Here's my homily for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time reflecting on Christian marriage.
You can find the readings on which this homily is based linked HERE
One of the things that has fascinated me for years is what gets defined as “counter-cultural”.
And how that can shift.
Back when I was a youth, the “counterculture” was associated with sex and drugs and rock & roll, peace and love, hippies (remember them?) and opposition to the Vietnam War.
Back about 20 centuries, in the early church, the first few generations of “Christians“, as they were starting to be known
...held to a certain way of life that set them apart from the cultures around them.
They rejected polygamy, marrying once married, for life.
They placed a very high value on fidelity within marriage
...with their men rejecting a widely accepted range of ‘extracurricular” male sexual privileges and practices.
They accepted their children, rejecting the abandonment of obviously weak or disabled newborns...as was widely practiced.
They rejected abortion, which is an old, not just a modern practice.
They were committed to caring for the needy among them, before the advent of any welfare state or notions of social security.
They rejected violence.
They would not worship the Emperor, or his gods.
They did this all to be faithful to God, to live as Christ called them.
It is in this context that we best read the words of today’s gospel admonitions about marriage.
So what’s counter-cultural today?
Living the way of the early Christian is starting to feel like it.
History doesn’t repeat, but rhymes.
Today we have a dominant culture, that among others things, is antagonistic to transcendence and limits
...especially to limits and demands and expectations that are seen originating outside or beyond the self
...and cut against our sovereign will and its wants
...and whatever we think is our own personal “happiness” to be
...elusive and slippery as that notion is.
Over the past two weeks I had the joy of presiding at two weddings.
One of my jobs on those occasions is to offer words of wisdom and encouragement to those couples regarding marriage as the Church sees it
...and how Christian marriage might be different.
I did so using a story from my college days, and thought I would share it with you today.
On evening, at a party at my roommate’s sister Debbie’s place
...and I noticed a poster in her room.
As it was in the 1970’s…it was a very 70’s poster.
Ghosted in the background it depicted a young man and woman walking through the autumn foliage, each wearing comfy fall sweaters
...hand in hand obviously thrilled and enthralled with each other.
In the foreground, was a reflection on relationships
...these essence of which was something like this:
I am me and you are you…
...and if for some time on this planet
...you and I can come together and share love and good times
...that would be great
...you being you and me being me, so much the better
...but should the time come for us to move on
...so that you can be you and I can be me
...that’s just the way it should be
...and we should just move on so that you can be you, and I can be me
...and cherish the memories
I stood there contemplating that poster...when Debbie blew in, exuberantly exclaiming
...“Don’t you just LOVE that!!”
“No”, I told her, “I think it’s pretty disgusting”
...or words to that effect.
Besides its shallowness and self-centeredness
...what bothered me about the picture of “love” this poster offered
...was the complete absence of any real notion of commitment.
There was no hint that love actually calls us to live outside and beyond ourselves.
The picture was one of two gyroscopes rather than people
..each one of them spinning on its own axis.
If they could spin together...great...if not...just move on.
But, Jesus says, in fact commands, that we need to love one another “as I love you.”
This is something very different from the sentiments on Debbie’s poster.
Well he offered himself, sacrificed himself, for us and our salvation, as the Creed tells us
...and not his own fulfillment, comfort, riches or power.
What ultimately defined his love for his friends...was that he laid down his life for them.
Centuries of Christian thinking and living has helped us to see and understand love as
...living and acting for the good of others rather than our own, for their sake and not ours.
That is how Christians, if they have their heads on straight about it, conceive of love
...it not so much being an emotion or a sentiment, though they’re part of the picture for sure
...but primarily a decision and a commitment to live and act for the good of another
...of “one another” as Jesus puts it.
“One another”, makes this all relational, a two way street, a two way obligation one to another.
The relevance for Christian marriage is obvious.
Christian marriage is a call to each to lay down, offer their lives for each other
...and if so blessed, both, for their children.
This is mutual love of a high and specific order
...called to grow ever deeper because of the stability the commitment of marriage entails.
So we are to be committed to one another’s welfare as he was committed ours
...all the way down
...and to the end
...even at cost to ourselves.
This is the essence, the lifeblood, of Christian marriage.
It has been countercultural from the beginning
...and remains so today.