Homily given February 10, 2013
One theme of our Scriptural readings today could be summed up in one word: vocation. Each one is about vocation: the vocations of Isaiah, St. Paul and the Apostles.
Now, whenever we talk about vocations, most of us probably think of priesthood or religious vocations. However, as you probably know, each one of us has a vocation, a calling from God. Through our Baptism we are all called to be a disciple of Christ in the world.
But since this Sunday marks World Marriage Day, I would like to focus specifically on Marriage. In 1993 Blessed Pope John Paul II imparted his Apostolic Blessing on World Marriage Day, so the Church makes this an opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony – to honor men and women united in marriage, and to remind all of us of what it means to be married. Even though this celebration takes place just before Valentine’s Day, those of us married know, it’s not all chocolate candies and pretty flowers. Sometimes, it can be rotten eggs and ugly weeds... it’s clothes on the floor – a sink full of dirty dishes – changing diapers in the middle of the night – meetings with teachers, and paying bills, and fixing the car, and driving to soccer practice, and snoring at three in the morning. Marriage is both a joy and a cross to carry!
There is a story of St. Catherine of Siena who once had a vision that God was offering her several crosses, some light, others heavy. She wanted to please God, so she selected the heaviest. “No,” said the Lord, “that one is not for you. It is reserved for married couples.” Having a successful marriage is not easy. And our modern day culture does not help. As we know all too well, it is very anti-marriage... marriage is under severe attack.
But to us Catholics, how many of us treat Matrimony as a vocation, much less a Sacrament?” How many of us – even the most faithful Catholics – have the same respect for this Sacrament as we do Holy Orders? How many of us understand that this married life – like the life of a priest or religious – is a calling? Being married is not just a lifestyle choice, or a living arrangement that has tax and fringe benefit advantages... or even simply a contract, as some of our society would like us to accept!
Matrimony is a covenant and a sublime calling; those who are married have been called to a way of life that is a model and prime example of God's Covenant with His people. God has summoned us to live our lives in a radical way, by putting the interests of the other person, or an entire family, ahead of our own. He has asked us to do this for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for a lifetime.
It is a wonder, and "a great mystery", as Blessed Pope John Paul II proclaimed in his Letter to Families (1994). We must treasure it as a divine calling. God, the giver of life and love depends on married couples to work with Him to continue bringing love and life into the world. We do this not through doing extraordinary things (as St. Francis de Sales once said) but by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.... To live our marriage to the fullest – to be head over heels in love with one another! And in order to keep that type of love going, it is necessary to work at it. Take part in a Marriage Encounter week-end, which is designed for good marriages to become even better. Make a practice of attending a couples retreat every year or so. Study a good book together about how to enrich your relationship. Make romantic dates often. Do the simple things you did when courting and first married that fostered your romance. Have you ever thought about the fact that the primary goal of each husband and wife bonded in Matrimony should be to become saints together – assisting one another to get to heaven, along with our children? But of course we can't succeed in doing that by ourselves. We need God's help – that's why prayer is so important. Pray together as a couple, as well as private prayer for each other. Offer Masses for each other's holiness and to become more united as one – come up to Holy Communion together as a couple as a sign of your striving to live God's plan for your marriage – to be one in heart, mind, and body. Pray the Rosary together. Pray together at bedtime – especially before and after making love, which is sacred after all... it is the Holy Communion of our little, “domestic church,” whose love is configured to the very love that Jesus reveals in how He loves His Church. His commitment is total, and sealed in a sacred covenant with us as his bride. In return, that is what he asks of us as 'Matrimonied' couples: not halfheartedness, not mundaneness, but a total giving of self to Him, and to one another as husband and wife, so that we can reflect His love to others.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God says to our first parents, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). So married couples in a very real sense continue God’s work of creation as co-creators of His children. The guarantee of a healthy, strong and vibrant society is found in strong marriages that brings forth life and virtue. A civilization which assaults and betrays God's design for marriage will soon lose its civility and even its very existence. It is not anyone’s prerogative to change marriage in anyway, because it is not our right to dispose of God’s design of creation. To tamper with marriage, in its nature and goals, is to interfere with the established of creation itself. It is arrogantly saying to God, “You got it wrong.”
But as we know, God got it perfectly right! In His absolute, perfect wisdom he has ordained that a man and woman, in their complimentary characteristics and attributes, united in marriage, are the best image of the relationship between God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In addition, since they have a relationship that is the most intimate of all human relationships, they are, or should be, the best example in human terms, of how much Jesus loves His Church. Jesus gave his all for us – unconditionally – He held nothing back. And He calls husbands and wives to do the same with each other...to have that type of 'Matrimonial Sprituality.'
Most unfortunately, too few of our Catholic couples have answered His call to live their lives that profoundly. 50 or so years ago our Catholic family had a strong, positive influence on our culture, but that is no longer the case. So we married couples need to turn things around and become a much more spirited sign and witness of God's plan for marriage – in order to combat the perversions of our society, such as the demand for so-called same-sex “marriage.” The Church is opposed to same-sex “marriage” because we are opposed to the reduction of marriage from a holy covenant to a materialistic contract, in addition to the obliteration of the "good" of couples in being a family with a mother and a father. It is essential that all of us, married or not, pray everyday for strong, vibrant Christian marriages and families.
In the face of the secular assault and attempt to abolish marriage as traditionally understood, we Catholics must continue to bear witness to the truth about marriage – that it will stay what it has always been, a holy vocation, covenant and Sacrament, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves and God, a sacred partnership. That is by its nature a gift for both the good of the spouses and the procreation, education, and wholesome nurturing of children. We must all witness to the full truth of marriage, and to do our best in bringing people to this truth. And most especially to practice the full truth of marriage within our Church, no matter what our deceived, upside down world tries to do.