Sermons

October 3: Fault Lines (27 B)

“If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” 1 John 4:12.

When we listen to Saint John, we read of the covenant of love between God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. So too, this covenant continues in his people and most especially in the marriage covenant between loving people, women, and men.

Additionally, in John’s gospel, the very first of Jesus’s miracles are changing water to wine at the marriage feast of Cana. Some scholars suggest this event took place not far from Nazareth and possibly with the family members of Jesus’s mother, Mary.

Even today, the invitation and attendance at weddings play a large part in our celebrations for family and close friends. We take photographs, witness the ceremonial cutting of the wedding cake, take part in the dancing and the celebratory mood with the fondest expectations for the young couple whose life together awaits them.

Now today’s gospel passage is not about the joy of the wedding. Instead, it’s about the quality of the marriage relationship.

You might consider it odd that I speak on this subject since I’ve never been married, nor have most of you. The truth is we have all seen the effects of troubled relationships and how these hurts may affect those we love deeply.

As Mark’s gospel suggests divorce and personal estrangements can have a devastating effect over long periods. Today, I’d like to speak about fault lines and destination weddings.

In Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” the witch (played by Meryl Steep in the film version) knows the deep desire of the baker and his wife to have a child. In “Children Will Listen,” she warns them “Careful the things you say, children will listen!” The reality is that children know the challenges their parents face — they are listening. The word “estrangement” describes the kind of personal isolation that can bring the marriage to a standstill.

Of course, divorce is only one cause of estrangement, but a strong force from my observation. In his recent book, “Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend them,” professor Karl Pillemer, a Cornell University family sociologist, writes about family estrangements.

In a recent interview, he states, “This is a problem that affects everyone in our country and cuts across a lot of divides. I was stunned to find that 27% of Americans, or 70 million people are currently in some form of estrangement. It’s an extraordinary, almost epidemic-level problem.”

We are not perfect people, nor is there the perfect couple. Over the long haul, we need better listening skills to help reconcile differences and bring healing to support loving relationships.

Be mindful that Jesus’s point in this passage from Mark’s gospel is that wives are not expendable. Let’s remind ourselves that in a tribal male-dominated culture, such a husband divorced a wife to the peril of these women and their children. It meant being thrown out on the streets, genuinely banished from their family, and with few economic alternatives. Further in this culture, so long ago, the men were more concerned about what the divorce meant for their male tribal counterparts and not especially troubled about the women.

Jesus’s ideas about fidelity and life-long commitment have natural resonance for the sacred character of the marriage, what the Church calls a “sacramental marriage.” Again, John echoes these ideas, “If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”

A wedding takes place on one day, but it’s that life-long journey when love takes hold in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. The very words of a marriage vow.

To my mind, all sacraments, like a “destination wedding,” take us to a specific place in our lives, providing the memory and the same assurance of a lifetime of grace.

Are we ready and prepared for these journeys of grace?  I believe this is what Jesus is referring to when he says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. I have come that you may have life and may live it more abundantly. I am the way to the Father.”

Our religion classes tell us that sacraments are outward signs of an interior, indeed a spiritual reality.

All sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, and even those tender last moments when death meets life, each of these sacred journeys of grace contain Christ’s presence.  They take us to a world where we are alive in Christ. Be assured of the Lord’s presence providing the support that brings us to our specific destinations of grace.

Today’s gospel passage has a curious ending, in that Jesus calls children to himself and says: “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Is this Jesus’s way of saying that his teachings and moral legacy would leave the world and these children in a better place?

After all, “Careful the things you say, children will listen.”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA

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