27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I did my best to listen to Pope Francis’ talks during his visit to the United States. Our schedules did not always match up. I did hear major portions of each one and knew I could always find the full text later. His most animated and spontaneous talk was the address at the Festival of Families the evening before his final Mass. Commentators noted afterward that only the opening lines matched the embargoed preliminary copy of his talk. So I went on line to find the text. My first effort failed, I simply found the original text. I searched again specifying that I wanted what was actually said. I got a transcription based on that. My proof was a the telltale colorful line when discussing the fact that marriages sometime have challenges and he noted that sometimes the plates fly.
Pope Francis’ special appreciation of families and children is well known. In fact last spring the Holy Father did a catechesis on marriage and family in a series of his talks at his weekly audiences. He drew his lesson from and in accord with the scriptures of today’s Mass.
Pope Francis’ instructions began by noting that at the origin of God’s plan to have a covenant relationship with His human creation was the creation of them as male and female. This creation of same and yet different human persons, in terms of a gender complementarity was, to establish a unique covenant between two people, a covenant of communion and generation. The covenant between a man and a woman is the first lesson in covenant between God and His people.
It is this unique communion that Jesus spoke of when asked the question of the permissibility of divorce. It was in His response that Jesus went back to the beginning and to God’s purpose to create such a communion between two persons that it should be permanent, as long as the two should live. In attaching the permanence of marriage to the original divine intention that two become one, one flesh, Jesus affirmed a concept that remains at the foundation of the Church’s teaching on marriage. It is a teaching about a kind of oneness that is total and exclusive. A person cannot have this oneness with two different people at the same time, nor can it be effectively experienced for only a limited time. Only death could break the bond.
The Genesis account referred to in the Gospel is actually the second of two descriptions of the creation of the human person as male and female. In the first story of creation gender distinction and cooperation is attached to the creation of new human life. And indeed, the creation of new human beings still requires the cooperative contribution of a male and female person.
Today’s readings direct us to once again briefly review the Church’s basic teaching on marriage, founded on the integrity of the two-fold meaning of God the designer’s plan in creating us as male and female. God’s design is about love and new life. It is about a totality of mutual love and sharing that includes the cooperative power of pro-creation. It is about the preferred context for the growth and development of the human person, within the loving partnership of these two beings of complementary genders, sharing differing qualities and perspective in love, for the enrichment of one another and their children.
In the Gospel Jesus quoted the phrase from Genesis, the two become one flesh. We recognize that on two levels. Flesh is used in the scriptures to sometimes refer to the totality of the human person. Marriage is about such a total mutual sharing of lives. But also central to marriage is a specific physical act in which two become one, in the flesh literally. The male and female persons have different and yet complementary body parts made for this. And it is no coincidence that two becoming one act is the designer’s means of creating new life and affirming the relationship of love. There is a pleasure attached to the act, we can think of it as the treat, or the reward for fulfilling the commitment of total love, open to life, which always includes sacrifice. Unfortunately, the bonus side-piece of pleasure sometimes blurs the vision of the more profound life and love. There is no question that our society would be extremely well served if every couple who chooses to become one flesh will always approach the act with awareness of its seriousness, by decision of the designer, the Creator, in terms of its power for life. The power of the act in terms of life and love should never be forgotten even when though the life possibility is only periodic and eventually gone altogether.
Mark’s Gospel passage moves quickly on to the discussion of allowing the children to come to Jesus. It underscores the importance of the care of children. Its context is meant to remind us that we are all children before God. Indeed married couples, seeking to live their lives together in accordance with designer’s instructions must appreciate their opportunity to constantly, consistently, and together connect with their designer God who is also their loving Father.
So what is to be said of the fact that the definition of marriage has been changed, legally, so as to include unions between people of the same, not complementary, genders. First, I would hope that whatever one might think about the equality of different types of relationships, they would recognize the distinction of that relationship that can only exist between a man and woman wherein by the cooperative sharing of their complementarity new human life is created. Secondly, don’t expect the teaching of the Church on marriage to change unless there is some dramatic anatomical and biological evolution. Finally, one shouldn’t be bullied by a rhetoric that suggests if one does not agree with the change in the definition of marriage that means that one is bigoted, that one hates persons who happen to have a same-gender attraction similar to the opposite gender attraction of a majority of people. In this I appreciate the example of Pope Francis. He is certainly noted for friendly acknowledgement of a certain segment of the population with same gender attraction. (which simply echoes the catechism). At the same time his position on the value and necessity of retaining our regard for the unique marital union that can exist only between a man and a woman has been clearly expressed. However, it may not get the same attention.