomplish “adherence to the Lord without distraction.”

I must admit that when I read this at first I was stumped. What does marriage have to do with prophecy? I am reminded of a lady I visited in the hospital a few summers ago as a seminarian at Bl. Teresa of Calcutta parish. I went with a lay woman from the parish who had many years of experience visiting the sick and taking Holy Communion to them. She had a remarkable way with the sick and suffering and they were always consoled and strengthened by her. Her name was Lois.

The lady that Lois and I visited was a longtime parishioner. When we entered her room we exchanged greetings and some small talk and Lois offered to bring her a bulletin so that she could stay connected to the parish. It seemed like an easy visit but before we were about to leave I could see on the lady’s face the slight impression that there was something more, something else that she needed from us. As we turned to leave she finally said, “Can I ask you a question?” She then explained to us that her husband had died only a year prior and that she was scared in the hospital without his help and companionship. But she was even more grieved by the imprudent words she had been told after her husband’s funeral. She told us that when the Mass was over she asked the priest in the sacristy if she was still married to her husband. He responded by simply quoting the twelfth chapter of Mark without any further explanation. There, verse 25 says, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Now, in the hospital, when she needed her husband the most, these words were ringing in her ears. Having to face her illness without him in this life was hard enough, but not even being able to hope to be married to him in eternity made her feel even more alone and afraid. She began to cry.

At that moment I really believe the Holy Spirit spoke through Lois and me. This was a fairly complex question we had been given and we had no time to prepare an answer. It brought up all at once the meaning of marriage, its purpose, and its place in our salvation. This isn’t a “Who made you? – God made you” type of question! But immediately, Lois and I responded together and bounced off of each other as if we had rehearsed what we would say. Our joint reply had to have been from the Holy Spirit. We explained that, yes, it is true that Scripture indeed teaches us that we are not given in marriage in heaven. But, we continued, in heaven we will be one in Christ thus making us closer to our loved ones in heaven than we ever were on earth! Marriage is meant to prefigure the union of the Church in eternity with her sole Head and Spouse, Jesus Christ. Marriage prepares us for and points us to eternal union with Christ and once this is accomplished then its noble purpose is served. This answer seemed to give her great comfort and she was filled with peace.

In this episode I think we find the key to finding out what prophecy has to do with marriage. In Scripture, a prophet is most often defined as one who made known the will of God, who exposed and rebuked evil, and who stood for the law. He often had supernatural knowledge and inspiration.[1] How then is marriage prophetic? It is prophetic because it speaks, with all the force of being a sacrament and with the authority of God, of the love Christ has for His Church, the love that will be brought to its fulfillment at the end of time in eternity. Insofar as the Church submits herself to Christ her spouse and head, so too is a wife called to humbly submit herself to her husband. But, husbands in return are called to mimic Christ who gave his entire life for his Bride, the Church, even unto the cross.

St. Paul tells us this very thing in his letter to the Ephesians: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:22, 25). But, let me be clear, this is not a servile or oppressive subjection; that should always be rejected. Rather, I’m speaking of Christian sacrifice and humility that take after the relationship between Christ and the Church. The Church, His Bride, does not hesitate to submit to so selfless a Bridegroom as our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is our model. Husbands and wives, by living out their marriage in this way, speak boldly and prophetically to the world of the powerful love God has for us and the love we must give him in return. In living out a lifelong, faithful, fruitful marriage, husbands and wives share the Good News of the one, indissoluble union with Christ in Heaven. This is the joyful hope that lady in the hospital found.

That’s pretty amazing isn’t it! Does your marriage share this Good News? Does it speak of Christ’s love for the Church? Does it give your family and those who see you hope in union with Christ? I must ask myself, too, if my Priesthood, my marriage to the Church as a whole reflects the self-sacrifice of Christ. This isn’t just pie-in-the-sky theology. Even though marriage is roundly attacked in today’s society and can be full of struggle and difficulty and distraction from “adherence to the Lord” as St. Paul put it, it can still be beautiful and prophetic. Actually the evil in our world serves to accentuate the beauty of marriage all the more because against evil and mockery, true Christian marriage shines all the brighter. Our marriages must reclaim their prophetic voice now more than ever so that we can tell the world that marriage is not dead, hopeless, doomed to fail, and subject to our every whim or passion, but can still accomplish its noble purpose and be a means of our salvation. Yes, a means of our salvation.

[1] http://saints.sqpn.com/ncd06834.htm

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