Our readings this Sunday are very topical and timely because we hear much about ‘family’ these days, not so much as a Christian institution consisting of father, mother, and their rightly born or adopted children, but about floating family-type relationships concerning one parent or two, capable of progeny or not, and one child, or several of possibly differing origins. And with the secular government trying to loudly promote itself and help, so they say, children of whatever parentage, there is a danger that people may begin to think that parentage of itself is a merely natural event and state of life, and that the secular authority can rightly legislate about all such ‘family’ matters.
We who are Christians and Catholics, however, whilst we are grateful for any real help given to strengthen the institution of married life, confess and profess that marriage is a God-gifted institution, established by Him for a spiritual and heavenly purpose bringing personal and social benefits essential for human progress in true peace and right prosperity: God’s purpose for marriage calls for life-long, mutual and exclusive love, leading to personal -- not merely sexual -- fulfilment for the spouses, and stability, confidence, and growth for the family and indeed society as a whole; while ultimately preparing for the eternal happiness and heavenly blessedness of all who dedicated their married lives to Christ, and tried to live them in the power and promise of His Spirit.
The Second 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.
Our Faith also tells us that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God Whose Love is the ultimate, absolute, and unfailing power which finds mankind good, very good, in all its powers and possibilities as the intention of His Creator’s thought; and this divine love is intended to be recognized and embraced by mankind, thus enabling them, in turn, to bear fruit and find fulfilment in the work of presiding over creation:
Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.
Man and woman themselves were originally created for one another, they are divinely complementary, and Jesus showed that Christian marriage -- requiring a sacred-and-lovingly-unbreakable union of husband and wife -- eminently manifests this divine intention, when He authoritatively recalled that in the beginning the Creator’s plan had been:
That they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Sin however, entered into the world and now, especially in our modern times of Western betrayal, everyone experiences evil all around, openly portrayed and promoted by the media, and also from within his or her own life-experience. And yet, the order of creation persists, even though men and women now know life as seriously disturbed and disturbing. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need anew and so very urgently the help of grace that God in His infinite mercy will never refuse them. However, it is a grace originally won and supremely exemplified by Jesus Christ Who was willing to suffer Personally in order that His love might triumph in our sinful world, and without a like willingness to embrace suffering that His love might triumph in us and through us in our experience of life and living-together, men and women cannot achieve that inspiring union of their lives for which God created them in the beginning.
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. In the course of that ministry, Jesus taught unequivocally the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning: the matrimonial union is indissoluble: God Himself has determined it:
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, marriage is a Christian institution for man and woman only and exclusively, and it cannot be terminated or broken by any 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 together enter into that bond.
Let us now, 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. Marriage is, however, a pre-eminent means God has established and uses for the sanctification of people; and those who live their married life aright 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.
But, an overly sentimental and predominantly emotional view of married love can very easily lead the partners to expect too much from it, and demand too much from each other, thus they can, quite tragically, become unforgiving in their attitude to each other.
Finally, 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 was shown us in that reading: she did indeed live the role marriage had brought her, that of a mother. She taught her sons, she disciplined her sons, by the very love she had for them. Let me just recall for you how she disciplined, by love, her youngest son:
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.”You who are mothers should recognize that YOU have, from God, the 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 humility, prayer, and confidence. Do not let your children do whatever they may want, but guide them, comfort, and discipline them, with love; realize that your children are gifts to you from God and bring them up as children of His whom He has entrusted to you; do not leave them to guide themselves, or follow the example of those who have neither faith nor morals.
Parent and child are meant to thank God eternally for each other: mothers, you teach your children, to respect their father; fathers, teach your children to love their mother. Parents both, don’t fail in your responsibility before God, because you are meant to be the first and surest teachers and exemplars about God for your children ... don’t lose that heavenly glory which will, most surely, be yours by loving and respecting each other, and together, serving, calmly loving and trusting God, in all the joys and vicissitudes of life.
May I close on a note of surprise and sorrow now seeing how little parents, religious parents, parents following the teachings of Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus, do not witness together – along with other religious people -- for the common well-being of their children against state incursions on their teaching. As a Catholic, I can say that our Bishops are meant to guide and lead us in the ways of Jesus, but parents can also act of themselves if need be, and the question of the Christian well-being of our children is most certainly of human as well as religious concern. All believers in the sovereignty of God in our lives should be able co-operate together when necessary for that sovereignty in the formation of their children’s lives.