Fr. Stephen’s homily on Marriage, August 22nd. The focus that we have seen on the Holy Eucharist, for the last few Sundays, has come to end, and, working from the second reading tonight/today, we turn to another of the Sacraments: Marriage. St Paul outlines the relationship between a husband and wife in his letter to the Ephesians in a way that would not be regarded as politically correct these days.
But Paul wrote in age where there was a different understanding of gender. Even so, the emphasis he makes is not the dominance of the husband, but the mutual submission of the spouses to each other and the sacrificial role of the head of the family – a role that he compares to the sacrificial role of Christ who gave his life for the salvation and redemption of all.
Teaching on Marriage is to be found in Canon Law, where there are no less than 110 canons devoted to the subject, and the CCC, which has 14 pages. The text and commentary is positive, definitive, and helpful. Canon law defines marriage as ‘a Covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of the children.
The contract between a couple to stay together for life is much older than Christianity. The first recorded evidence of a marriage ceremony dates to 2350 BC in Mespotamia – modern Iraq and Syria. Jesus blessed and approved the marital state as St. Matthew records in chapter 19 of his Gospel. ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. ’In the 12th century marriage was formally recognised as a Sacrament.
The Catholic church sometimes appears to put bureaucratic or technical difficulties in the path of couples who are trying to contract a union recognised by the Church, and this can send a negative message. My own experience of helping couples towards marriage are the words of the Chancellor of our diocese, Monsignor George Henwood: ‘Stephen, our job is to help people to get married if at all possible.’
In the sacrament of marriage couples are given a very special grace that helps them to live together, stay together and grow together in faithfulness, confidence, and in mutual self-giving, building on the solemn promises that they exchange. The extra invisible, yet tangible, strength that this sacrament brings provides the family with additional security and emotional safety upon which the couple and the children can flourish together.
But what when things go wrong? When two people fall out of love, or are unfaithful, or simply break apart through any number of pressures that the world throws at them? It is the worry of this that too often puts people off marriage.
Many families encounter some sort of bump along the way and this is when they draw deepest from the well of grace that the Sacrament of Marriage provides. But what does the Church have to offer for those whose union ultimately fails? What does the church have to offer for those who live together as partners and for those who are in same sex relationships?
The Church has this to offer: LOVE and INCLUSION. Love, not judgement. Such Catholics, (especially to those who are attracted to members of the same sex), are as much part of the Church as the Pope, the local Bishop or the priest down the road.
All of us know divorced, separated or gay people, or others with partners, through whom the love of God streams like the morning sun through a window. Many of them are deeply committed Christians. They know God and they are loved by God.
Marriage for two people of the opposite sex, who have a vocation to the married state, remains the ideal, because it brings heavenly grace, security and lifelong commitment. But the Church does not exist merely for those who are saints, who lives have been whiter than snow. The Church, the Body of Christ, exists to draw all people to the Lord, of every shape, size, colour and orientation. Words of Eucharistic Prayer 3: ‘In your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children, scattered throughout the world.’