Our readings today are very topical and timely because we hear so much about the family at this time; and with the government trying to help -- so they say -- the family, there is a danger that some people may be led to think that the secular power has also some moral authority over essential aspects of Christian marriage.
We who are Catholics, however, whilst we are grateful for any real help given to support and strengthen the institution of Christian marriage, do not admit that governmental authority can in any way determine its nature as established by God, or change the rules whereby the sacramental grace of Christian matrimony leads both to the sanctification and personal fulfilment of the spouses and the human and spiritual good of their children, whilst contributing in a unique measure towards the stability and growth of society as a whole.
The last Vatican Council teaches us that God Himself is the author of marriage when it declares: The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by Him with its own proper laws.
God is love, absolute and eternal, loving all that He has made; supremely, however, loving mankind created uniquely in His own image and likeness, and therefore created, above all, to love: God Himself supremely, and our neighbour as ourselves.
This love which God blesses is intended to help mankind:
Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.
Man and woman were created for each another, and Jesus shows that marriage signifies a fulfilling and unbreakable union of man and woman by recalling that the plan of the Creator had been in the beginning:
that they (be) no longer two, but one flesh.
However, corruption, death, and disharmony entered into the world through human sin, and now everyone has experience of that evil: stirring within our very own hearts and minds, and active all around us, being perpetrated in secret or openly displayed, for power or for pleasure, but always and above all, for SELF.
And yet, the divinely willed order of creation persists in its essential integrity, even though notably disturbed. And, to face up to, overcome, and heal those wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of God’s gift of sacramental grace, for without such help, they cannot suitably and fruitfully achieve that union of their lives for which God created them in the beginning.
All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Come to me heedfully, listen, I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)
Jesus had a great respect for the institution of marriage as we see from the fact that, on the threshold of His public ministry He performed His first miracle – at His mother’s request – during a wedding feast; and in the course of that ministry, He taught unequivocally the original significance of the marital union of man and woman as willed by their Creator from the beginning:
What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.
No matter what the trendy press may print, no matter what public figures may do, no matter how much off-course human-rights activists may agitate against it, Christian marriage is for man and woman only and exclusively, and it cannot be terminated or broken by any merely civil authority. From these two principles we should begin to see something of the seriousness of marriage and the dignity both of the marriage bond itself, and of the man and woman who, trusting wholeheartedly in each other, enter together into that covenant before the Father in heaven, in the name of Jesus the Risen Lord, and in the power of the most Holy Spirit of love and truth; and that seriousness and dignity cannot be either impugned or decried by popular clamour since Our Blessed Lord Himself never tried to promote His teaching by accommodating it to the desires or expectations of people around Him:
Great crowds were traveling with Him, and He turned and addressed them, “If any one comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25–27)
Let us now, therefore, in the light of Jesus’ teaching in the Church, have a short glance at today’s readings. Let us begin with the Gospel reading. You can see how the stiff-necked people whose hearts were hard, and who had forced Moses to wrongly allow them to divorce, came to regard matrimony; for the attitude of the Sadducees with their story of the seven brothers who died and the one wife who survived them all, shows neither reverence for what is holy, nor awareness of what is spiritual. For them marriage was carnal and functional, nothing more.
However, Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees gives us guidance with regard to another and more modern error. Marriage is not an end in itself, nor is it eternal: it is, indeed, one of the supreme means God has established for the preservation and sanctification of human beings, created -- as we have said -- to love; and those who live their married love-life aright here on earth are thereby helped to become worthy, as Jesus said:
Of a place in the other world as children of the resurrection and sons of God.
However, an overly worldly and sentimental view of married love can – occasionally and most sadly -- lead the partners to expect too much from their marriage; and, consequently, demanding too much of each other, they can become unforgiving in their mutual relations.
Finally today, let us have a short look at the first reading, for here is an example and a teaching which is certainly much needed today. What a wonderful woman is shown us in that reading: she did indeed live the role marriage had brought her, that of a mother! She taught her sons, and she disciplined her sons, by the love she had for them; let me just recall for you how she disciplined, by love, her youngest son:
As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs. When the youth paid no attention to him at all, the king appealed to the mother, urging her to advise her boy to save his life. In derision of the cruel tyrant, she leaned over close to her son and said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.” She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our forefathers through Moses. At that, the king became enraged and treated him even worse than the others, since he bitterly resented the boy’s contempt. Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the Lord. The mother was last to die, after her sons. (2 Maccabees 7:24ss.)
Learning from that sublime example, you who are mothers should recognize that you have, from God, a most special key to your children’s hearts, and that you and your husband have also God-given authority over and for your children. Use those gifts with confidence and prayer: do not let your children do what they want but guide them, discipline them, with love; and, realizing that your children are gifts from God, bring them up as children of God who have been entrusted to you. Do not let them, supposedly, guide themselves; do not leave them to turn to and follow the example of their most vocal peers who know nothing of the possible restraints of faith or morals, or of those most decisive companions and leaders who have no awareness of any qualms of conscience. Parents and children are meant to thank God eternally for each other; however, above all perhaps, mother and child should be eternally grateful for those early years of infancy and childhood when they are so uniquely close and instinctively responsive to each other. Mothers, don’t disappoint the goodness of God Who gave you your child; don’t fail the child so sensitive to your influence and subject to -- needy of -- your supporting love; do not lose the glory which can unite you with Mary, the most beautiful mother of us all.
What have we got here today? A priest, one who is celibate, talking about marriage? Yes, indeed!! Note, however, that I do not speak about, or on the basis of, sexual experience; but only about the Catholic proclamation of God’s creative and redeeming truth, the ultimate right understanding of, and supremely solid basis for, all human living and loving. Of this, may I add, I have been made humanly appreciative, thanks to my personal indebtedness to a wonderful mother.