05 October 2012

'The two shall become one.' Sunday Reflections. 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003)  Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 10:2-16 [2-12, shorter form] (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Pharisees came up and in order to test Jesus asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away." But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.' So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

[And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.]


I didn't know Manong Eustaquio, known as 'Bakyot', who died on 2 January 1976. But when I was assigned to his parish nearly two years later I came to know his widow Manang Regina, known as 'Inday Hina', because she was at Mass every morning and always greeted me at the door afterwards with a big smile and a cheerful word. Before I moved to their parish I had already known some of their family.

Their youngest daughter Fe confirmed for me yesterday through Facebook the story I had heard many years ago about the death of her father, Manong Bakyot. (Manong and Manang are titles of respect and affection in the Visayan language for a man and woman older than yourself, including older brothers and sisters.) When he was dying he said goodbye to all his children and grandchildren and then asked to spend his last moments alone with his wife. I was very touched when I heard this story and it confirms for me what I have long been convinced of: the most important relationship of a married person is with the spouse, not with the children. The children are caught up in the love of husband and wife who for them are father and mother.

Fe added, My parents' legacy to me is that I did not experience them quarreling in front of us . . . they just showed how they listened to and made fun of each other [laughing with each other]. I thought successful marriages are when the couple do not quarrel. I found out this was not always true . . . Nevertheless, they showed us what love was . . . At first I thought that giving in to each other was a sign of weakness. I only realized [later] that it was a form of loving.

Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. St Matthew gives us the same story and that same quotation (Mt19:5) as does St Paul (Ephesians 5:31).

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on 11 October we may look at what the Council said about marriage. Gaudium et Spes, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, promulgated by Pope Paul Vi on 7 December 1965 at the end of the Council, says in No 48: 

The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.

It is the bride and groom who confer the sacrament of matrimony on each other, ie, who give Christ to each other, when they exchange their wedding vows. The priest is a witness, not the one who gives the sacrament. It is through the way they live their marriage, of which Jesus Christ the Risen Lord is the foundation, that a couple may become saints.

Blessed Luigi Quattrocchi (1880-1951) and his wife Blessed Maria Corsini (1884-1965) in 1905. [Photo from Wikipedia]

To highlight this, Blessed John Paul II beatified a married couple, Luigi Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, in the presence of three of their children - the fourth had died - on 21 October 2001, Mission Sunday. In his homily on that occasion the Pope said: 

The riches of faith and love of the husband and wife Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, are a living proof of what the Second Vatican Council said about the call of all the faithful to holinessindicating that spouses should pursue this goal, "propriam viam sequentes", "following their own way" (Lumen gentium, n. 41). Today the aspiration of the Council is fulfilled with the first beatification of a married couple:  their fidelity to the Gospel and their heroic virtues were verified in their life as spouses and parents. [Notice the sequence here: being spouses comes first. Being parents is a consequence of that.]

In their life, as in the lives of many other married couples who day after day earnestly fulfil their mission as parents, one can contemplate the sacramental revelation of Christ's love for the Church. Indeed, "fulfilling their conjugal and family role by virtue of this sacrament, spouses are penetrated with the spirit of Christ and their whole life is permeated by faith, hope, and charity; thus they increasingly further their own perfection and their mutual sanctification, and together they render glory to God" (Gaudium et spes, n. 48).

Dear families, today we have distinctive confirmation that the path of holiness lived together as a couple is possible, beautiful, extraordinarily fruitful, and fundamental for the good of the family, the Church and society.

This prompts us to pray the Lord that there be many more married couples who can reveal in the holiness of their lives, the "great mystery" of spousal love, which originates in creation and is fulfilled in the union of Christ with his Church (cf. Eph 5:22-33)

The parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux, Louis and Zelie Martin, were beatified on 19 October 2008, again, Mission Sunday, in Lisieux, France, by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins.

By these beatifications the Church is underling that the sacrament of matrimony calls and enables every married couple to become saints.

The Quattrocchi and Martin couples lived their married life generously, open to the generosity of Jesus himself shown at Cana when he turned water into around 360 litres or 500 bottles of the very best wine. Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae underlines the generosity to which every married couple is called:

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.

Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare."

Pope Paul goes on to speak of the 'inseparable connection' between 'the unitive significance and the procreative significance' 'inherent to the marriage act':

This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason

Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, in 1919 when he turned 22.

For many people Pope Paul's HumanaeVitae was a hard saying. For the disciples Jesus' teaching on divorce was also a hard saying. But he didn't back off. when Pope Paul wrote hi letter in 1968 who could have imagined that in our time 'marriage' between two person of the same sex would be demanded as a 'right' and that Catholic legislators would vote for such? who could have imagined that the demand for abortion as a 'human right' would be so widespread and given in to, with Christian legislators approving?

Pope Paul insisted on respecting human nature in the context of marriage as so many are asking us today to respect nature in a wider context, eg, in the area of climate. If we refuse to respect nature by cutting down the forests, for example, or polluting rivers, we have to live with the consequences.

We see the consequences of not respecting our sexuality, of not seeing its proper expression within the context of a lifelong marriage, within the context of husband and wife becoming one. Despite the widespread availability of contraceptives, abortion has risen to frightening levels in many Western countries. More and more are living with 'partners' rather than spouses and more and more children grow up with a sometimes 'revolving door' of step-parents.

This is in stark contrast to the vision of Pope Paul in the opening lines of Humanae Vitae:

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator

And contrary to what one often reads in opinion columns, the Church does not ask married couples to keep having children. this is what Humanae Vitae says:

Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. 
With regard to man's innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man's reason and will must exert control over them.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

In other words, true responsible parenthood demands a relationship of deep trust, of open communication and of unquestioning love and commitment between husband and wife, based on the reality of the total commitment of the Risen Lord Jesus to the couple as the source of their love for each other.

Hollywood isn't a place you'd go to to look for examples of outstanding marriages, though there are such to be found. But in earlier days the movies produced there reflected the aspirations of the majority about such things as marriage. It was nearly always 'boy meets girl' and 'until death do us part'. The movie For Me and My Gal, from which the video above is taken, was made in 1942, the year my parents married.

The song For me and my gal goes back much further. It puts a wedding in a community context, just like that in Cana. It puts it in the context of a church celebration. It puts it in the context of many being involved in the preparations: For weeks they've been sewing, every Suzie and Sal. There's the hope of a growing family: And some time we're goin' to build a home for two, or three or more . . .

I'm not suggesting that this be used as an 'opening hymn' or as a 'liturgical dance'! But I am suggesting that the values espoused in the song and dance - and as a classmate pointed out to me, Jesus would have danced in Cana, since at Jewish weddings men do so as a group during the celebration - would be those of the community there.

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