What God has joined together man must not divide

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Most of the pop songs we hear are about love. Much poetry is about love. And in our first reading today we find the first love poetry in the Bible:

‘This at last is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh!
This is to be called woman,
For this was taken from man.’ (Gen 2:18-24)

The lonely man in the Garden of Eden had his longing for company fulfilled when woman was created. There is a beautiful statement by St. Bernardina,

‘God did not make a woman out of a bone of Adam’s foot, so that he should tread her underground, nor out of a bone of his head, so that she should dominate him; but he made her out of his rib, which is close to his heart, to teach him to love her truly, as his companion’
(Quoted by Jensen God's Word to Israel p53 note 8).

This natural attraction and longing to spend life together is made holy in the Sacrament of Marriage.

Sometimes we hear people say a certain priest is holy. But those who are married can also rise to the heights of holiness and are called to rise to the heights of holiness. On Feb 12th 1966 Pope Paul VI said to the Italian Feminine Center,

“Marriage and the Christian family call for a moral commitment. They are not an easy way of Christian life…Rather, marriage is a long path toward sanctification.”

Notice that he said marriage is a path towards sanctification. Marriage is a way to achieve holiness. When we consider some of the advice the Bible gives us about living the Christian life we can understand how marriage can indeed be a path to sanctification. Jesus said that to follow him we must be servants, and marriage is a life of service to one’s spouse and children. St. Paul said there are three things that last, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. Marriage is a commitment to love one’s spouse until death. No wonder that Pope Paul VI said marriage is a long path towards sanctification.

Pope Paul VI said that marriage and the Christian family call for moral commitment and are not an easy way of life. Instead of continuing on that path towards sanctification, even from early in Old Testament times, some wanted a way out and so Moses regulated divorce. But in our Gospel Jesus calls for a return again to God’s plan for lifelong marriage and commitment. When our Holy Father Pope John Paul II was in Ireland in 1979 he could foresee that  marriage would be threatened in the years ahead and so on the day he left Ireland on October 1st 1979 he said in Limerick,

“It is true that the stability and sanctity of marriage are being threatened by new ideas and by the aspirations of some. Divorce for whatever reason it is introduced, inevitably becomes easier and easier to obtain and it gradually comes to be accepted as a normal part of life. The very possibility of divorce in the sphere of civil law makes stable and permanent marriages more difficult for everyone. May Ireland always continue to give witness before the modern world to her traditional commitment, corresponding to the true dignity of man, to the sanctity and the indissolubility of the marriage bond. May the Irish always support marriage, through personal commitment and through positive social and legal action.

Above all, hold high the esteem for the wonderful dignity and grace of the sacrament of marriage. Prepare earnestly for it. Believe in the spiritual power which this sacrament of Jesus Christ gives to strengthen the marriage union, and to overcome all the crises and problems of life together. Married people must believe in the power of the sacrament to make them holy; they must believe in their vocation to witness through their marriage to the power of Christ’s love. True love and the grace of God can never let marriage become a self-centred relationship of two individuals, living side by side for their own interests.”
(Homily of Pope John Paul II in Limerick, Monday October 1st, 1979)

In these times when marriage is under attack let us hold high God’s plan for marriage as our Holy Father Pope John Paul II did in Limerick and as Jesus did to the Pharisees in our Gospel. In these times it is easy to lower our sights as happened in Moses’ times, and as some Pharisees did in Jesus’ time. But let us remember God’s plan for marriage, that what God has joined together man must not separate. Marriage is a path to holiness, it is a vocation. I conclude now with a brief reminder of some of what Pope John Paul said about marriage in Limerick,

“Believe in the spiritual power which this sacrament of Jesus Christ gives to strengthen the marriage union, and to overcome all the crises and problems of life together. Married people must believe in the power of the sacrament to make them holy; they must believe in their vocation to witness through their marriage to the power of Christ’s love.”
(Homily of Pope John Paul II in Limerick, Monday October 1st, 1979)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday Year B

Marriage is a School of Love and Forgiveness

Related Homilies: The Church’s Teaching on Marriage

God’s Plan for the Family

The Holy Family, and encouragement for the Family by Pope John Paul II

Excerpts of Wedding Homilies

October - Respect Life Month

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