|"One Man and One Woman" Is Only the Tip of the Iceberg.
The Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the secondary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Genesis 2: 18-24.
• Psalm 128: 1-6.
• Hebrews 2: 9-11.
• Mark 10: 2-16 or 2-12.
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ephesians 4: 23-28.
• Psalm 140: 2.
• Matthew 22: 1-14.
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; the Feast of the Holy Martyr Hierotheus, Bishop of Athens; and, the Feast of Our Venerable Father Francis of Assisi.
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• II Corinthians 11: 31—12: 9.
• Luke 6: 31-36.
10:55 AM 10/4/2015 — It's pretty obvious that today's Scripture lessons have to do with marriage. The creation parable from Genesis contains that oft' quoted line about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife, and the Gospel lesson our Lord's teaching on divorce. But, as usual, there are subtleties buried in these lessons that can easily elude us, but which can teach us many important things. Let's begin with the first of them from Genesis.
Why did I call the portion of Genesis from which we heard part of the “creation parable”? Because, quite honestly, it's impossible to believe that it's meant to be taken literally, the way the fundamentalist Christians do.
There are two accounts of the creation in the Bible: one in the first chapter of Genesis and one in the second. The first one, in which God creates the world over a six day period, creating different things on different days, is very similar to many other pagan creation myths from a number of ancient religions, but with one important difference: all of those other accounts attribute things coming into being as the result of the movement of celestial bodies, or because of some sort of conflict between a number of competing “gods.” The human author of Genesis, inspired by God, has added something which is so familiar to us that we pass over it without giving it much thought, but which was a revolutionary idea at the time: each of the six days described begins with the words: “Then God said, …” indicating that these things are happening by design. “Then God said: Let there be light …” (Gen. 1: 3 NABRE). “Then God said: Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters …” (v. 6 NABRE). “Then God said: Let the water under the sky be gathered …” (v. 9 NABRE). “Then God said: Let the earth bring forth vegetation …” (v. 11 NABRE). “Then God said: Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night” (v. 14 NABRE). “Then God said: Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures …” (v. 20 NABRE). “Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature …” (v. 24 NABRE). “Then God said: Let us make [man] in our image …” (v. 26 NABRE). You get the idea. These things are not happening by chance. The revolution of the religion of the Jews was that there is only one God, not many gods, and that He rules the universe in competition with no one; and, His omnipotence over the universe He has created is illustrated by the fact that all He has to do is say something, and it happens. And each time He creates something, He names it, and then blesses it. Man is created on the sixth day, and God gives him authority over everything else He's made as a kind of steward and manager of the world, which is the basis of Pope Francis' teaching on the environment, whatever you want to think about that. And if you need further proof that this account is a parable, on the seventh day God rests, which is unnecessary, since why would God need a rest?
The second account of the creation, in chapter two, has the world being created all at once, not divided into the course of a week. In this account, man is made first rather than last, and God let's him name all the other things He's made. In fact, this second account focuses almost entirely on the creation of man and woman and their relationship to God and one another, with the creation of everything else being treated as an afterthought.
So, obviously, these first two chapters of the Bible are not meant to teach us anything scientific about how the world came into being; they're meant to introduce us to the idea of a personal God who does things on purpose and for a reason, a fact that would become crucial as the history of Divine Revelation would unfold throughout the entire Old and New Testaments, and which remains a crucial part of understanding our own relationship with God. We are made by a God Who loves us: and that idea was unknown in the world until Genesis introduced it.
The second account of creation, from which our first lesson is taken, is particularly interesting because it describes the creation of man and woman as a kind of trial-and-error process: God creates the world all at one moment, and He puts man into it, but then realizes that man needs some sort of companion; and, all the animals are created for this purpose, but they turn out not to be great conversationlists; so, God puts the man to sleep, and, out of his rib, he brings forth a woman, and the human author of Genesis specifically says that this is the reason for marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (2: 24 NABRE), and this is the verse quoted by our Lord in the Gospel lesson. So, the joining of a man and a woman in marriage represents man returning to his original created state, with man and woman ceasing to be two separate individuals, but becoming one individual as they were originally created by God. And this becomes the basis of our Lord's rather draconian teaching on divorce, namely, that there is no such thing, that what Moses allowed in Deuteronomy 24 (vs. 1-10) was done because of the hardness of man's heart, and not because God wanted it.
And this itself raises an interesting point. Man is created with a free will, and no sooner is he deposited comfortably in the Garden of Eden, he sins, thus beginning a downward spiral into a pattern of rebellion against the God Who made him. And this becomes a constant theme throughout the rest of the Bible: God sending prophet after prophet, offering man the chance to walk right back into paradise if only he will set aside his own will and follow the will of his Creator; but, man just can't bring himself to do it, with God finally becoming a Man Himself in the person of Jesus, Who sheds His own Blood on the cross to pay the debt of His creation's sins.
How's that for a thumbnail sketch? Of course, there's another lesson in today's Mass we haven't mentioned yet, and that's the lesson from Hebrews. “For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering …” (Heb. 2: 10 NABRE). It's, of course, discussing how God had to suffer on the cross to save mankind, but in the context of the other lessons of today's Mass, also describes a reality of human existence, namely, that man's sinful state, brought about by his initial rejection of God's grace given to him in creation, results in what was supposed to be man's greatest joy becoming his biggest headache. I hear confessions every day here at the Shrine, and I'm not betraying any confidences nor breaking the seal of confession by telling you that a day doesn't go by without hearing some tale of woe rising out of that wailing and gnashing of teeth called married life. If anything, it always makes me eternally grateful that the Church only ordains single men to the Holy Priesthood. But what I find fascinating is that, when a marriage goes sour and becomes a source of pain rather than joy, which one hopes is temporary, it's usually because the purposes of creation have been confounded, and the two people involved have each become obsessed with their own needs. And what I mean by that is illustrated by the Gospel lesson perfectly. The Missal provides two versions of it, but the longer of the two includes the verses from Mark which actually cause it to make sense.
It seems, on the surface, to be two Gospel lessons artificially knitted together into one, with the first part being our Lord's teaching on marriage, adultery and divorce, and the second showing our Lord blessing the little children and admonishing his disciples—and us—to become like little children in innocence before God. But, taken as a whole, the real message here is that a marriage, when it does sour, usually does so because the two people who have entered into it have completely misunderstood its purpose: marriage is for the family and the family is for marriage. People aren't supposed to marry simply because they've fallen in love and want to be together; they're supposed to marry in order to cooperate with God in the process of creation; or, to put it more romantically, their love should be so complete and so intense that it can't be contained in a relationship of only two, but must overflow into the creation of new life. I hesitate to say it because childless marriages are a reality, and can be very fruitful in many ways; but, in a theological sense only, a marriage without children is an oxymoron. Pope Saint John Paul II addressed that whole issue by pointing out that couples who are not able to have children also participate in the act of creation by means by other forms of generosity, sometimes through adoption, but also through giving of themselves in service to the Church, and often assisting others who may be unequal to the task in helping them with their children.
When Lawrence and his family provide the music for us, he typically uses the same Alleluia verse each time, which is fine; but, were we to use the one prescribed for today's Mass, it would sum up the whole spectrum of these Scripture lessons perfectly, from it's description of the creation of man to our Lord blessing little children. It's from the First Epistle of the Blessed Apostle John: “If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us” (I John 4: 12 RM3). Let us pray today that those who have taken the leap of faith into married life—or those who may be in the process of preparing for it—may find, through grace, the joy that God intended for them from the beginning of their creation.