Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Message about Marriage: Fr. Andersen

This homily (for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time) by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, contains a very clear and beautiful description of the Sacrament of Marriage as we see it unfold in the Garden of Eden with our first parents, Adam and Eve. 

There is also an important message for those suffering from same-sex attraction.

And finally, this homily also contains an important message for those who have been divorced and remarried, or those who are experiencing the threat or the effects of divorce in any way in their lives. (mostly my emphases)

On the third day of creation, God spoke and out of nothing came to be all green herbs, seed-bearing plants, and fruit-bearing trees. But then what did God do with all of these plants? We are told in chapter 2 of Genesis that “the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning” (Gen 2:8). But all of creation was not paradise. The word paradise comes from the Greek paradeisos, meaning a walled, or enclosed, garden or park. So paradise was one special part of creation that God enclosed from the beginning. This was where He exercised His artistry in creation. He had created herbs and seed bearing plants and fruit bearing trees. But in this walled garden, God artfully arranged them into a paradise. Meanwhile God continued with the rest of creation outside of the walled garden. On the sixth day, He created man from the clay of the earth and breathed life into the man who “became a living soul” (2:7).

This man, Adam, was not simple-minded. You may recall from a few weeks ago that Adam was created with infused knowledge from God. Therefore, he was knew the mysteries of creation and the wisdom of God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and his intellect was far superior to ours because he was created without sin. There was also no death, so his body was immortal and his soul was immortal. All this is outside of the garden.

Then, God placed the man within the enclosure of paradise. The man was not created in paradise. Paradise was a gift to the man. We do not know how long this time lasted before Adam was brought into paradise. We do know that Adam was alone with God in this paradise filled with plants, flowers, trees, and a river to water the garden.

Earlier, before God created the man, He had already created all the beasts of the earth, and all the birds of the air, but He had not placed them in the garden. And God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself” (Gen 2:18). So God brought the beasts and birds into the garden to Adam for Adam to name them. God did not name them. Adam named them. God did name Adam. That is what a father does. A father gives a name to his children, claiming them as his own. But God did not name the beasts or the birds or the plants. He gave that fatherly responsibility to Adam to name the animals, the birds, the trees and plants that surrounded him. Adam named them, therefore he was responsible to care for them. “…but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself (Gen 2:20).

Then God created the woman. Unlike Adam who was created outside of the garden, the woman was created inside the garden. Unlike the man, the woman was not created from the clay of the earth. She was created from the side of the man. Unlike the man, God did not name the woman. She was given to the man by God and the man named her ‘woman’. He was given to name her so that he would claim her as his own, to care for her, to provide for her, and to protect her. He gave her a name to share in his name, because, although different from him, she was like him, taken from his very bones.

This is a truly happy ending if we end the story here because, at this point, all is love. Up to this point, there is no sin and no death. Let us meditate happily and blissfully on this time at the beginning of creation. All is love because all creation at this point reflects God who is love. Therefore all is fruitful and fertile and creative. Where there is love, there is creativity, fertility, and fruitfulness.

What does this passage tell us about the union of man and woman? One crucial aspect of this sacred narrative is that the union happens in paradise. It does not happen in the wild. Remember that outside of this walled garden is the wilderness. The garden is surely expansive. Adam and Eve do not feel constricted in this garden, but nevertheless, it is enclosed which means that it is set apart from the rest of creation. That is the meaning of the word ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’. Sacred means cut off or consecrated; belonging not to nature, but to God. Of course, all nature belongs to God, but to be consecrated, or set apart is a willed act. God wills that certain things be set apart and man must participate in this act by willfully consecrating things to God.

Marriage is a willful act of consecration. What validates a sacramental marriage is the free, willed consent of both parties, being one baptized man and one baptized woman, who publicly speak their consent in front of witnesses and an official representative of the Church, normally a priest or deacon. This sacrament is an act of consecration.

What do we mean by consecration? Let’s look at the consecration of the Eucharist. We begin with a piece of bread and a small amount of wine poured into a chalice. The Holy Spirit descends upon the bread at the words of the priest. The Holy Spirit changes the bread into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The same thing happens to the wine. It is no longer bread. It is no longer wine. It can never be used for anything profane again. It has been cut off, or consecrated; set apart from all profane use. It can never be used as bread again. It is now the Holy Eucharist for as long as it exists. Therefore, we protect it by keeping it in a safe place, in the tabernacle. I repeat, it can never be used for anything profane after the consecration. It can never be used as a cracker. It should never be eaten as though it is a cracker. It should never be approached casually. Every single crumb of the Sacred Host must be protected. That is why we hold the paten under your chin or under your hands when you receive Holy Communion. That is why the priest holds his fingers together after the consecration and then purifies those fingers with wine and water and consumes it–so that not one crumb is lost. That is why we cover the tabernacle with a veil. It is so sacred that it must be protected.

And the union of one man and one woman in marriage is so sacred that it must be protected with the same diligence and the same meticulous care. The union of man and woman did not happen in the wilderness; it happened in paradise. It happened in a special place that God had set apart. God had brought the man from the wilderness into this consecrated place. God had created the woman in this sacred place and the union of one man and one woman was willed by God, and happened in the sight of God in this sacred place set apart from all that was profane. The two become one flesh in a sacred place that is fruitful and fertile because of the love of God. The man and woman are consecrated together and become as one. The man gives the woman his name. He claims her as his own and is responsible to care for her and love her as his very self just as Adam was given to care for the woman he named. The Holy Spirit descends upon the man separately from the woman but they become as one, just as the bread and wine are offered separately but become as one. The Host is the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ. Likewise, the Precious Blood in the chalice is the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ. So the husband and the wife are individuals, but they are joined as husband and wife and they can never be separated again.

Once the Eucharist has been consecrated and mingled together in the chalice, the Body and Blood of Christ can never be separated again. The Body is consecrated separately from the Blood, but then they are co-mingled in the chalice. Once that happens, the Body and Blood can never be separated again. In a similar manner, once a man and woman become husband and wife in the sacrament of Matrimony, they can never be separated again. They are consecrated as a married couple, meaning they are cut off from single life and belong together. They can never be separated again. Our Lord in the gospel ratifies this saying that “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mk 10:9).

Now, let’s return to the union of the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This tells us something else very important about the union of a man and a woman. In the Mass, a priest comes to the altar and he consecrates the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. They are transformed in the sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit. A priest cannot not take a Host and consecrate it and then separately take another host and consecrate it, avoiding the consecration of the Precious Blood and then attempting to co-mingle the two hosts into one. He can consecrate many hosts but they are already as one Body of Christ. He could not avoid to consecrate the Precious Blood. Likewise, a priest could not avoid the consecration of the Sacred Host and attempt to only consecrate two chalices of the Precious Blood and then mingle them together. That would not be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It would not be the Eucharist. It would in fact be sacrilegious, meaning that it would be cut off from the holy; cut off from God. That is why marriage can only be, by definition, a union of one man and one woman and nothing else. Any other combination is not marriage. If you find yourself in this situation, or if you are suffering due to same-sex attraction, do not despair. You are not defined by those feelings. You are defined as a beloved son or daughter of God and He wishes to heal you and fill you with the Holy Spirit. Come and talk to me about it. I will receive you with the love of God.

Our Lord has set these boundaries for us to help us to understand paradise, and to get back to paradise. The Sacrament of Matrimony is entered into so that each spouse can help the other get to paradise, which we call heaven. Heaven is an enclosed garden. We are now in the world, but not of the world. Our fulfillment is to get back to the garden, but we must cooperate with God to get there. The sacraments happen in paradise and when we participate in the sacraments, we experience paradise here on earth in order to lead us fully to the paradise at the end of our days. Marriage is not meant to be easy. It is a vocation, therefore it involves carrying the Cross of Jesus Christ.

That having been said, earth is not heaven. Life on earth is not perfection. We are all sinners. We suffer from sin. Some marriages are a source of great suffering. If you have suffered due to a divorce, God does not will to abandon you. Come and talk to me about it. I will receive you with the love of God. If you were married outside the Church, or remarried after a civil divorce, come and talk to me. I will receive you with the love of God. If your parents are divorced and you are suffering, come and talk to me. I will receive you with the love of God. God does not want you to live your life in a state of uncertainty and shame.  

The Church is bound to the words our Lord spoke in the gospel today about divorce and remarriage, and we cannot change that. The Church assumes that all marriages are valid. Therefore, there is no such thing as divorce for Catholics. But what happens to those who have divorced and remarried? The Christian life is all about reconciliation with God. So how do we reconcile this situation? The Church has no power to nullify something that is valid, but if there is something that invalidated the marriage from the beginning, the Church can identify that and formally declare in writing that the marriage was never a valid sacrament. Yes, the marriage happened and the children are legitimate. It does not erase the marriage. It does not heal all the wounds of those involved, but it does begin the healing process making it possible for both parties to reconcile with God. If you or someone you love is in this situation, have them come and talk to me. God wants you to be healed and I want to help. 

For more homilies by Fr. Andersen, click on the tab at the top of the page.

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