Sunday, February 9, 2014

Marriage and the Gospel Witness

Marriage of Joseph & Mary
Readings for Sunday, February 9/ 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm 112:4-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16

Take a moment and think of someone you admire, someone you try to emulate. What is it about that person that draws you to them? What makes you look up to them? I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you probably picked someone you know personally – a family member, friend, co-worker, or someone else in the community – and the reason you did so is because you have been struck by the way they live their life, especially in regards to attributes you believe are important. Whether they knew it or not, their life and example has changed the way you lived yours. And there are others looking to each one of us for the same.

That's what Mother Church invites us to reflect upon this weekend: the value and need for our witness in the world. The prophet Isaiah, the author of the psalm we used for our response today, and the Lord Jesus Himself call us to become world-changing witnesses - salt and light. We like food around here and everyone knows how a little bit of salt can change a whole meal. So, too, one small match can change a pile of wood into a raging bonfire. When we think of being witnesses it doesn't mean having to do great things so much as letting God use us as He desires - and sometimes it does have huge effect. But the most important part is simply putting ourselves in God's hands and witnessing to His work. This is what Saint Paul reminds us today in the letter to the Corinthians. He said, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power.” It wasn't by pretty words that people were able to be saved so much as the witness of God's grace working in Paul himself. That is what changes lives.

All of us are called to be witnesses to Christ and the Church, but as we celebrate National Marriage Week this week and World Marriage Sunday this weekend, it seems appropriate to emphasize especially the call of married couples to share this witness. Unfortunately we are seeing a serious attack on marriage and family life in our world today. The folks pushing the homosexual agenda are trying to redefine marriage itself, the throwaway culture says when marriage isn’t fun anymore to divorce and move on, and even many of our young people don't grasp the reality that marriage is a Sacrament and settle for a civil marriage outside of the Church. How true, indeed, is the powerful quote from St. Jean Vianney: “very few people invite Jesus Christ to their wedding; on the contrary, they seem to do all they can to keep Him away.” This is foolishness because it is Christ Himself who make the two become one in the first place!

The importance of marriage cannot be overstated. Holy Marriage is the basic element of family life. It is the place where children find stability and balance. Marriage is the foundation of society as a whole as society is composed largely of family units.  It is the place where the faith is first passed on to our youth. It is the place where virtue is learned most powerfully. But beyond all of that, it is a visible, tangible witness of the Gospel message itself!

The couple being a couple speaks to the fact that all of us are created for something more, that we long to be fulfilled. Marriage does this to some extent in this life, but it is God alone who can fulfill us completely and every couple reminds us that God is real and we are called to union with Him. In fact marriage is the main image used to describe the relationship between God and humanity; from the first page of Genesis to that last words of Revelation it echoes constantly. The love that spouses show to one another is a sort of echo of the love that God has for us. Because we are imperfect, there is necessarily a time when sin, faults, and failures come into the picture and so we are able to see also a witness of God's mercy in the forgiveness the show toward each other. The fidelity of God is also made manifest in the permanence of marriage. I love to hear from couples how long they have been married because it reminds me of the God who is ever faithful and also encourages me to be faithful to my own vocation despite whatever difficulties come. Whether they are aware of it or not, every married couple is speaking to the world around them something of the Gospel message itself. This is why we need Holy Marriages. We often hear that we need more priests (we do!) and that we need more religious brothers and sisters, deacons, and consecrated virgins (we do!) but the vast majority of the people who discern one of those vocations does so because they have been seeing a witness of the love, mercy, and fidelity of God in their parents from youth. Holy families produce holy vocations. 

Again, all of us are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in our own way. But those of you in the vocation of holy marriage are called in a special way to be living witnesses of God’s love, forgiveness, fidelity, and life. So I encourage you, spend time together as a couple and as a family. Pray together and pray for each other. I need your witness, your kids need your witness, our community and our whole world needs your witness. Please let the light of Christ shine brightly, that seeing your good deeds, we all may glorify God our Heavenly Father.