Marriage as God intends: beauty and struggle

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Vigil Mass for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St. Agnes Church in Arlington.

It is easy to identify the theme of today's readings, for it is clearly stated in both the first reading from the book of Genesis and in the Gospel account from Saint Mark. It is there we hear God's word about the gift of marriage, summed up so concisely by Jesus when He said, "...From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate."

In those four sentences, Jesus defines what we, His followers, hold dear about marriage. Let us briefly unpack what Our Lord is saying.

First, when Jesus said, "From the beginning, God made them male and female," He reminds us that God established marriage as an essential part of His plan for humanity. The first reading reminds us that after God created Adam, He said, "It is not good for man to be alone," so He formed Eve from the rib of Adam as the perfect match for Adam. As man and woman, they would be united, side-by-side, as husband and wife, and through this first couple, God showed how marriage between a man and a woman is the cornerstone for society and the Church.

Jesus revealed another truth when he stated, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh." He spoke of not just a physical, life-giving reality of the marital embrace, but also of the emotional and spiritual reality that unites a husband and wife in marriage. It is within marriage that a man and woman learn to live not just for themselves, but for each other. As husband and wife they learn how to love sacrificially, to offer themselves up for each other. In that self-gift, the two become one, and the longer they are together, the deeper their love becomes, and the more they are united as one in that bond of love.

When Our Lord said, "Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate," He confirms what we know about the permanence of marriage; that is, that marriage is for life, a yolk of love that provides a stable foundation for the husband and wife, as well as for the children God may provide as the fruit of their love.

Finally, there is one more detail that Jesus offers about marriage that might be easy to overlook. Jesus said that "a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife." Why would Jesus add this detail about the man leaving his parents before getting married? One reason is that it clarifies the primacy of the marriage relationship, a unique bond between husband and wife that takes precedence over all of the other relationships in their lives, except for their relationship with God.

But through this statement Jesus also highlights that a healthy husband and wife are themselves products of healthy families, families that form children to be selfless, sacrificial, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Such children are prepared to be husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, for they know the beauty of the family, the family that formed them into the Christian that they are.

Last week, we Americans welcomed Pope Francis with great joy and excitement here in Washington, D.C., New York City, and finally Philadelphia, which was his primary destination. It was in Philadelphia that he attended the World Meeting of Families, a gathering to promote and celebrate the gift that is the family. While there, Pope Francis spoke from the heart about the beauty - and the struggle - of the family, saying, "All of the love that God has in Himself, all the beauty that He has in Himself … He entrusts to the family. A family is truly a family when it is capable of opening its arms to receive all that love. … In families, there are difficulties, but those difficulties are resolved by love. Hatred doesn't resolve any difficulty, division of hearts do not resolve difficulties. Only love is capable of resolving difficulty" (Closing Remarks at the Festival of Families, World Meeting of Families, Sept. 26, 2015). And the love of which Pope Francis speaks is the love anchored in God, because God is love, the love revealed by Jesus Christ, Who died out of love for us, love that is self-giving, self-sacrificial, love transformed by the Lord Jesus.

Each of us knows the beauty and the struggle of living a life of faith within a family. At this Mass, we are joined by many of our local first responders, men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting those who are in danger. October is Respect Life Month. How fitting that this Blue Mass occurs within this month, since theirs is a noble, courageous and necessary profession, defending and protecting life. We pray for you, first responders, at this Blue Mass, as well as those who have fallen in the line of duty. As each of you know, there is a tremendous amount of stress that accompanies a job that places a loved one in harm's way each time they go to work, and that stress can take its toll on your spouses and your families. Yet when the family is rooted in faith, prayer, forgiveness and the love of God, life at home can offer peace, warmth and life. That is not to say there will not be struggles, but Jesus Christ, the King of Peace, offers you - all of us - a peace above and beyond all the struggles.

We often call the family the "domestic Church," the place where Christian faith is first learned and practiced. It is there that the family learns to cling to the love of God and bring that love to life within the family and then to the world. It is that love that unites and heals. But how can we as families grow in that love of God and each other? Let me offer some suggestions.

First, pray together each day before meals and before putting the children to bed. If you do not already, consider praying the rosary as a family at least once a week, gathering to honor Our Lady and to ask her for her motherly intercession and protection.

Celebrate the sacraments as a family, taking part in Mass together each Sunday, and also going regularly to confession together, where each of us find the healing grace of God's divine mercy. Also, celebrate the anniversaries of every family member's Baptism and Confirmation as a reminder of how we are children of God, claimed by Jesus Christ and vessels of the Holy Spirit.

Discuss your faith together. Talk about the readings and the homily you heard at Mass. Discuss how you can live out your faith in the home and in the world as a family. Read the Scripture together and meditate on what God is saying to your family in the words you prayerfully read.

Finally, practice the faith, hope and love that define our lives as Christians. Seek and grant forgiveness. Sacrifice your time and effort for your spouses and other family members. Pray for one another during difficult times, and rejoice in the triumphs of each family member. Serve the parish and the community as a family. Reach out in practical ways to those in need.

Starting tomorrow, bishops from around the world are gathering at the Vatican for a Synod on "the vocation and the mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world." Let us pray that their meeting may be fruitful and may continue to bring out the beauty of the family that is united in Christ, despite its struggles. Let us pray for our families as well, that our homes may be places of peace, charity and joy as we follow Jesus together. Indeed, we turn to Mary, the Mother of God and our mother, and pray: "Oh Mary, keep our family alive in love!"

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015