Homily for the XXI Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Bp. Mark J. Seitz                                     XXI B 2015

August 23, 2015                                       St. Patrick Cathedral


First Reading: Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-17,18                                                           Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21-32                                                                Gospel: John 6: 55, 60-69


Matrimony: Sign of Grace, Sign of Love


I was observing the married couples out here as the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was read. When the lector read, “wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord”—I saw many husbands looking at their wives as if to say, “I hope you are listening.” When the lector said, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. He gave his life for her…”—I saw a wince on the part of the husbands as their wives’ elbows found a place between their ribs. Paul certainly has something challenging to say to both husbands and wives in today’s passage.


In the Gospel of today we find some of the disciples departing from Jesus because they cannot accept his radical teachings when he says, “my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” People have always had trouble accepting Jesus’ teaching about the Real Presence. Many have through the centuries tried to water this teaching down and to change it. Recent surveys of Catholics show that even many Catholics do not fully accept what Jesus teaches.


Yes, people have problems accepting this teaching about the Eucharist, but the Real Presence is not the only teaching found in our readings that is met with rejection today. Many also apparently do not believe in the fundamental meaning of Marriage or in the possibility of living this call in love and fidelity for life.


Give me a show of hands. How many here have been married for 50 years or more? A number of couples. Wow! How many have been married for 35 years or more? More hands are raised! How about 20 years or more? The church is filled with you and your families! This seems impossible to many. It must be a miracle! I know that you married couples will agree that miracle or not, it is clearly a sign of grace!!


The true meaning of marriage is taught throughout the Scriptures—starting at the beginning. In the Book of Genesis, after the creation of Adam and Eve, God tells them, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Christ repeats this doctrine and he goes on to say that once a valid marriage is entered into, this union is indissoluble.


Paul also repeats the passage from Genesis but then he goes even deeper in his teaching. He makes it clear that to form “one body” out of two requires a sacrifice like that of Christ. It is a laying down of one’s life, a dying, for the sake of the other. It is a love like that of Christ for the Church. On the cross he laid down his life for her—every last drop of his blood. This love forms a union of Christ with his Church so close that the two are practically indistinguishable. Paul could find no better image of this complementary union than that found in Holy Matrimony.


I‘ve had the chance to celebrate many weddings. Presently I am assisting a young couple in their late 20s. In speaking with them, the groom-to-be mentioned that he was a big sports fan—baseball, football, soccer, you name it. When a game was on he wanted her to understand that this was his time. He expected not to be interrupted. Poor young man! I tried to explain to him that this will be one of the smaller areas of sacrifice in his life. Yes, there will be some time for sports, but it will always need to be second to his spouse and to the needs of their family. I think it is sinking in.


Out of the union of husband and wife, marked by such a profound mutual self-giving, a married couple becomes conscious sharers in the very work of God. Their relationship has the potential, God willing, to become life-giving in a most concrete way; they can bring a child to life. Children become the living, might we say ‘incarnate’, sign of their love.


In this time many do not understand nor accept any of this teaching. They do not understand that Matrimony is the complementary union of a man and a woman. They do not grasp that marriage is a call to self-sacrifice for the sake of the other. They do not understand that marriage involves a love without conditions and for all of life. They don’t comprehend that this love must be, by its very nature, open to fruitfulness and cannot be separated from that fruitfulness without also taking away from the union.


In practice we are far from the teachings of God regarding Matrimony. We should not be surprised to see this awesome gift of God reduced to little more than a temporary agreement among friends. Today, Marriage is not seen as a way for a man and woman to lay down their life for the sake of the other, instead it is seen as a way to fulfill oneself emotionally. It is no longer seen as a covenant to provide a stable loving home for the sake of the children born of that mutual love. No, today Marriage is seen as something I do for myself and for my self-fulfillment—and when I am no longer feeling happy—I say, “Adios”!


If we wish to reclaim our sanity as members of society we need to rediscover these fundamental but challenging teachings of Jesus and his Church: the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and another sign of Jesus’ real presence among us, Sacramental Marriage. Many will hear these teachings and depart murmuring. But we, along with Peter, will continue following Christ with confidence knowing that there is nowhere else we would rather go. Jesus has the words of eternal life! With Joshua we can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”


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