Sunday, August 12, 2012

Church is the Place Where We Get Married

Homily from the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

The top three questions grade school students always ask me are: Will my dog go to Heaven?  Have you ever performed an exorcism?  And why do I have to get married in the Church?

With regards to dogs going to heaven: I’ve attempted to answer this question a number of ways; some with moderate success, some with no success whatsoever.  Perhaps the best answer is one Monsignor John gives: “I’m certain that if its absolutely necessary for your salvation that your dog be with you in Heaven, then your dog will be in heaven.”

With regards to the second question, have you ever performed and exorcism?  Yes.  I’ve performed dozens and dozens of exorcisms.  There’s an exorcism in every baptism.  “Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil... We pray for this child: set him free from original sin...”  So far I haven’t seen any heads spinning around.  But I’ve seen babies spit up green pea soup.

And lastly, Why do Catholics have to get married in the Church?  Initially, I would answer this question with a “Because I said so” type of response.  “Catholics have to get married in the Church because that’s where we get married.”  But this isn’t a satisfactory answer.  So I would try to flesh it out a bit by saying, “Church is where Catholics come for all the important things of life: baptism, funerals, weddings, 1st Holy Communion, Mass, etc.”

But in reality, the original answer is more satisfactory.  “Catholics have to get married in the Church because that’s where we get married.”  But this needs some qualification: Church is where we get married, not just when we receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, but every time we come to Mass.  Church is the place where God marries us.

The analogy Sacred Scripture uses more than any other to describe the nature of the relationship between God and His people is marriage.

In Isaiah we read, “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as Bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.” (Isa 62:5)

In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the Bridegroom: “I am not the Messiah” John the Baptist says, “I was sent before him.  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” (Jn 3:28-29)

Christ calls himself the bridegroom.  People ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast.  “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.” (Mk 2:19-20)

Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom through parables:  “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.  He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests...” (Mt 22:2-3)  “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom...” (Mt 25:1)

When St. Paul explains the type of love husbands and wives should have for one another, he points to the marriage between Christ, the bridegroom, and the Church, his bride:  “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord... Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her... husbands should love their wives as their own bodies... even as Christ does the Church... this is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:21-32)

When sociologists describe social relationships, they often divide them up into two categories: One is a society, which are formal organizations of people with structure and offices such as the secular state, schools, hospitals, etc.  The other is a community, which are informal organizations of people who are intimately connected with relative permanence such a the family, a household, or a neighborhood.

The Church is both a society and a community.  As a society, the Church is a formal organization of the People of God with a hierarchical structure and law to govern them.  This is the horizontal dimension of the Church as we look across the spectrum of members.  However, if the Church were limited to this horizontal dimension alone, we would view our association with God as merely a matter of friendly relationships between God and man.  What is distinctive to the Church is a vertical dimension in which the divine life of God comes down to earth, becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ who communicates this divine life to men through the Holy Spirit.

You could say, therefore, that we have a kind of cruciform theology of communion among men and between the human and divine.  Through the arms of the cross, Christ gathers and unites all of mankind into one Church.  And through the tree of the cross, Christ lifts his bride, the Church, into union with the Father.

And it is appropriate that the Church should be married to God through the Cross, for on the Cross, Christ reconciles the divorce between man and God and among men.  Man divorced himself from God by stretching his hands out to the tree to take the fruit for himself.  Christ restores the marriage by stretching his hands out to the branches of the tree so that the fruit of the Spirit might pour fourth through the Church.  God cast a deep sleep upon Adam so that from his opened side, his bride, Eve might be formed.  God cast a deep sleep upon Christ, so that from his opened side, his bride, the Church, might be formed.  From Christ’s open heart, flow the two great sacramental of the Church, water and blood signifying baptism and the Eucharist.

Through baptism and the Eucharist, Christ prepares and unites himself to his bride.  In ancient Jewish custom, part of preparation for marriage was a ritual washing of the bride prior to the wedding itself.  Likewise, we the Church, the Bride of Christ, is washed and purified through baptism, prior to our union with the Bridegroom through the Eucharist

Paul alludes to both these washings, of the bride before her wedding night, and of the Bride the Church in Ephesians:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, so that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 25-26)

If you look in your pews, you’ll notice handouts with a couple pictures.  The picture on the left is a canopy over a royal wedding bed on which bride and bridegroom united.  The picture on the right is the baldachino over the altar at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.  You’ll notice the architecture of the two are strikingly similar.  From the four posts and the crowned roof, down to the scalloped trim and tassels on the top.  This is because, just like the royal wedding bed, the altar is the place where Christ, the bridegroom unites his flesh to ours through the Eucharist.

We don’t come to Church just so we can hang out with other people who share common believe, common worship,  common prayer, or common interests.  We don’t come to Church just to hear good music and interesting sermons.  We don’t come to Church just to meet a Sunday obligation.  We don’t even come to Church just to feel good about ourselves.

We come to Church to be made holy by Christ.  To be purified by him.  We come to Church to become united as one with Jesus Christ.  We come to Church so that through the Eucharist, through his Body given up for you; the two: the human and the divine, you and Jesus, may become one flesh.  We come to Church to be married to Christ.

1 comment:

  1. rescued marriage

    Brides and grooms are not alone in their marriage. Christ is with them. Since the first day of the sacrament of Christ's mercy river flows - in suffering, in good times and bad, in sickness and death. Such grace no limitation! It's like drinking from a spring. The couple can always turn to Christ, to restore the sacramental grace of marriage.

    In our church, we need to recognize the sanctity of marriage. Jesus knew how difficult it will be a marriage .. It connects two people and Kloi Chadji of odlišiného environment and brings to a close a holy union. (There is one body and one soul) This growth takes place in many ways. Jesus Christ is always there when you need ecclesiastically married people.