Sunday, August 26, 2012

Be Subordinate to One Another Out of Reverence for Christ

Homily 21st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2012 
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton, GA

Over the years, I’ve met many men who have never been to church, never even owned a bible, much less opened one, but who at the same time have this remarkable ability to quote the Bible from memory. And there’s one passage that they all seem to know by heart: “Wives be submissive to your husbands.” Now, they can’t quote the verse before or the verse after, but they know that verse, and they make sure their wives know it too.

If they bothered looked at the verse before and after, they might have to rethink how they use that passage. The verse before says, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And the verse after says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. He gave himself up for her to make her holy.”

With that, St. Paul is giving us a completely different view of marriage than what our society. He’s talking about mutual submission, mutual self-giving, mutual sacrifice. And this flows from the biblical understanding of marriage as a gift from God.

As the catechism says: (CCC 1604), “God who created man in love also calls him to love… For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”   Ideally, marriage should be a self-giving union between a man and woman that is love-giving, as God is love giving, and that is life-giving, cooperating with God in bringing new life into the world. And marriage also helps build up society and the community, because it is the most basic of all communities, the family.

That’s the ideal, as God intended marriage to be at the dawn of creation, but then something happened: namely, sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were wounded, both in themselves and in their relationship with each other. As the catechism says (CCC 1607), “Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations (they blamed each other and wouldn’t admit their own fault); and their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust.” And we have all inherited that wound of sin, making relationships difficult, and making us prone to (CCC 1606) “discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and suspicion.” And certainly, we see that in our society today, where, sadly, 60% of marriages fail.

 How do we remedy this situation? We can’t, but God can and did.

I recently renewed the marriage vows of my mother and step-father on their fifteenth anniversary. When I presided at their wedding fifteen years ago, we did something unique. When we exchanged the vows, their hands were joined around a crucifix that I had blessed. This is a custom that comes from Croatia and Bosnia, and the point of it is real simple: the priest usually says to the couple, “Now that your hands are joined in Christ, realize that in marriage you must take up your Cross, deny yourself and follow Jesus.” And then he usually adds, “if you let go of Christ, you let go of each other, and if you let go of each other, you must let go of Christ.”

That’s a reality in marriage a lot of people learn, sometimes the hard way: that marriage requires the embracing of the Cross. And both my mom and step-dad learned that in their first marriages – both lost their spouse to cancer and stood by them faithfully during their suffering. It was hard, yes, but through the Cross, they learned the true meaning of love.

That’s the remedy for sin, the healing of our relationships, that God gave us: Christ and his Cross. As the catechism says, (CCC 1615), “By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage… It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that the spouses will be able to receive the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. The grace of Christian marriage is the fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.”

 In other words, the only way to live marriage as God originally intended, as a life-giving, love-giving, totally self-giving union of a man and a woman, we need God’s help, and he gives us that help through the Cross. All grace flows from the sacrifice of Christ on Cross, so the grace of marriage (indeed, all the sacraments) is rooted in the Cross.

 It’s never too late to embrace the Cross and to ask for the sacramental grace to strengthen a marriage. A while back, I was speaking to some long time friends of my family, and the husband said to me, "Today is our wedding anniversary." I said, That’s great, how long have you been married? And he said to me, "We’ve been married 35 years. 25 of them happily." He was very candid about the fact that the first 10 years of his marriage were not happy. I asked him, Why? Because at the beginning, he was in it only for himself; for his career, for his expectations, to fulfill only what he wanted out of the marriage. He came into it with a very selfish view of marriage, and it was not until he learned the true meaning of the Cross that they were able to turn their marriage around and live happily. Over time, he learned humility, mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice, self-giving, all of which can be learned from the Cross.

And that is why marriage is such a blessing from God, because as St. Paul says, “it is a great foreshadowing, referring to Christ and the church.” Because we are members of his body, Christ treats us as a husband would a spouse – he nourishes us and takes care of us, wanting only what is best for us, so that we might be holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle. St. Peter asked in today’s Gospel, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” When we are struggling with the various problems that confront married couples and families in today’s world, remember that we need only turn to Christ and his Cross, and then we can be confident that we are on the way to that eternal union in the Kingdom of Heaven.