27th Sunday: Two Become One
The readings for this Sunday point us to a consideration of the sacrament of matrimony. This is the sacrament so many of you live. I can provide the theological, spiritual basis of the sacrament, but only those of you who are married can provide the reality of the sacrament in your marriages.
I want to be poetic with you today and take a close look at that beautiful first reading from Genesis. As simplistic and perhaps even childlike that the stories in Genesis might appear, they are, in fact, deep meditations on the great questions of humanity: the origins of the universe and humankind, life, evil, and death. They were set in Genesis by inspired sages who believed profoundly in the hand of God. Everything happened because the Creator so willed it. Nothing is the result of chance or accident.
These sages pondered the mystery of man and woman and the deep-seated impulse that attracts them to each other. Today’s first reading presents their conviction that this had been willed by God and is good.
There are two accounts of creation in Genesis. The first account is found in the first chapter. That’s the one of the seven days. Today’s reading comes from the second account, found in the second chapter of Genesis. Actually, this is the older of the two traditions of creation. It begins immediately with the creation of man from the clay of the ground. In a beautiful poetic image, God breathes into man’s nostrils the breath of life and man becomes a living being. In this account of creation, man comes before all other living beings. Only after man is created does God plant a garden to place man in and call upon him to till it and care for it. The garden was splendid, irrigated by a great river divided into four branches, with trees bearing excellent fruit.
But the man was alone, and this solitude was not good for him. God therefore decided to create a suitable partner for the man. God formed out of the ground various wild animals and birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them. They are made of the same matter as the man, but God does not breathe into them the breath of His life. They march past the man, and the man names them. Mankind is given mastery over all living beings and entrusted with their care. He names them. He describes their essence. And he knows that none of them are a suitable partner for him.
By discovering the world around him, its riches, its abundance of life, the man is faced with the realization that he is a creature set apart, a living being of a kind that is completely different than the innumerable beings that populate the sky and the earth. He can define all other living beings, call them by their names, but among them, none are able in turn to name him, to act as someone with whom he can have a dialogue. There is no one on an equal footing with the man. No one he can speak to. No one with whom he can say, “You and I.”
Without someone to whom he could relate, man could not be made in the image of God. For God himself is not in solitude. The essence of God is plural in an infinite movement of love. The Other is in Him and He is in the Other. The movement of their love creates the Trinity. The mystery of the singular and the plural in God, would need to be created within mankind for man to be truly made in God’s image.
Therefore, from the beginning God said, “I will make a suitable partner for the man.” It is not man who caused God to create woman. Rather, God awakened man to make him aware of his need for another being with whom he would form a “we” without absorbing this being. The deep sleep of the man, is man not yet completed, not yet capable of opening his eyes to the world. The deep sleep returns the story to the first moment of human creation. Using a rib instead of the clay of the earth, God creates a like creature for the man, someone with whom he can relate, someone with whom he could cry out with wonder, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The account emphasizes that from the beginning man and woman are created for each other as perfectly matched partners.
“That is why,” today’s reading concludes, “that is why a man breaks all other bonds, leaves father and mother, to cling to the woman who clings to him. The ancient sages who wrote this account of Genesis are emphasizing that the attraction of men and women for each other comes from God. Sexuality has dignity, the dignity of the Divine. It is the desire to image God that drives men and women to union of lives, not just bodily needs. Men and women differ from the animals in that it is the search for communion that draws them together, not the impulse of carnal, uncontrollable and blind instinct. Men and women do not mate like animals. Men and women create a union of persons that reflects the union of the Triune God. The difference of man and woman is far more profound than and far more complementary than the physical aspects of this difference. Men and women are created to image with each other God’s infinite love within the essence of His being. Your sacrament, marriage, is not just a blessing of two individuals. It is the creation of a new reflection of the Love of God on earth.
So from the beginning God created a masculine-feminine world, not just a masculine world. From the very beginning men and women are united as one person. To break this unity, to harm this complementarity, to upset this dynamic balance would introduce a grave disorder into God’s work.
“But there is disorder,” the Pharisees say to Jesus in the Gospel reading. The Law of Moses, after all, permitted a bill of divorce. “This was not the Father’s intention,” Jesus replies. Disharmony in homes, among people, results from all, good people and bad people, suffering the results of sin.
We have so many wonderful people in our parish whose marriages have suffered. It may not be their fault; it may not even be their former spouse’s fault. Just as children suffer sickness and death due to the effects of sin in the world; so many good people suffer the destruction of their marriage or the inability to form a sacred lasting union due to the effects of sin in the world, not necessarily in either of the individuals. Therefore, we need to have a special place in our hearts and in our charity for those who have suffered the loss of their marriages. They have been pulled away from the intention of the Creator by the forces of the world. They need our support and our love.
In the same way, there are so many wonderful people in our parish who wish they could marry but who have not found and may never find a person with whom they can make a lasting union. Perhaps they are not called to the sacrament of marriage. Perhaps, they also are innocent victims of evil in the world, victims of that evil that has destroyed their potential husbands and wives by convincing that man or woman who could have been out there and should have been out there to instead seek selfishness over sacrificial love. Many single people are denied the sacrament of marriage due to the limitation of potential partners for life by selfishness. The single also need our love and support. They will never feel alone if they are cared for as members of a loving community.
It was never in God’s plan for evil to enter the world. This resulted from mankind’s decision to push God, the Lord of Life, aside and to, therefore, choose death. God never meant for people to be widowed, divorced or single. In God’s original plan there was no need for celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom because all would enjoy the Kingdom to its fullest in marriage. In God’s original plan there would be no need for people to work so hard to establish and preserve their marriages.
It is sadly amazing how evil is able to totally distort good. The divinely created attraction of men and women to image God has been deformed into a drive to selfish gratification. Sex is portrayed by the media as having little to do with love and mostly concerned with debauchery.
But people know better. People have an innate knowledge that tells them that a person cannot love and take at the same time. People know that the ideal of marriage exists. But people need more than the ideal. People need witness, your witness. They need the witness of your marriages as a union with God, imaging the Creator’s Love for the Word, making real the mystery of the singular in the plural and the plural in the singular.
Usually in my homilies, I try to speak to you about the practicalities of living the Christian life. Today, I gave you high theology and presented you with the ideal of marriage. I feel it is important to remind you of these ideals and to affirm that your marriages are infinitely more than natural unions. You are not animals who mate for life. You are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, who are called to make God real to the world by reflecting His Love in your love for each other.
How important you are to us all! We the single, we the celibate, we the separated, we the divorced, we the widowed, need you the married to embrace and to live the ideal of marriage. We ask God’s blessing today upon all in our parish who celebrate the sacrament of matrimony. May you have the courage and strength to give witness to the presence of God in the union of husband and wife.