Sunday, 11 October 2009

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B [4th October 2009]

It is perhaps fortuitous that this weekend is the memorial of St Francis Assisi and the theme centres on the family. Why fortuitous? St Francis was a man of peace and his message, perhaps, has implications for the human family. If you like, the readings today point toward the unit of peace called the family. According to the First Reading, God made man and woman for each other. The bond of marriage means that they are no longer two but one. Christ in the Gospel teaches that the marriage comes from God and is therefore indissoluble.

In the face of global armed conflicts and with the threat of a nuclear holocaust becoming more real, the idea of world peace is indeed sought after. Just like the movie Miss Congeniality, world peace is supposed to be every beauty queen’s desire. [1] That airy fairy fuzzy desire for world peace must begin concretely with the family.

How can the family be a means to world peace?

The first reading taken from Genesis may help us here. There are two accounts of the “institution” of marriage found there. The first speaks of marriage in terms of fruitfulness or procreation. The second looks at marriage as meeting a human need for companionship and for equality—the basis for our thought on peace in the family. In the Gospel, Jesus draws his inspiration from the Book of Genesis instead of from the Book of Deuteronomy. The Pharisees, on the one hand, looked for their loophole in the indecency clause of Deuteronomy to get out of a marriage whereas Jesus, on the other hand, looked at His Father’s will as the foundation for marriage’s stability. Through faithful love, man and woman will come to reflect the faithfulness of God to creation.

Faithful love or marriage stability is a reflexion of or better still, a sacrament of God’s faithful love. According to a survey of Entertainment Weekly, there are 15 lines that more than any others epitomises the worst, the silliest, the most cringe-worthy movie lines ever spoken. Almost at the top is Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire (1996): “You complete me”. Apart from the fact that it may be silly, it certainly is a reflexion of our lost sense of perspective. Many of us no longer believe in the permanency of marriage. “You complete me” is basically the message of our Genesis reading. The unity that is brought about by mutual completion or mutual fulfilment of each other is the basis for the celebration of marriage.

In marriage we proclaim God’s faithfulness to us and what a better proclamation than to see couples, men and women who after 30 years of marriage can still sit together and hold hands. Here, in this parish, let me assure you that there are as many grieving widows as there are merry widows. For some people, death of a partner is a welcome change but for others, death begins this long life of pained loneliness. On the one hand, what is most reassuring in the face of death is the resurrection; that we will be reunited with those whom we love—it is part of supernatural faith that gives us this comfort. But, on the other hand, there is the natural longing and pining for one’s partner. This gives us all a deep sense of the value that marriage has brought to lives of individuals.

Marriage stability is a great gift that the family can give to the cause of world peace. The grammar of world peace is written in the structure of the human family. There will be peace on earth to the extent that humanity discovers its calling to family life. Nothing is more important to the health of children than that they come from stable marriages. Before we go into that, divorce is a reality. First, today, it is easier to divorce because the taboo against it is no longer that strong. Second, some people find themselves in a state separation through no fault of theirs. Thus, our reflexion on the stability of marriage is not a judgement of those who find themselves in the unenviable position of separation. Divorce or separation is not always a result of personal failure.

If anything, the prevalence of divorce and its acceptance in our culture must spur us on to protect the family even more. In this respect, the Church or in particular, this parish owes a great deal of gratitude to couples who have remained married to each other over the years and through thick and thin have held together. Thus, the parish invites them to share joys and sorrows by celebrating their anniversaries with us.

In marriage, as in every relationship, the bond between man and woman has to be worked on. Nothing suffers more from “disuse” than from being unused. Compare the difference between an unused portion of a travel journey and a disused swimming pool. Which gives you a greater sense of dereliction? A disused swimming pool suggests of broken tiles, green algae and stagnant water. Marriage suffers from “disuse” and not from being unused and a disused marriage suggests of broken promise, unhealed hurts and a moribund relationship. There are many marriages falling into disuse.

The result cannot be good for the family. You can see the indissolubility of marriage is not just a concern of priests. There is justification for couples to strengthen their married life because the fruit of their love for each other, their children, is best nurtured and cared for when a marriage is stable.

You are challenged; we are challenged to promote good family life. A good family is not a perfect family. It may be a struggling family trying to live the way that God intends. You should find some modicum of hope because there are very few perfect families. Like many families, you probably belong to the category of struggling families. But, remember the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage. When a couple comes before the Altar to pronounce their vows, God also promises to be with the couple. In many cases, it is we who break the promise to God. So, rest assured that God is with you and He promises to help you. But, you need to trust Him and trust each other.

Our desire for world peace has led us to the family—the building block of peace. Thus, today is a good day to look at the family and ask how a struggling family may improve in its “familial” relationship and praise be to God if you have a wonderful family, then ask how a good family may become even better.
[1] If you know the movie, every contestant was asked what she would do if she won the crown. The answer given with a dreamy look was she would promote world peace.