A couple of Sunday’s ago in his homily, Fr. Don called our attention to the fact that each Fall as we approach the end of the liturgical year at the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe, our readings – especially the gospel – begin to take on a rather ominous or apocalyptic tone. Last Sunday in his homily, Fr. Al mentioned, after proclaiming the gospel wherein Jesus tells us, using extreme form of exaggeration, “if our hand causes us to sin, cut it off; if it is our eye, pluck it out,” that it didn’t sound much like “good news.” This week in my homily I am left with the pursuit of a topic that given the essence of the readings can’t be overlooked – DIVORCE.
Sadly, I have grown numb at the number of students who have come into my office and said “This is my first day at college…and my parents just told me they are getting a divorce.” This past week alone four students have recounted to me, through their tears, the pain and axiety they still endure as children of divorce even though some have gone on to become part of good and solid blended families.
My heart bristled with a variety of emotions receiving a call this week from a student, whose wedding I was privileged to officiate several years ago, saying she and her infant son had been thrown out of their home by her husband who is now beginning divorce proceedings. I shudder with heartbreak as one more marriage dissolves and as I think of the pain that lies ahead “for all parties concerned.”
The fact of the matter is that these days, as I walk with couples in preparation toward their sacred vows in front of the altar of God, I focus as much on getting divorced as on staying married. The tenor of the conversation has changed because the odds have now swung in higher favor of most couples getting divorced. The witnessed reality of so many marriages now ending in divorce has left an indelible mark on many to abandon the notion altogether. Many young people adopt the let’s-live-together-who-needs-a-piece-of-paper approach to married and family life these days. Often of late, in my homilies at weddings, I will recount a time a couple of years ago my wife and I were out to dinner and at the table of four next to us they were having a rather impassioned discussion about the institution of marriage. (Impassioned was just a polite way of saying….they were just plain loud! – no eaves-dropping was necessary) There was much said but the bottom line was the voiced consensus that marriage was in their words [quote] “an antiquated idea whose time had come and gone and was no longer necessary in this day and age.” [end quote]
Pope Francis addressed this very sentiment last year at World Youth Day:
“They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’.
You see, God and the Church have a different understanding of marriage than that of our culture. One need travel no farther than a few pages into Scripture to hear the story we proclaimed today from Genesis of God creating the institution of marriage. The Bible ends in Revelation which depicts, of all things, a wedding feast between the Groom, Jesus Christ and his bride, The Church. Everything in between tells us that these two things are so intimately connected as to be synonymous. The wedding feast of the Lamb wherein Jesus returns to take his bride, The Church, unto himself is the culmination of the witness every married couple offers through their marriage pledged before the altar of God. (And you thought your wedding was just “your day.”) This is why Jesus speaks so strongly about the dissolution of the union of married love in the gospel. Not to add any more of a burden to an institution already under vicious attack but, quite simply and, at the same time, most complicatedly, God has chosen the covenantal marriage between man and woman to exemplify his love for the world further expressed and witnessed in Christ’s love for the Church. It is an intricate and beautiful weave of the saving grace of God that begins and ends in marital love. Allow me to share with you a poem that I give to all the couples I marry that I believe illustrates this importance:
The problems of the world will not be solved
by some enlightened teaching or holy preaching;
not by a newfangled plan or other initiative of man;
not by who is stronger or by those that last longer;
not from righteous praying or some fancy saying;
not from prophet or priest, those with the most or those with the least;
the problems will not be solved by government power in some lofty tower
nor by the best of intentions brought in our longest, darkest hour.
No the problems we face will remain firmly in place
Until we learn God’s will for running this race.
As One woman, one man in a sacred embrace
A family is God’s fix, both holy and chaste.
What is given over as lost can be ours once more
For the promise of Eden is found behind the homes’ door.
And for those who decry that marriage is just lore
Have little understanding of what a wedding is for.
So when the wedding bells ring with both on the stand
And vows before God are professed by both woman and man
Remember it’s how the marriage will end, not how it began
That will witness God’s love and His saving plan.
In the faithful love of husband and wife
Lies hope for the world of a holier life.
Teaching children of God with hearts strong and pure
Will help our problems be gone and our society endure.
©2014 Deacon Tom Jewell
While I’m on a roll of what I share with the couples I am privileged to marry, let me share briefly three other points I believe are foundational:
- I tell them to begin each day of their marriage with the end in mind. In full disclosure I stole this from the self help guru Steven Covey and author of the book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” This second habit is foundational not only married life but to the entirety of Christian life. Each day we hopefully are praying for the grace to hold to our faith, to run the race so we can merit at our life’s end the crown that Jesus has won for us. It is the same for marriage: each day how important it is to picture in our minds eye what we want our marriage to look like not just at the beginning but at the end.
- Second fundamental point: After almost 35 years married I have learned, I believe, to be an expert in saying the two most foundational premises of married love, even though I can’t tell you which one is more important: “I Love You” and “I’m Sorry.” In just a few short weeks we will enter a “year of mercy.” I can think of no better time to renew the pledges of a healthy marriage and to fortify those which have, shall we say, lost their luster through trial and time.
- Lastly, and I sometimes get myself in trouble with this one, saying, Marriage does not take two….but three….or four….or five…whatever it takes. Obviously it begins with two in husband and wife; the third is God. I tell couples to envision their marriage as a triangle: with God at the top and each of them taking a corner – the closer they get to God, the closer they become to each other…and frankly the opposite. But in reality, marriage, especially these days takes more than even three: that is why marriages like all sacraments are public celebrations – those in attendance are more than just spectators or witnesses but can, and should, take on the role of SPONSOR offering support and assistance. A couple should be able to look around them and say…”There. That couple have the kind of marriage we want to have.” Then when the rough waters hit turn to that witness and say, “Please help.” The Church and her ministers are there in that capacity as well – I now tell my couples they make a covenant with God….and a contract with me.” So serious am I about helping them not just on the day of their wedding day but for the long run. It takes that kind of commitment these days…for all parties concerned.
We can chose to interpret the readings of these waning days of the Liturgical year as ominous, cryptic, apocalyptic for indeed that tone is most surely there. But threaded, and inseparable, in those words is a message of hope, empowerment, and indeed salvation.
We just had a whirlwind visit of Pope Francis to our shores primarily to speak to the World Meeting of Families about the importance of marriage and family life. Of the countless things he has said in his short papacy and his time here with us can probably be summed up in his statement:
“The family is [so] important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.”
Marriage and family life is the foundation of our society and it’s importance can never be stressed enough.
For all parties concerned, that is.