Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jesus Defends Marriage

Homily, 13th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA

People of good will all over the country are shocked and saddened by this week's Supreme Court decision that failed to uphold marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. Some perhaps feel like James and John in the Gospel today, when the Samaritan village would not welcome Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" But "Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village." So it is not ours to react with despair or predictions of doom or desires for punishment, but to soberly continue onwards, preaching the Good News, and in this time in particular, the Good News about Marriage.

Some will say that Jesus said nothing about this issue, so therefore it must be permitted. Well, what exactly did Jesus teach about marriage? In Matthew 19 we read that some Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" Jesus answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning 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. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." 

So, what Jesus says is that Marriage, from the very beginning of Creation was willed by God to be the union of a man and a woman. And that this union was so complete, that "the two shall become one flesh", both literally and spiritually. They become one spiritually, for the mutual good of the spouses, and their two bodies bring about one flesh in the procreation and raising of their children.

 But can that change, as societies grow, become more diverse and tolerant? The Pharisees thought that too. They wanted to redefine marriage, so they say to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" Jesus responds, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another, commits adultery."

He doubles-down on the definition of marriage, restating that it was this way from the beginning, and moreover, that attempts to redefine it or live it differently are sinful.

To be clear, Jesus teaches that the only authentically human, non-sinful expression of human sexuality is within the context of a faithful, lifelong union of one man and one woman that is open to life. That's why he does not spend much time addressing the myriad ways in which sexuality is misused, including that addressed by the Supreme Court's decision this week. As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, (Orthodoxy, p. 68): "It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands."

And as if to double-down on the procreative aspect of marriage, right after reaffirming this constant teaching on marriage, what did Jesus do? He blessed the children that were brought to him, the fruit of marriage, the one-flesh that results from the union of one man and one woman: "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

So marriage is procreative both in the literal and spiritual sense. As we pray in the Marriage Rite, "Lord, you have forged the covenant of marriage as a sweet yoke of harmony and an unbreakable bond of peace, so that the chaste and fruitful love of Holy Matrimony may serve to increase the children you adopt as your own. By your providence and grace, O Lord, you accomplish the wonder of this two-fold design: that, while the birth of children brings beauty to the world, their rebirth in Baptism gives increase to your Church."

That's what our Lord taught about marriage. And that's what his apostles taught and lived, as seen by their lives. Jesus spoke of himself as the Bridegroom and the Church as his Bride. He uses this image because marriage is sacred, and the people would have understood all the more profoundly the union of God and his People that Jesus came to accomplish. Since salvation would be spousal, it would be hard for people to perceive what their redemption would mean if their understanding and practice of human marriage were messed up.

And his cousin John the Baptist, the greatest prophet of the Old and New Testament before Christ, was likewise firm and clear in saying that we cannot redefine marriage to make it whatever we please. He was thrown into prison and eventually decapitated because he had the courage repeatedly to tell King Herod - who had taken his brother Philip's wife Herodias to be his own - "It is not lawful for you to have her". He was a martyr for the truth about marriage, which makes him a particular patron for our times.

And in history, we see the same. St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, were both arrested for treason and martyred because of their opposition to King Henry VIII's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn and refusing to take the oath of supremacy of the king over the church. St. John Fisher was a bishop and all the other bishops of England apostatized and went along with the King, which of course, led to the break of the Church of England from Rome. And St. Thomas More would spend time imprisoned in the London Tower as his family and friends encouraged him to save his life by saying the words only of the oath only, not really meaning it. Neither balked. St. John Fisher declared that like St. John the Baptist, he was ready to die on behalf of the indissolubility of marriage, and both Saints were beheaded.

Many, it seems, based on a misunderstanding of freedom, have forgotten the witness of our Lord and his Saints and even applaud how our modern culture and the Courts have redefined marriage. They forget the words of Saint Paul today, "For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery... For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh... live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want."

Of course, we cannot ignore the witness of countless heroic couples who have lived the dignity and truth of Christian marriage throughout the centuries, not needing to be told by the government how they should define this sacred union.

So how should Catholics respond to this? The USCCB issued this statement: “Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act... The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage... The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage...

Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.

Our culture has taken for granted for far too long what human nature, experience, common sense, and God’s wise design all confirm: the difference between a man and a woman matters, and the difference between a mom and a dad matters. While the culture has failed in many ways to be marriage-strengthening, this is no reason to give up. Now is the time to strengthen marriage, not redefine it.

... In the face of the customs and laws of his time, Jesus taught an unpopular truth that everyone could understand. The truth of marriage endures, and we will continue to boldly proclaim it with confidence and charity.

Now that the Supreme Court has issued its decisions, with renewed purpose we call upon all of our leaders and the people of this good nation to stand steadfastly together in promoting and defending the unique meaning of marriage: one man, one woman, for life.”

In today's Gospel, Jesus says to us, "Follow me." It is not enough to say, "Lord, I will follow you wherever you go" and then to fear the consequences and hardship that decision, to be overwhelmed by desires of the flesh, or to look back to a worldly way of life. Instead, this decision is costly and difficult, more and more so in this modern world. It demands of us a respect if not a desire for martyrdom, as Pope Pius XI said on the canonization of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, "If all of us are not called to shed our blood for the defense of the holy laws of God, all none the less... with Christian mortification of their bodies, with energetic striving after virtue, “must be martyrs of desire, in order to share with the martyrs their celestial reward.”