October 12, 2018
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on October 7, 2018, at St. John XXIII Parish and Catholic Center in Knoxville, TN. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2:9-11; and Mark 10:2-16.
Oh my goodness! There’s so much to say, and now that you have such succinct preachers here these days, your decreased tolerance for long homilies means that I don’t have a lot of time to say it! So, let’s jump right into it. Today, our first reading is often used at weddings. Part of our gospel passage is also used at weddings, but this extended passage also talks about divorce, and it ends with a passage commonly used at baptisms. So, we’re going to be looking at a range of ideas about marriage and family.
The Book of Genesis begins with two separate accounts of God’s creation of the world. We’re familiar with Genesis 1, about God creating the world in 6 days, but the story we heard today, from Genesis 2, is much older. For roughly 3,000 years, the Judeo-Christian tradition has taught that one of the fundamental elements of being human is a sense of feeling incomplete. We are always longing for something beyond ourselves. Our ultimate longing is for God, but we also desire to connect with other people in a whole variety of ways, be they in group settings or with individuals, with both people the same sex and the opposite sex. To be human is to desire true, meaningful connections with other people.
One of the best ways for us to understand how much God loves us is through marriage. In a marriage, both the husband and the wife are supposed to love each other unconditionally, in the same way that God loves each one of us. Ideally, each person says to the other, “This is who I am: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I give it all to you, no matter what.”
Jesus says that he came to give us life in abundance. Ideally, marriage should be a wellspring of love and life. A good marriage should produce a household that overflows with love, blessing the whole world. It might not be the neatest house, but it is a place where company is always welcome.
A loving marriage often produces children, perhaps even quite a few of them. Gaudium et Spes – one of the most important Church documents produced in the last 150 years – recognizes the legitimate need of parents to “space” the birth of their children so they can adequately care for them. Nevertheless, when Jesus encourages us to welcome children, I wonder if Jesus is also encouraging us to have larger families. I often tell couples preparing for marriage: only God can decide how many children you’ll have, but if you’re not sure how many you’d like to have, why not aim for a larger number? I wonder how many of our problems in politics today because too many of us in the last two generations grew up in small families. When you’re an only child or one of two children, it’s easier to get to adulthood without learning the important lesson that life isn’t always fair: very few people can split a dessert equitably among five people.
Being married and raising children are not endeavors for the weak-hearted. “Love” isn’t just a feeling; it’s a verb. We ourselves have days where we might not feel especially loving, but we can decide to do the loving thing for our spouse and children even when we’re not feeling any warm fuzzies. In case my father ever needed a reminder of how to love my mother, Mom had a number of painted wooden refrigerator magnets to help him. My favorite said: “Don’t question your wife’s judgment. Look who she married!”
But it can be hard on some days. For couples who choose to marry in the church, and likewise, for parents choosing to baptize children, the Church promises to be there for you. If your child is asking questions about the faith and you don’t know how to answer them, give us a call. The parish Director of Faith Formation will be glad to help you find some resources. If you and your spouse are finding that you struggle to resolve conflicts, give us a call. We might be able to find a couple in the parish who will take you out for coffee and talk about how they’ve figured out how to fight fair.
Therapists and clergy agree: 80% of marriages that end in divorce could have been saved if the couples had sought help sooner. So, if you’re having a tough time, don’t wait to reach out! And if you feel that you have gifts to share with other couples and parents, let us know if you’re available to talk with people who are struggling. Marriage and family is essential to the fabric of our society and to the building of the kingdom of God. Please don’t hold back on sharing your gifts!
As far as talking about divorce, I will try to be brief. In those last 20% of troubled marriages, there may be some fundamental problems that cannot be resolved. But if you’re having problems in your marriage, don’t presume that you’re in that 20% — seek help, and have some experts help you assess what is best for everyone involved.
But if you are a divorced Catholic, or if you know someone who’s a divorced Catholic, please talk with a religious professional to make sure you really understand what the Church teaches on divorce. For example, there was a woman I befriended at the Tennessee Theater in my last year here who told me that she had been divorced for over 15 years and she hadn’t gone to Mass since then because she wasn’t allowed to receive communion, and she didn’t want to go through all the paperwork and money of receiving an annulment. She answered three quick questions for me, and I told her that she was terribly mistaken: her annulment wouldn’t cost her any money, there was only 1 page of paperwork for her case, her annulment could be completed in less than a month, and she could have been receiving communion the whole time! She said, “Yeah, that’s what my mom told me, but I didn’t believe her.”
The main point on all matters related to issues of marriage and family is this: we don’t have to do it alone. We need to build each other up within the Body of Christ. If we want to go to heaven, we need to encourage those around us as Jesus welcomed the children.