27th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

At my old seminary in Ohio, where I was formed for the priesthood, there’s a great professor named Dr. Perry Cahall. Dr. Cahall taught us not only through his lectures but also by his personal example, as a husband, a father, and a good Catholic man. One of the courses taught us was early Church history, a class that covered the controversies and councils of that era about Jesus Christ and the Trinity. Now a person might easily overlook the importance of those councils, but Dr. Cahall presented us with a revealing thought experiment. He would have us imagine how things would be different if the heretics had won the day. For example, he would say, “Imagine a world in which Arius was right.” (Arius claimed in the 4th century that Jesus was neither God nor man, but rather the highest creature God had made.) What if the bishops at the council of Nicaea would have spurned the Holy Spirit, and the apostolic tradition, to make Arius’ theology the creed we say each Sunday? When you sit down to consider the consequences Arius’ belief would have for our morality, our worship, and our world, you realize that everything was at stake at Council of Nicaea. 

Important ideas have consequences. If some Christian belief does not influence your life, then you have either not accepted it, or you have not really grasped what it means. Dr. Cahall liked to say, “If you get into pulpit as a priest on Trinity Sunday and preach to your people that, ‘The Trinity is a mystery, so there’s really nothing we can say about it,’ I will hunt you down like the dogs you are. (We think he was kidding.) He said this because the Trinity and Incarnation are the two most central beliefs of our faith and they are full of implications for our lives. Important ideas have important consequences and our beliefs should shape our lives.

Dr. Cahall also taught our seminary course on marriage and family, and he had a meditation about marriage, family, and the Last Judgment that I hope to never forget and always remember. He would say, “At the Last Judgment, every person who has reached adulthood will stand before the Lord’s throne and Christ will ask them two things: First, ‘Were you faithful to your spouse?’ And second, ‘Show me your children.’” Now he said this to a room full of seminarians on their way to becoming celibate priests, but what he said is valid for everyone. We are all called to marriage, be it spiritual or natural. And we are all called to be mothers or fathers, either spiritually or naturally.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. That is why a man… clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”

The fulfillment of our humanity is achieved, in Christ, through marriage and having children. Priests and religious who live chaste, celibate lives are no exception. That’s because celibacy is really about fruitful, spousal relationship, to one spouse, bearing many children. It is not without meaning that tradition calls nuns and consecrated virgins the “brides of Christ,” for they really are. All people are called to marriage; to fidelity in marriage, to permanence in marriage, and to fruitfulness in marriage. This is our Christian belief, but many people today have either not accepted it, or not really grasped what it means.

Consider the meaning of fruitfulness for marriage. The psalmist today considered having a large family to be a blessing (‘may your children be like olive plants around your table’) and Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them.” But many people today act as if having more than two children were a curse, and prevent more children from coming. Now there can be serious and legitimate reasons for naturally regulating and limiting births, but I fear that many people, when it comes down to it, are resisting Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever receives a child such as this in my name receives me.” So what does it mean if someone refuses to receive a child in His name?

Couples are afraid; they’re afraid that having four children will be twice as hard as having two.  But if you ask most Catholic couples with large families (with numbers of kids that were commonplace fifty years ago) they’ll say that the burden is less with each additional child, while the love and blessings within the family are multiplied. We should not be afraid to give ourselves fully to fruitfulness in marriage.

We are also called to permanence in marriage. Marriage in Christ is “until death do us part.” But in America today, one in every two marriages end in divorce. God says in the Old Testament, “I hate divorce,” and I suspect that the children of divorced parents share in His sentiment. Cases of abuse, serious addition, or unrepentant infidelity may require a couple’s separation, perhaps indefinitely, or may even require a divorce in the eyes of the state, but a consummated sacramental marriage can never be divorced in God’s eyes. As Jesus said:

“What God has joined together, no human being must separate. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

That is why a divorced person cannot be remarried in the Church without a determination by the Church that something essential was lacking in the first marriage, from its very beginning, which prevented that marriage from being sacramental. So no one should say that annulments are “Catholic divorces.”  Annulments are judgments by the Church that a marriage was never sacramental. But in a valid, sacramental marriage, the mission of the husband and wife is to lead each other to heaven, no matter what, and to raise up children, natural or spiritual, for God.

If you want you children to feel safe and secure, tell them what my parents told me and my sisters when we were kids. Tell them, “Even, though Mom and Dad may argue sometimes, we want you to know that we will never, ever, get divorced.” Tell them this, and mean it.  They’ll really appreciate it. And I’m sure your spouse would like hearing you say it, too.

Most people would still agree that a married couple should be faithful to each other, exclusively.  But I would not be surprised if we began to see the open dismantling of this third pillar of marriage as well. The institution of marriage has been under assault for many years. It’s not that people have been out to destroy marriage per se; but steps to redefine what marriage means weaken marriage all the same.

Now a person might easily overlook the importance that traditional beliefs about marriage have for our society; but, like Arius’ heresy, when you sit down to consider the consequences of negating fruitfulness, permanence, and fidelity in marriage, then you realize that everything is at stake when it comes to marriage. You can’t remove or seriously weaken all the pillars from a house and expect the roof to remain hovering in the air. When we redefine marriage to mean what it is not, the house we live in comes crashing down upon us. That goes for one marriage or an entire society’s marriages.

So what are we to do? First, we must pray. Pray for your marriage. Pray together as a couple, because you need this. Pray together with your children, because they need this. And pray for our country, because it needs this. And then, empowered through your sacrament of marriage, which makes the love between Christ and His Church really present between the two of you, live out what Christian marriage really is as an example for all to see. Be fruitful, be faithful, be loving and joyful, as long as you both shall live.

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One Response to “27th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B”

  1. Katie Reigel Says:

    What a beautiful homily!!! Nicely done!!!

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