The year was 1571. The Church was experiencing attacks from all sides and was reeling in response, trying to bring some calm to the storm that had brought such devastation. Some years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the local church and started a revolution that resulted in the breaking up of the Body of Christ. Others soon followed in his footsteps of protest and continued the divisions. The Council of Trent went to work to bring about some healing in the Body and to revisit Catholic teaching when so many things came to be questioned. As if this weren’t enough, the Church experienced attacks from outside as well. The Ottoman Empire had continued to grow in power and spread steadily toward Christian Europe. The nearness of the armies was a cause of great concern, as European culture and the future of the Christian faith itself both hung in the balance with each victory by their Muslim opponents. Fortunately the Holy Spirit had been at work and brought Pope Pius V to be elected Pope. He, seeing the invasion draw nearer, encouraged the whole Christian community to pray the rosary daily for a positive outcome in the battle that would soon take place, and so it was done. October 7 of that year saw the Holy League ships stumble upon those of the Ottoman Empire at sea and, though lacking strategy and with fewer men and ships, the battle was begun. Miraculously the Christian army came out victorious, the spread of the Ottoman Empire was kept at bay, and the Holy Father proclaimed a universal feast of ‘Our Lady of Victory’ for October 7 on account of the power of the rosary and Our Lady’s prayers. This feast continues today under a new title, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and will be celebrated again this Wednesday for over the 400th time.
The feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary highlights the fact that the rosary is not just a way for us to meditate and encounter God in His mysteries. It is also a very powerful weapon. St. Padre Pio knew this well as when he was too ill to move around he would ask the friar assisting him ‘Brother, get me my weapon’ and it was the rosary that was placed in his hand. Indeed the rosary, when prayed collectively and with fervor and focus can change history. So I invite you to join with me in praying the rosary for a new battle that is taking place. This new battle is not one involving weaponry or military tactics – it’s a battle that is being waged against the family in the world today. St. John Paul II often noted that ‘as the family goes, so goes society’ and we need only take a cursory glance around to see that society is not doing so well. Mass murders & genocides, name-calling and hatred in all directions, a loss of respect for human life in general. In our own community where years ago you had no need whatsoever of a lock on your front door, today we have not only locks but bars and alarms. Society is not doing well and the reason is because the family is not doing well.
Today (Sunday) begins the Synod on the Family that we’ve been waiting for since this time last year. Bishops, cardinals, theologians, and lay men and women from across the world gather once more for three weeks to discuss the family – the gift of the family, the challenges faced by families today, and the vocation of the family. Pray the rosary for the participants at the Synod, that they might be able to discern what is it that God desires to highlight in each of these areas and how it is that the Church can help families in their journey together toward the Lord. But pray not only for the Synod participants, but pray also for your own families. ‘This Hail Mary is for Aunt Suzie, this one for cousin Johnny, this one for grandma or grandpa…” Never underestimate the value of those prayers prayed with a pure heart and loving intention. It can change history.
At this point I want to change course a bit and get into the scriptures we just heard, but I want to focus the homily specifically to the men here today. I recognize that there are a number of women here and I don’t mean to exclude you from the points being made. I’ve been to many a talk on Holy Matrimony and though I’m not married and will never be getting married, the talks still encouraged me in my own vocation and faith. I pray, ladies, that the same can be said for you about what follows.
Men: this week Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix issued a letter to the men of his diocese entitled “Into the Breach” (found HERE). I have copies available in the back of the church for every man here to pick one up and take it home to read through. It’s a simple document that looks at us and discusses the role of Catholic men in the Church, what it means to be a Catholic man, what a Catholic man’s spiritual life looks like, and the importance of fathers, grandfathers, godfathers and so on. In essence it helps to break open what we heard in the scripture just a moment ago.
The Lord Jesus is tested once again with a question about whether a man can issue a bill of divorce to his wife. Jesus inquires what Moses said and they happily respond that Moses permitted it. “But for the hardness of your hearts Moses permitted it!” the Lord responds, but from the beginning it was no so. Jesus acknowledges the teaching of Moses, but demonstrates that such a thing was more of ‘Plan B’ when men weren’t strong enough to live the commandments. He then moves to ‘Plan A’ when God first created man and woman, husband and wife. Genesis is the model that we are called to follow because we have the grace of Jesus Christ at our fingertips and can do all things through Him who strengthens us. And so the call is to return to the first model, that set up by the Lord God Himself. I want to highlight for our reflection three points:
First, Adam is cooperating with God in the building up of the world. Later on we will see an Adam who has sinned and is hiding behind the bushes, scared to encounter His Lord. But that is not yet. Here Adam is fully present to God, assisting in the work of the Garden’s beautification. My brothers: what does our union with God look like? What does my relationship with the Father look like? How do our conversations with Him go? Am I aware that there are supposed to be conversations to begin with? Am I in union with God, or am I sometimes hiding behind the bushes afraid of what might happen if we step forward into the path of the Creator? What does my relationship with God look like?
Secondly, Adam gives a name to Eve. In this context, to name something was to exercise some dominion over it. In naming the animals Adam was taking up a responsibility in caring for each of them and ensuring that they would be able to attain their own perfection. In the same manner the Lord creates Eve and Adam gives her a name, ‘woman.’ The man Adam now has an obligation that he’s been given by God to protect, to care for, and to build up the life of woman and all that issue forth from her, their children, not because she couldn’t but simply because it was his calling. This was actually the first fault of man in the scriptures. Often we think it’s that Eve at of the forbidden fruit, but if we are attentive to the details it says that she ate it and gave some to her husband who was with her. The problem was that the serpent (the literal meaning would be more like ‘dragon’) came to trick Eve into eating the fruit and Adam, though there, failed to step into the breach and defend his wife. We see here the ancient fulfillment of the words spoken by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph evil is for good men to do nothing.” The invitation is for me today to not fall into the same trap. What the family needs today are men willing to step into the breach and fight for the life of their loved ones, not just in the earthly sense but also in the heavenly. To have men who are the first to call the family to pray together. The first to lead the blessing at meals, to do a family rosary, to sit down with the Bible and pray together as a family, to lead by example at Mass and in celebrating our faith in the midst of the world by selfless service to others. Are we willing to step into the breach in that way?
The last point for our reflection is that when Adam beholds the woman he joyfully shouts ‘At last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’ and he clings to his wife. Clings to her! The other day I wrapped up some veggies on a plate and when I tried to get the cling wrap off the plate, I had quite a time. It was tight on the plate and when I tried to peel part of it, other parts stuck back to the plate. It wasn’t that cheap stuff that just easily peels off and is quickly set aside; it clung to the plate. It’s about a willingness to be faithful first and foremost. To cling to one’s spouse and never to permit anything to come between you. And to show your love for her, and for your larger family, by signs of loves – embracing them like Jesus, blessing them, give your wife a kiss when you come home or when you leave, to exchange signs of affirm over and over the fact that you are one flesh. It is often the case that we men are reluctant to be vulnerable, to open our hearts to others, or to allow our love to be shown or spoken – but these are things that our families need and deserve from us.
This is the way that God desired it to be from the beginning; alive in God, willing to take up our mission, and able to cling to our beloved. My brothers, the battle is begun and casualties have already resulted. May God grant us the courage to step into the breach for love of Him and for love of the gift that is our family.
Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, pray for us.