August 25, 2015
Today’s First Reading comes to us from the very last chapter of the Book of Joshua. It was Joshua who led the Israelite People across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He is about to die; however, before he does, he wishes to renew the Covenant that the Lord made with Moses on Mount Sinai.
So he calls the people together to declare once again, publically as a community and verbally. He says.
“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15a) The people answered clearly and emphatically. “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord, our God, who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey.” (Joshua 24:16-17) “Therefore we will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:18b)
Joshua then ratified the Covenant God made with Israel and set up a large stone as a sign or seal of its validity. If they broke the Covenant, they would case to be the People of God and the Lord would no longer protect them! He made laws and ordinances that the people were to live by to prove their fidelity. This Covenant was more than a contract, more than an agreement. It was a commitment of the people to God.
Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians also speaks of a Covenant. This time, however, it is the Covenant of Marriage in which a man and a woman make a commitment to live together as husband and wife. Marriage is much more than a contract or agreement also.
The man and woman must promise publically before a priest or deacon that each has come “freely and without reservation to give themselves to each other in Marriage.” They must also promise to “love each other for the rest of their lives.” Marriage is permanent and exclusive! There can be no third parties. And, finally they must promise to “accept Children lovingly from God and to raise them up according to the law of Christ and his Church.”(Rite of Marriage) You are to educate them in the Faith and give them the example of being faithful Catholics.
Hence, you who are married are called by Christ to “establish between yourselves (as husband and wife) a Partnership of the whole of life.” You are called to share everything with each other…there are no secrets! Further, this partnership, of its very nature, is “ordered to the good of each other as spouses.” (CCC # 1601) That is, each spouse should help the other spouse to become a better person, a better Catholic Christian.
Finally, you enter an “intimate Communion of life and love which constitutes the married state (which) has been established by the creator…who is the author of marriage.” (CCC # 1602)
You also enter into a Sacrament. You receive a special Grace, a special sharing in the very Divine Life of God and are gifted with the Holy Spirit to help you, as spouses, to be faithful to the promises and the commitment that you made on your wedding day.
How many times have we heard the Scripture, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1Cor. 13:10) Or, as St. Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “My Grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”(2 Cor. 12:9)
This is why it is so tragic when a Catholic couple does not get married in the Church. They deprive themselves of the special Nuptial Blessing that only a bishop, priest or deacon can bestow. They deprive themselves of the Grace needed to help them persevere in their promises and commitment. They deprive themselves of the power of the Holy Spirit to help them in difficult marital situations. They deprive themselves of the great joy, peace and satisfaction when they are doing well!
Further, it is St. Paul, who in his Letter to the Ephesians clearly teaches that Marriage is a Covenant. Marriage “is a great mystery”, St. Paul writes. It is an image of the love that Christ has for his Church, for whom he suffered and died. He “Speaks (of marriage) in reference to Christ and the Church.” (Eph. 5:32)
It is “in daily acts of kindness, service, mutual love and forgiveness couples are called to imitate, however imperfectly, the unconditional love which Christ offers to us. Seeing marriage as rooted in the broader covenant of love between God and humanity has led Pope John Paul II and others to say that marriage is a sacrament “from the beginning” and not merely after the coming of Christ.” It is good to keep in mind that a “Covenant is something that God initiates”, not man. (Marriage as Covenant, USCCB)
Finally, the Gospel of John, in speaking of the Eucharist, tells us that it is the Eucharist that gives us the strength that we need to live good Christian lives. He writes.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56)
It is this Christ, our Lord and God, living within me that gives me this strength!
And today’s Gospel Account has St. Peter acknowledge a great truth, a comforting truth. “Master, to whom shall we go? YOU have the words of Eternal Life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy one of God.” (Jn. 6:68b-69)
Just as in ordained Priesthood, diaconate or in Consecrate Religious life, there are always challenges, difficulties and anxieties; there also are victories, accomplishments and great joys, so it is with marriage. We all benefit from the Grace of our particular Sacrament or Vocation. We all must depend on the author of life and the author of marriage, ordination or consecrated life to provide that strength. We must invite him to walk with us and continually acknowledge “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods” or no gods! For it is You, O God, who have “performed great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey.” (Joshua 23:17-18) Yes, even today…for us!
“It is you who have the words of Eternal Life.” (Jn. 6:68b) It is you who make all of our promises and commitments, not only possible, but real.
Most Reverend Patrick J. Zurek
Bishop of Amarillo
Twenty-First Sunday, Year “B”
Blessing of New Office-Catechetical Center
Immaculate Conception Church
August 23, 2015