Sunday, November 11, 2007

Marriage and the Dialogue of Love

(32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given 10 & 11 November, 2007, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; Read Luke 20:27-38)

This weekend we listen in on what has to be one of the most exasperating conversations in the New Testament: the conversation between the Sadducees and Jesus Christ. It is exasperating because they are taking something that is holy and sacred—the covenant of love between a man and a woman as instituted by God, marriage—and manipulating that sacred institution in order to advance their own agenda. They are using marriage as a means in order to mock Christ and deny the resurrection. That’s exasperating!

But you will notice that Christ does not enter the conversation on their level; He does not become a part of that dialogue. Instead He takes the conversation to an entirely new level; He raises it. Jesus Christ begins a new dialogue on marriage that begins with heaven and eternal life. He reveals how marriage—as we know it—will not continue in heaven in the same way. A married couple work together as partners to help each other get to heaven. By all means they will be closer in heaven than they ever were on earth, but differently.

With all of that said, you have probably heard the expression before: “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Here we are, some 2,000 years later in our own State of Rhode Island and we are still listening to that same exasperating conversation on marriage.

Just like the Sadducees, who are manipulating the institution of marriage for their agenda, many groups today are doing the same to advance their own political, social and moral agendas. I am talking, in particular, about the steady stream of articles and columns written in the Providence Journal by persons like Bob Kerr and M. Charles Bakst. They, and many groups and individuals along with them, are strongly advocating for same sex marriage in the State of Rhode Island.

Just this past week, Mr. Bakst’s political column criticized Bishop Tobin for his stance against same sex marriage. Bakst called for, instead, more dialogue. He wants more conversation about how we look at and define marriage in our state.

But the Catholic Church is not interested in that dialogue! The Church is not interested in a conversation which seeks a new definition for married life, and the reason is that we already have one. There is already a vision and definition of marriage given to us by God. That vision is powerful and beautiful, and ironically, it involves the very thing that M. Charles Bakst is asking for: dialogue.

Marriage, defined by God “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8, Genesis 2:24) is a dialogue or a conversation between a man and a woman. It is a dialogue of love that involves three things.

First and foremost, that conversation of love between a husband and wife is one that is exclusive. It is an intimate conversation into which no one else is invited. They speak that special language of love between the two of them only.

Secondly, that dialogue of love between the spouses is one that is lifelong. They agree to carry on that conversation “until death do us part.”

Finally, the dialogue or conversation of love in married life is one that is open to the gift of life; they are open to children, if God should grant that remarkable and magnificent gift.

Does that sound familiar? It should, because it is a conversation we hear at every wedding. In nuptial language we call that conversation vows. When a couple stands before the altar of God they exchange vows—a dialogue of love—in which they promise to be exclusive and totally faithful in a lifelong commitment of love that is open to new life.

But that conversation is not spoken only on that day of their wedding. A couple continues that conversation and renews their vows in a thousand different ways all throughout their married life…but never more so than when they enter the dialogue of love with their bodies in the marital embrace. Never more so than when, in the language of the Scriptures, “the two become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Whenever I prepare couples for marriage I tell them how this conversation of love and dialogue of marriage spoken with their bodies is so powerfully beautiful that in nine months they could be holding it in their arms! The love between them is so powerful that in nine months they could be giving him or her a name.

That can never happen with a same-sex couple; it is biologically impossible for two men or two women to bear fruit in a new child as the fruit of their mutual love. More than that, it is inherently clear in the Scriptures and in the teachings of our faith that for a same sex couple to speak that language anyway, to become involved physically and bodily in acts which can never bring new life, is a grave sin.

To be clear, I am not talking about same sex attraction. That is different. We do not neccesarily choose who we are attracted to. We cannot be judged for falling in love with another person, regardless if that person is of the same or opposite sex as us. The Church does not teach that same sex attraction is a sin.

But to act on that attraction, physically, in a sexual relationship, is a grave sin. Saint Paul says, with great love but with tremendous sorrow, that those who do so anyway “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:10). It is that serious. So far from being a political issue, this issue of same sex marriage could be the very hinge upon which one’s eternal salvation rests.

And nothing is more important than the kingdom of God. Nothing is more important than heaven and eternal life. That should be on everyone’s agenda. And it is primarily in that light that the Church looks at every person, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The Church looks at every person as a child of God and a magnificent creature called to eternal life with God. Back in 1986 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Letter to All Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of those who are attracted to persons of the same sex. The man responsible for that document is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who we know today as Pope Benedict XVI, and the document states clearly that:

“The Church…refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’, and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God, and by grace, His child and heir to eternal life.”

If we truly want to know how the Church feels about all people, regardless of sexual orientation or attraction, then that is where we must begin; it is the very place where all dialogue must start.

It is also the reason why the Church—from Pope Benedict XVI, to Bishop Tobin, right on down to you and I—the Church has a grave responsibility to say and do whatever we can to make sure every person gets there, to heaven and to eternal life with God. That is the reason why every member of the Church has a grave responsibility to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Now that is a dialogue which every single one of us should be involved in.