Tuesday, October 02, 2012

God Loves Marriage and Children: The 27th Week of Ordinary Time

The Readings for this Sunday provide the homilist with an ideal opportunity to teach Christian doctrine concerning marriage and children.  The opportunity is timely, too, as one of our political parties has taken an official stand supporting "same-sex marriage," an arrangement that is not intrinsically related to the birth and rearing of children, does not provide the same benefit to society as true marriage, and can never be as optimal for the well-being of children as to be raised by their own biological father and mother.  In the midst of the confusion about the very nature of marriage and its purpose, these Readings shed the light of God's revelation on how we should live this most intimate aspect of our lives.

1.  The First Reading is Genesis 2:18-24:
The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him."
So the LORD God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them;


whatever the man called each of them would be its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle,
all the birds of the air, and all wild animals;
but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,

and while he was asleep,
he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib
that he had taken from the man.
When he brought her to the man, the man said:
"This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called 'woman, '
for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."
That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one flesh.
There are many things to note in this beautiful passage.  Despite accusations to the contrary, the Bible does not take a negative view of womenn.  Instead, in the larger context of the creation story (Genesis 1-2), today's reading concerning the creation of woman is the climax and finale.  The literary structure suggests that the creation of woman is the crown and capstone of God's creative process.  As Catholics, this privileged position of Eve as the last and climactic creature in all creation points to the honor given to our Blessed Mother, the New Eve, and also to the Church, the Bride of Christ.

The English translation here accurately represents the Hebrew when it speaks of God "building" the woman from Adam's rib, and based on other passages of Scripture that liken the body of the woman to a Temple (e.g. Sir 26:26-18), I believe (but cannot prove) that this is temple-building language, suggesting that the woman is holy, like the Sanctuary of God.  In the Jewish tradition, marriage is called qidoshin, literally, "holinesses" or "sanctities," a term related to language of the Temple, like qodesh haqqodashim, "Holy of Holies." Again, typologically we can draw a connection with the Blessed Mother, who is herself an icon of the Church.

The Church Fathers noted that Adam's fall into deep sleep, the cutting of his flesh and donation of his body, his re-awakening and presentation with his Bride, were all a foreshadowing of Christ the New Adam, who would fall into the sleep of death, donate his body, and rise from the dead to greet his Bride, the Church, who comes forth from his pierced side (cf. John 19:34) in the flow of blood and water that is the imagery of birth and of the sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist), through which the Church is born and nourished.

Adam's words to Eve, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," as Walter Brueggemann and others have noted, is covenant-making language, that recurs in an important covenant-making narrative later in Scripture (2 Sam 5:1-3).  It should not be understood in the sense that Adam is merely recognizing a physical relationship; rather, it is Adam declaring Eve to be his kin, and the words very well may have been repeated in ancient Israelite marriage rites.  The point is that Adam is forming a covenant with Eve, establishing her as his kin (i.e. his wife).  The sacred author points out that this was the first marriage and the model for all subsequent marriage: "Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh."

We note, too, that monogamy rather than polygamy is implied in this whole passage.  God makes one woman for Adam, not two.  A man does not cling to his "wives," but to his "wife."  They do not become two or more "fleshes," but "one flesh."

The sacred author also employs word play in this passage.  The Hebrew for man is 'ish, for woman, 'ishah.  However, the Hebrew for "her man" is also pronounced 'ishah.  Although it is not reflected in today's standard Hebrew text (MT), the LXX and other ancient versions indicate there was a pun in ancient Hebrew manuscripts: "She shall be called 'ishah [woman], because she was taken out of 'ishah [her man]." This reading is reflected in our Mass translation.

It is not accidental that the Bible begins history with marriage in Genesis 1-2, and concludes history with another marriage (the Lamb and his Bride) in the last two chapters: Rev 21-22.  Marriage is an extremely important theme all through Scripture.  Marriage reflects God's very reality.  It is part of our creation in the "image and likeness" of God (Gen 1:26, 28).  God is multipersonal: He is a Trinity of persons.  Specifically, God is Two Persons whose love becomes a Third.  This, likewise, is what marriage is: Two Persons whose love becomes personified in a Third.  Therefore marriage is an icon of the Holy Trinity written into the natural order.  Since marriage is an icon of God, those who are against God also invariably end up attacking marriage, too, and vice-versa.  When marriage in our society is distorted and abused, it ends up giving a distorted and abused image of God to our children.  On the other hand, faithful marriages are evangelistic, a lighthouse of hope beaming a vision of God's love to people round about.

2. Our Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
R. (cf. 5) May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Blessed are you who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be, and favored.
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
May you see your children's children.
Peace be upon Israel!
R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
This beautiful psalm emphasizes that fecundity and children within marriage are a great blessing from God: "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine ... your children like olive shoots ... may you see your children's children."

How contrary to modern society, which typically views children as an obstacle and impediment to the career advancement of women, or a cause of poverty, and therefore to be avoided by contraception, sterilization, or ultimately abortion.  In fact, the current US presidential administration defines contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs as "health care" and is working aggressively to compel Catholic institutions (hospitals, dioceses, universities, schools) to pay for these drugs and procedures for their employees.

Allow me to digress for a moment.  Sterilization, contraception, and abortifacient drugs are not "health care."  "Health care" is meant to restore or maintain health.  A person who receives sterilization, contraception, or abortifacient drugs is not unhealthy.  Rather, they are healthy.  It is a sign of health that you are able to conceive when you perform marital acts.  If you are not able to conceive and bear a child, it is a sign of a lack of health.  Sterilization, contraception, and abortifacient drugs actually do not restore health, but render healthy (i.e. fertile) persons unhealthy (i.e. infertile), or even (in the case or abortifacients like "Plan B" or RU-486) cause the death of the newly conceived child, who already has a human soul and an "angel who beholds the face of the father in heaven" (Matt 18:10). All these drugs and operations are elective procedures, not health care, and there is no basis in natural or moral law that one's employer should be responsible to pay for them rather than oneself. 

In the inverted mentality of today's culture, God's blessings (children) have become a curse.  This is why Divine Wisdom says in Proverbs 8:36: "Those who hate me love death."  So modern culture has a love affair with things that cause death or prevent life: abortion, sterilization, euthanasia, contraception.  And it's killing whole cultures: there is currently almost no developed (first-world) nation whose natural rate of birth is above replacement level.  Virtually every developed nation is now depending on immigration to prevent population decline, but birth rates are falling precipitously in undeveloped nations, too. 

The Bible, however, views children as a blessing.  Children are good, made in the image and likeness of God.  Children are (or should be) the concretization and personification of covenant love between a man and a woman.  Children have eternal souls.  As human beings, they are immortal, and hopefully will live with God for eternity.  Therefore, the value of a child cannot be assessed purely on temporal grounds, based on economics, convenience, etc.
And even if no one else believes this, the Psalm promises a blessing to the man who does not fear the world, but fears God.  This man will discover that children are a blessing.

3.  Our Second Reading is Hebrews 2:9-11:
Brothers and sisters:
He "for a little while" was made "lower than the angels, "
that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

For it was fitting that he,

for whom and through whom all things exist,
in bringing many children to glory,
should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.
He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated
all have one origin.
Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them 'brothers.'
This reading continues the theme of "children."  By its placement in today's Readings, this passage of Hebrews suggests a parallel between physical and spiritual fecundity.  Biological children are a blessing in the natural order; but spiritual children are a blessing in the supernatural order.  Christ has "brought many children to glory": this refers to the Church, those who are born anew in Christ through baptism.  We are the children of Christ's suffering.  Although the text does not suggest this, we may think of the Passion of Christ referred to in this reading ("taste death for everyone ... make perfect through suffering") as a kind of pangs of child-birth through which he brought us to spiritual life.

One of the things this Reading and the Psalm have in common is God's delight in "many" children.  God's love is overflowing and abundant.  We see this in the order of nature, which often displays an enormous abundance of beauty--not one but millions of wildflowers, not a spot of color but an entire sky ablaze with a sunset, etc.  But we also see it in the order of grace: every gift of the Eucharist contains all the grace of Christ, limited only by our capacity to receive.

We are called to the imitation of God, whose love overflows and delights in "many children."  Thus, our works of evangelism and apostolate in this upcoming Year of Faith should be, perhaps, unrestrained and even flamboyant, in the sense that we should be dissatisfied with small measures that "preach to the choir," and seek effective means to speak to masses of people in our communities who, whether they recognize it or not, hunger for the love of God.

4.  The Gospel is Mark 10:2-16:
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked,
"Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?"
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?"
They replied,
"Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her."
But Jesus told them,
"Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
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,
no human being must separate."
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery."
There is so much to say about this passage.  The issue of divorce was contentious in ancient Judaism, with different schools of thought on the subject even within the Pharisees.

Jesus employs an important hermeneutical principle in his exegesis of the Torah of Moses in this passage.  He recognizes that the Pentateuchal narrative itself suggests that certain laws, given after the Golden Calf and the numerous rebellions of Israel in the wilderness, were not God's highest and best but were concessions to their rebelliousness or "hardness of heart."  The law that tacitly permits divorce, after all, was not given initially at Sinai, but after the forty years in the wilderness, in Deuteronomy 24:1.

But the Torah of Moses includes the Book of Genesis.  Jesus recognizes that there are a hierarchy of principles of moral behavior within the Torah itself, and the highest are those entailed by the description of the pre-fall state of humanity in Genesis 1-2.  In other words, Genesis 1-2 describes God's ideals for human existence.  The principles of marriage implied by Genesis 2—fidelity, monogamy, indissolubility—override later laws given as concessions to a sinful people.

Therefore, a valid marriage is indissoluble.  One cannot break it and remarry without sin: "whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her."

Marriage is meant to reflect divine reality.  In addition to reflecting the inner life of the Trinity (Two Persons whose love becomes a Third), marriage also reflects the covenant fidelity of God towards his people (see Hosea 1-3, and elsewhere throughout the prophets).  God is never unfaithful; he does not abandon his people-bride even when they are unfaithful (Hos 3; Isa 54:4-8).  Therefore Malachi declares, "For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel!" (Mal 2:16).

When we break our marital covenant, it is a counter-sign or rejection of the image of God's fidelity to us, his Church.  Of course, there are difficult situations that require prudence and the pastoral care of a good priest, other Christians, and perhaps a professional in order to see the way forward.  But the Church can never give up the principle to that marriage is unbreakable, without damaging the Gospel.
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them,
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
"Let the children come to me;
do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to
such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it."
Then he embraced them and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.
Is it accidental that Jesus' discussion of marriage is followed by his teaching about children?  Here we see Jesus' expressing the same love and delight in children as the LORD God of Israel showed in the Psalm above, or in the famous text of Malachi:
Mal. 2:13   And this again you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand.  14 You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  15 Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth.  16 “For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.” 
God loves children, and Jesus, who is God, expresses that love in today's Gospel: "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them."  Yet many, even within the Church, do not want the little children to come, and take steps to prevent them through contraception or sterilization.

Marriage is meant to be fruitful, because, as a reflection of the Trinity, the love of the Two Persons is intended to become a Third.  When we take active steps to prevent the Love of the Two from becoming the Third, we are trying to prevent marriage from reflecting the Trinitarian nature of God.

One of the reasons that a relationship between two persons of the same sex never constitutes marriage is because it does not and cannot produce children.  Marriage is an institution of God that joins a man and woman with whatever children may result from that union. [For further discussion of this, click here.] Even ancient societies that had no qualms whatsoever about male-male sexuality (e.g. Greece) understood what marriage was, and never described their male-male relationships as "marriage."

Jesus does not evaluate children from an economic or political perspective, but for their eternal value.  He recognizes that at their young age—when they are naturally poor, chaste, and obedient—they have a greater natural affinity for the Kingdom of God than those who have become cynical through time and sin.  In another passage, he adds this remark:
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father."
(Matt 18:10)
Again, Christ looks at the child from a spiritual, transcendent, and eternal point of view.  They are spiritual beings who have a spiritual guardian specific to themselves—an angel—who is always in the presence of God.

At this Sunday's Mass, let's pray for a revival of appreciation for the true nature of marriage and children within the Church and within society.

***

Want to see the Holy Land and the Dead Sea Scrolls in person with Dr. Bergsma and Fr. Denny Gang, T.O.R?  Click here for more info on the June 26-July 5 pilgrimage. 
 

4 comments:

val said...
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thedivinelamp said...

The passage from the Gospel (Mark 10:2-16) is sandwiched between the second and third passion predictions and should be seen in relation to them. In the current situation in which we find our country (and the world) this is both ominous and instructive. Taking a stand on marriage, family, or children, will get you verbally crucified today. How long will it be before that moves beyond words to deeds?

The subjects of no killing, no adultery,and the necessity of honoring father and mother are likewise sandwiched between the predictions. The terms mother and father are now in some countries being removed from legal documents-those states in life are becoming "the new abnormal."

Wealth is also sandwiched between the predictions. Most of our Blessed Lord's followers belonged to a class the Greek's termed "penes,"-the working class poor, those who could be self-sufficient. The Lord expected even the penes to look out for and help those known as ptochos, the really indigent, the destitute, those without family to help them. Today, of course, even the penes,the self-sufficient want someone else to pay their way.

John Bergsma said...

Thanks for the observations.

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