HYANNIS, Massachusetts, JAN. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- To put the debate over same-sex “marriage” in pastoral perspective, ZENIT is publishing a long excerpt from a homily delivered Jan. 18, the Second Sunday in Ordinary time, by Father Roger Landry of the Fall River Diocese.
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Doing What Christ Tells Us About Marriage
By Father Roger Landry
Today we are present at the most famous wedding of all time … one in which we do not even know the names of the bride and groom.
It’s the one that took place in Cana in Galilee, and it’s the most famous wedding because Jesus Christ was there –and what happened at that wedding has been remembered by Christians ever since.
The liturgical remembrance of the wedding of Cana causes us to remember what Christ has done for marriage. God created this institution in the beginning as one of the greatest blessings a human being could share, and like everything in creation, God pronounced it good.
But Christ did something more during his earthly life. He took this institution, good and created by him from the beginning, and raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, something that would also confer his own life, and bring us closer to him, closer to happiness, closer to holiness, closer to heaven.
Through the sacrament of marriage, which Christians can receive, Christ remains with the couple just as assuredly as he was with the couple in Cana. Marriage is part of God’s plan for creation and part of God’s plan for our salvation and we must treasure marriage and defend it whenever it comes under attack.
We are now in the midst of a heated debate about what marriage is. For God, it is very clear what marriage is. When Christ was asked by a lawyer about whether divorce was possible, Jesus gave a clear teaching about the real meaning of marriage that is as relevant to the debate about whether homosexuals can marry as it was to the subject of divorce-and-remarriage.
If Jesus were to testify up on Beacon Hill before our legislators about the meaning of marriage, I think he could use the very same words that he used in St. Matthew’s Gospel. Listen to him with fresh ears: “Have you not read that in the beginning God ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
In this teaching of Jesus — who is the Truth incarnate, who is our Creator and knows how and for what the human person is made, who loved all of us enough to die out of love for us — we see four things that are relevant to our debate:
a) “In the beginning, God made them male and female.” There is great meaning to our masculinity and femininity in God’s plan. God didn’t clone Adam, but made Eve, who was equal to him in dignity, but complementary.
b) “For this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife.” God’s plan is not that a man leave his parents and cling to whomever he wants, but to cling to a wife.
c) “The two shall become one flesh.” This refers more than merely to their sharing a bed together and temporarily joining their bodies physically in the act of making love, because that act is just temporary. God wanted from the beginning a more permanent union, “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” The way this occurs is in a child, who is the perduring union of the flesh and the man and the woman and blessed by God with the infusion of an immortal soul. This one-flesh union in children “made in love” is for Christ, our Creator and Savior, part of the essence of marriage.
d) “What God has joined together, man must not divide.” This refers not just to a particular couple joined by God in marriage, but to the union planned by the Creator for a man and a woman in marriage. To try to divide man and woman in the institution of marriage by opening marriage up to two men or two women is clearly contrary to God’s plan for marriage and for man and woman.
God created marriage in a particular way from the beginning for our own happiness as well as for our salvation, to teach us how to love according to the nature he gave us. But he also had something else in mind in creating marriage the way he did.
He wanted to use marriage as an analogy to communicate his own love for us his people. We see this in the first reading from Isaiah: “As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
God’s love for us is likened to a husband’s love for his new bride. When Jesus came, he took this image of heterosexual spousal love even further, calling himself the Bridegroom who was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. St. Paul based all of God’s teachings about marriage on Christ’s spousal love for his bride, the Church: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy” (Ephesians 5:25).
Human heterosexual spousal love was created by God to reflect God’s own love for his people. To change the meaning of marriage to encompass homosexual “unions” will not only do damage to individual men and women with same-sex attractions, to others and to society as a whole, but it will gradually incapacitate our ability to understand the meaning of all creation and God’s love for us, of which traditional marriage is the highest reflection.
In the face of the assault on the meaning of marriage in our Commonwealth, what does Christ want from us?
He wants us to be his voice, repeating his words and passing on his teaching, which is always given to us out of love for our true good. In the first reading, Isaiah said that he was unable to “keep silent” or “to rest” for the sake of Zion and Jerusalem. God is asking of us a similar zeal in speaking boldly in defense of him and his plan for marriage.
At the wedding feast of Cana, we see what God can do when we are zealous. Jesus could have worked the miracle from scratch. He who created all the seas could easily have created wine out of nothing to fill the empty water jars. Be he didn’t want to do it alone. He wanted to involve his creatures.
So he told the servants to fill the jars with water. We might not understand today what a challenge that task was. It wasn’t as if the servants would have had a hose to fill up those six, 30-gallon jars. They would have had to have gone to the one well in ancient Cana and carry the water back from there.
Even if there were 10 servants, even if they had two-gallon containers or sacks to fill up, they would have to have made at least nine trips back and forth to the city center to get all the water. Yet they did it with enthusiasm, as we see in the very important detail St. John gives us: “They filled them to the brim!”
The Lord took their efforts and incorporated them into an amazing miracle. He did the same thing later with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. He who created all the fish of the sea could easily have worked that miracle from scratch to feed the multitudes, but he didn’t.
He asked the apostles what food they had to start with and they brought to him a young boy, with five loaves and two fish. But the Lord took that meager offering and used it to feed over 5,000 families.
Someone here this morning might be asking himself, “What really can I do on my own to stop this assault on marriage?” Isolated, our individual efforts might accomplish very little. Together, our efforts might make a very substantial impact. But united with the Lord who is calling us to this effort, there’s no limit to how much of an impact they can make.
In the second reading, St. Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit gives us a variety of gifts and notes that there are a variety of services in building up God’s kingdom. Moved by one and the same Spirit, each of us is called to use those gifts in rendering that service to the kingdom.
With regard to the defense of God’s institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman in our Commonwealth, the whole mystical body of Christ is called to act in concert, all of us using our own gifts given to us by God for the effort.
For some of us, that will be the gift of speaking with others, to friends and legislators, to persuade them to get involved and do the right thing before it is too late. For others it will be the gift of writing, in sending clear letters to our legislators and to the editors of various newspapers.
For our bishops and priests, it will be the service preaching the truth about marriage and leading Christ’s people to this truth at this very challenging time. For lawyers, it will be to use their skills and education in showing, from a legal point of view, how ridiculous the Supreme Judicial Court decision was and in crafting the language and fighting the legal battles necessary to defend marriage.
For psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, scholars and social workers, the Lord wants them to use the gifts he has given them to show why homosexual activity — and any institutionalization based upon it — will harm individuals with same-sex attractions and society as a whole.
For our public servants, especially our legislators, the Lord calls them to use the gift of their office to defend the institution of marriage and to defend our democracy against the oligarchic, unconstitutional interpretation of the state’s constitution by four justices, and to vote in support of the amendment to defend marriage.
The bottom line is that it’s an effort that requires all of our help. We might think that all we can offer is “five loaves and two fish,” or a small bucket to retrieve water from a well, but united with the head of the mystical body, Christ, our efforts can have a dramatic effect.
I think back to 1998 in Michigan. Dr. Jack Kevorkian — “Doctor Death” — and his supporters were trying to legalize euthanasia in the state. They brought out the toughest cases imaginable to try to sway the public to thinking it was a merciful thing to kill those you love.
A few months before the referendum vote, polls showed that 70% of Michigan residents supported euthanasia. The Church didn’t have much time. But Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit and the other bishops of the state got their act together and, helped by the expertise and efforts of thousands of Catholic lay people, they started to teach about the real meaning of life, of death and of suffering.
By the time the referendum was taken, the public had completely reversed itself, and 70% of Michigan residents voted against euthanasia.
History can repeat itself here in our state. Our bishops have gotten their act together. Led by Archbishop O’Malley and Bishop Coleman, they are about to about to do something that has never been done in our state before, and which I don’t think has ever been done in any state in the history of our nation. They are sending every Catholic household a letter clearly explaining the Church’s teaching and asking every Catholic to take action immediately. That’s 1 million letters.
Next weekend, some lay married people will be speaking at every parish in our diocese about why it’s crucial to contact our legislators and make sure the marriage amendment passes, for the sake of families throughout our state. In two weeks, every priest in the diocese will be preaching about this.
But the most important agent in this whole battle is you. We need each of the practicing Catholics to get involved in some way. Our concerted effort — along with our Protestant brothers and sisters and non-Christian friends — has already been making a difference.
In December, a University of Massachusetts poll showed that only 46% of people supported the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment. In yesterday’s [Boston] Globe, we see that now 54% of people support it. But we still have a lot of work to do. …
The upshot of the miracle of the Lord’s turning water into wine was that “the disciples began to believe in him.” Today at this Mass, the Lord will pull off a far greater miracle. He will change not water into wine, but wine into his very own blood.
May this miracle of miracles inspire us to believe ever more in him and put into practice his mother’s last words in sacred Scripture, “Do whatever he tells you!” Let’s get to work.