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Man and woman are one flesh

Homily by Archbishop Wenski at Mass with University of Miami students

Homily by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at Mass with University of Miami students at St. Augustine Church. Oct. 4, 2015. 

Divorce is a sad reality –Divorce is found among the very rich and the very poor, in every ethnic and social group; it is found among those who are religious and those who are no so religious. Like the common cold or flu virus, it is seemingly indiscriminate and given the large percentages of marriages that end in divorce, if it were a disease, it would be described today as a pandemic.

Some then may think that Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are “harsh” or “uncaring” – but Jesus’ words can help us understand why failed marriages do bring such pain to couples, to extended families and to entire communities. In harkening back to the beginning, to “Genesis”, Jesus explains that divorce was never God’s plan for us. God created us not for solitude but for communion – that is to say, for the bonding and union that love impels us to. Divorce tears that apart – and, Jesus names the reason why it exists: our hardness of heart or simply put human sinfulness.

At the time when Jesus lived, marriage was taken lightly and divorce was quite common.  And that is certainly true of our time, our culture tends to treat commitment and love as conditional – it’s easier today to get a divorce than to get out of your cell phone contract.

But far from being “uncaring”, Jesus is calling us all back to the beginning so that we discover again the original plan of God. It is a call to return to the roots of marriage, an invitation to for man and woman to see their commitment to each other in the way that God sees it. Jesus’ words rather than being “harsh” are an invitation to each one of us to live our lives in loyalty to God’s original call.

That call or vocation is reflected in the make-up of our own bodies. The first reading from the Book of Genesis is certainly poetic language – but it’s poetry that expresses great truths. The creation of woman from Adam’s rib is meant to express how man and woman are one flesh from their very origins. To discover each other and to “become one flesh” corresponds to their deepest and most unique nature.  In distinction to the other creatures which Adam rules over, in the woman he recognized himself, “At last, flesh of my flesh.”

I understand that many of you recently attended a talk on the Theology of the Body – this theology developed by St. John Paul II can help us appreciate the moral law that is written on each human heart and that our “body language” ought always to express the truth about what God has in mind for us when it comes to love and marriage. The “Theology of the Body” speaks of "nuptial meaning” of the body. The human body, constituted male or female, reveals man and woman's call to become a gift for one another, a gift fully realized in their "one flesh" union. The body also has a "generative meaning" that (God willing) brings a "third" into the world through their communion. In this way, marriage constitutes a "primordial sacrament" understood as a sign that truly communicates the mystery of God's Trinitarian life and love to husband and wife - and through them to their children, and through the family to the whole world.

Of course, God’s original plan was frustrated by our original sin.  Experience teaches us that things sometimes go terribly wrong –Although man’s vocation is to love, our capacity for love was wounded since the original sin of Adam and Eve. Because of that wound, we find the responsibilities of love very challenging, if not impossible. Even the apostles, when Jesus affirmed the indissolubility of marriage, complained:  “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19: 10)  At any rate, it is not to be undertaken lightly.

Marriages do collapse for any number of “reasons” – and when they do collapse there is real pain.  And the Church, like a field hospital or MASH unit in the middle of a battlefield, does try to reach out and tend to the wounded.  And divorced Catholics and all the rest of us are “walking wounded”. We all need support, comfort and affirmation not judgment or exclusion.  And the Church in imitating the Good Samaritan does try to make provision for human failure and inadequacy – even though to many, it may seem that the Church moves too slowly.

Yet, we all must submit to the vision of Jesus – and that vision spell out very clearly in today’s gospel reading remains the norm.

The gospel reading includes the story of the blessing of the children.  Here Jesus proposes children as the model for anyone who accepts the Kingdom of God – and that would certainly include married people.  If husband and wife remain childlike before God, the mutual understanding and goodwill that can overcome the inevitable tensions of married life become possible. The hopes people place in marriage can be fulfilled only by the acceptance of the Gospel – we all are in need of that grace that can free us from that hardness of heart and make us childlike before God.

We were created in the image and likeness of this God who is love.  Understanding that we are made in the image and likeness of God can help us to understand why God put into the humanity of man and woman the vocation – and thus the capacity and the responsibility – of love and communion.  I ask the blessings of the Holy Spirit on each of you that as you continue your journey here at UM your studies will equip you not only for the careers that you wish to pursue but through your participation in Campus Ministry to embrace fully your vocation to love and communion.

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