Sunday, November 27, 2016

GET SERIOUS, STAY AWAKE, a Homily for the First Sunday in ADVENT year A, Matthew 24, 37–44


You can also listen to the homily here.
A man gets a message from God telling him that there is about to be a terrible flood but that he is not to be afraid and that God will save him.  Filled with confidence the man awaits the disaster.  The waters rise and threaten to flood his house.  An army truck then arrives and offers to evacuate him.  “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me.  I will wait on Him.”  The waters continue to rise and he has to move up stairs.  A boat arrives and offers to rescue him. “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me.  I will wait on Him.”  The waters continue to rise and he has to climb into his attic and out onto the roof.  A helicopter arrives and a man descends to him on a cable and offers to take him to safety. “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me.  I will wait on Him.”  The waters continue to rise and so he drowns.  He goes before the Lord in Heaven and he’s very upset.  “Lord,” he says, “you promised to save me and you didn’t!”  “My son,” says God, “I sent you a truck, a boat and a helicopter.  It’s not my fault if you drowned.”
             Cork itself is no stranger to flooding and some parts of the country have seen more than their fair share.  I am sure that you, like me, have known people who lost their homes to flooding.  How quickly the waters rise!  How easily whole towns can be swept away and lives lost by the thousand.  Modern media means that we can access the images of the tsunami that hit Thailand on St Stephen’s day twelve years ago or the one that hit Japan after the earthquake in 2011. Ancient mythology preserves many flood stories.  They are powerful images of the sudden and irresistible destruction that a flood can bring.   By using the story of Noah our Lord is using a powerful image with deep meaning.



To understand how our Lord uses this image of Noah and the flood I must explain the idea of typology.  In typology all the major characters and events in the Old Testament are understood as anticipations, foretastes or types of what God will do for us in Christ.  So Moses the law-giver is a type of Christ the true lawgiver.  King David is a type of Christ the King.  Likewise with Melchizedek, Abraham and the other major characters.  In this use of scripture Noah is a type of Christ the Saviour and the ark is a type of the Church.
             In our Lord’s retelling of the story of Noah the people were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (as if marrying were no more significant than eating or drinking) but they were doing NOTHING MORE – there is no mention of a place for the Lord.  Their whole lives were consumed with doing their own wills and they ignored the warnings given to them through Noah until they were destroyed.  At the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis where Noah’s story is told, the people are said to have conceived nothing but evil in their hearts.  There was no room for good there anymore to such an extent that even the animals, wild and tame, were affected.  So God decided to wipe the Earth clean and start afresh. Their minds and souls, their consciences darkened by the sin of indifference and so they remained blind to their own corruption and the coming disaster.  Noah was a figure of fun and derision to them.  Noah was mad and only a fool would listen to him. 
In refusing to listen to Noah the people were refusing to listen to God speaking through Noah so in refusing to listen to Christ, in refusing to take the Gospel seriously we are refusing to listen to God Himself.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  Sin darkens the mind and blinds us to reality.  When we refuse to make time for God and let Him cleanse our hearts and our lives we think we see and know the truth but we do not and so we cannot see the danger and avoid destruction.



The flood that we cannot avoid is the flood of death and judgment.  Whether we like it or not it will overtake us at some point.  For some it will come suddenly, for others there is ample warning, but it always comes and we cannot avoid it.  We are offered a way to avoid total destruction, an ark to save us, to carry us over and through the waters of death.  Christ is the true Noah, His ark is His Body the Church and those who take refuge in her are saved.  We take refuge through repentance and conversion, through casting ourselves on the Lord’s mercy through repentance and confession, through prayer, abstinence, fasting and giving to the poor.
In saying that one will be taken and another left Christ means that death and judgment come to us in the ordinary events of our day and we cannot know when they will strike nor do we know who will live and who will die, disaster is sudden and takes people in the middle of their daily lives.
Therefore, He says to us, stay awake! Stay awake in the Spirit aware of the demands of discipleship and committed to the Lord.  No one knows what day is set aside as the Day of Judgment and no prophet, no visionary can tell you.  If any claim to know that stay away from them because they are deluded.
The Lord wants us to pay attention and so he says “Be sure of this!”  How many victims of crime would love to have known in advance so that they could take some action to avoid suffering!  Here we are warned about death and judgment!  So we also must be prepared, spiritually ready, in a state of grace (free from grave or mortal sin) like soldiers ready for the call to battle – trained, fed, equipped and psyched up.
We must stand at the ready for He will come.  The Lord gives us many chances to change but not forever.  We need to decide to change and then trust Him to help us whether He comes by truck, boat or helicopter!  Take the help that comes to you don’t wait for some spectacular miracle.   If we do what we can with what we have we need not fear Him when He comes.  He comes for everyone individually at death. He comes also at particular moments in history and acts in the world in a clear way but the Day will arrive when He will come in judgment for the whole world.




How are we to prepare for that day?  Well don’t just sit there, do something!  Take action to let the Lord draw you closer to Himself and to others.  Prepare by doing works of mercy, spiritual and corporal.  Be merciful to others.  But don’t just do things, learn to sit with the Lord.  Prepare by giving time to prayer and to listening to God’s word.  Bring some silence into your day and clear out the distractions.  Even a few minutes a day given to reading and thinking about a text from the Scriptures (e.g. the Gospel of the day’s Mass) will bear fruit in time.  Time given to praying and meditating on the rosary is another way – I don’t meant rattling through the Hail Marys with one’s mind far away but actually keeping each mystery before our mind’s eye and in our heart.  Prepare by making sacrifices however small and offering them to the Lord in union with His Sacrifice on the Cross.  These are especially helpful if they benefit others, above all the poor.   If you want to celebrate our Lord’s birth properly, with real joy, then make time for God and for others.  The time we give to God and our neighbour we will get back a hundred times over.  Don’t let yourself be robbed but heed the Lord’s warning.  Get yourself right with God and your neighbour and when we calls you will have nothing to fear.  As it said in the opening prayer of  this Mass we will run out to greet Him our hands full of the good deeds we have done.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

THE CHURCH SURVIVES: a Talk given to a Pro-Life Vigil, Honan Chapel, Cork November 25th, 2016

You can listen to the talk here.
The ancient Chinese author of the Art of War, Tsun Tsu, says that the real art of war is convincing your enemy not to fight at all.  Satan and his minions know this lesson all too well.  He, and the useful idiots who, knowingly or unknowingly, collaborate with him are keen to convince us that we are on the losing side, that there is no hope in our cause, and that we the losers.  So we are bombarded in the media with images and ideas that uphold the secularist, materialist, atheist ideology that dominates the Western world.  They have to bombard us for if they did not people would slowly realise that the masters of our world are wrong and that secularism, materialism and atheism have nothing to offer.  They are parasitical and lifeless.  They are the culture of death.
Still for us who are here, in this day, in this culture it can be hard going.  Among our families and friends, neighbours and colleagues, we can be treated as oddities, fanatics, fundamentalists, ‘haters’ and adherents of an out-dated religion.  We are to keep our ‘rosaries off their ovaries’ when we would not want to put our beads there anyway.  We are told that we are soon to be a minority when the Church continues to grow.  We should keep our beliefs to ourselves, especially our religion, which to quote Hitchens “should be like knitting something that is done in private.”  Indeed what was once deplored and done in private is now paraded on our streets and what was once admired and honoured is increasingly wished into backstreets and backrooms.
We have been here before.  As soldiers of Christ and His kingdom who wage war on evil without weapons that kill we can expect to be shot at and to be bombarded.  We have countless lessons from History:
In the first century after Christianity was legalised there arose the Arian heresy that denied the full divinity of Christ.  It grew to the point where most bishops embraced Arian or semi-Arian beliefs (even, it seems, the Pope) and, as one Church Father put it, “the whole world groaned to find itself Arian”.  Yet the Church survived and overcame that heresy. 
One thousand years ago the majority of Christians, those in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, broke away from Rome and remain separated from her to this day – the Orthodox Christians.  Yet the Catholic Church, though reduced to the Latin, Roman, half survived and indeed grew to be the largest of all Christian bodies.
This era is not the first in which we have been threatened by Islam.  Christians have been battling Islam in way or another since it arose in the 7th Century.  More than once it has threatened to overwhelm Christian Europe and it has long oppressed the Christians within its jurisdiction.  Yet the Church has survived. 
In the late Fourteenth and early Fifteenth centuries the Church in Europe was rent by a schism involving the papacy where there were two claimants to the papacy, and for a few years, even three claimants.  It caused great harm to the reputation of the Church and especially the papacy.  Yet the Church survived.
At the so-called Reformation when most of Northern Europe left the Church and the face of the Catholic West was deformed and her unity broken so that it seemed like the end was nigh.  It is hard for us to imagine how swiftly that heresy, and its offshoots, spread.  It threatened to bring down all of the Church.  Yet the Catholic Church survived, indeed her renewal had begun even before the Reformation occurred, and she went on to open missions in South America, Africa, India and Asia.
The Reformation brought untold horrors to Ireland with centuries of occupation and persecution, yet the Church survived.  Indeed the Church had a major part in building this nation and state. 
In 1917 when our Lady appeared at Fatima she gave a warning that Russia was about to become a threat to the whole world.  She warned that Russia would spread her errors around the world.  No one could’ve forecast that.  Yet our Lady was proved right and there was a great persecution of the Church in Eastern Europe and Asia for many years, indeed it is still going on in China and in other countries.  Yet the Church survived.
Napoleon once boasted to the Pope “I will destroy your Church”.  The Holy Father laughed and said to Napoleon “If the bishops haven’t managed it how will you?”  Of the many things that we can learn from the history of the Church there are two I think that are important.  First is that the State is the usual source or means of persecution whether that be soft or hard.  In every era where the Church has suffered she has usually suffered at the hands of the government.  They use the power to make and to change laws, to imprison and penalise, and even to kill, to try to interfere with and frustrate the Church.  Second is that the most important weapons we have are prayer and sacrifice.  They are intimately connected.  The Church herself believes that the Muslims were defeated and Europe saved by the power of prayer, especially the Rosary.  The Church survives because she turns to her Lord in prayer and offers Him the manifold sacrifices of her life united above all with the Sacrifice of the Mass.  The Church survives revolution, persecution, corruption, scandals etc., because she is a divine institution and draws her life from the Most Holy Trinity.  She belongs to Christ for she is His Body, His Bride, His Temple and His Kingdom.  He established her and so she cannot fail as long He will that she succeed.
This year we are celebrating the Centenary of Fatima.  That visit of our Lady has been raised above all others in dignity by both the power and significance of her message and by the veneration of the whole Church, both cleric and lay.  Is it not time to renew our commitment to the message that our Lady brought us at Fatima?
At Fatima our Lady called us to stop doing wrong.  To do wrong is to reject God’s love for us and to bind ourselves up in evil habits.  It is to abandon the freedom God has destined us for in order to be slaves.  The call to give up sin was the part of the message that made the strongest impression on the visionaries.  She asked us to do penance, to offer sacrifice and reparation, especially through doing the duties of our state of life.  Note that she did not ask for extraordinary fasting or penances but that we unite our daily tasks and obligations to the Sacrifice of Christ in reparation for our own sins and the sins of others.  On their own they have no value but united to the Sacrifice of Christ they take on the infinite value of His Sacrifice, His Offering to the Father on the Cross.  How do we do this?  We can do it because we are already baptised into Him and so intimately united to Him.  We do it by offering in faith what we have to do, the evil we avoid and the good we do, in union with Him to the Father.  Even the smallest irritation endured with charity and patience, the smallest sacrifice offered, takes on an infinite value when united to the Sacrifice of our Lord.  We have only to be willing and make the offering, He does the rest.  Consider how our Lady lived most of her life: It was an ordinary life doing the daily round of housework and later following her Son and looking after Him – always attentive to God’s Presence and His will in each moment.  She was never a missionary.  She never preached or taught that we know of.  She lived a quiet life ever-attentive to God and the needs of her neighbour and she offered it all to Him.  What was good enough for her is good enough for us too.
At Fatima our Lady called for prayer, especially the Rosary, indeed she identified herself as “our Lady of the Rosary”.  How many who say the rosary actually pray the rosary though?  Whether we say it fast or slow is beside the point what matters is where our heart and our mind is.  How often have we rattled through the prayers our mind on the past or the future but rarely on the mysteries of the Life of Christ.  We have in our Rosary beads a ‘pocket Gospel’, a way to walk hand in hand with the Mother of God through the life of her Son and to contemplate His work on our behalf, His love, His humility, His poverty, His obedience, His sacrifice and His victory.  If we let our Lady take us by the hand she will open to us the hidden depths of those mysteries and teach us how to follow her Son as she did.  The saints often referred to the Rosary as a weapon and as a chain.  As a weapon it defeats the enemies of God and as a chain it binds them to the foot of the Cross.
At Fatima our Lady asked for devotion to her Immaculate Heart.  It is through the Immaculate Heart of His Mother that Christ will conquer evil and fulfil His plan.  Herein lies a great mystery.  What is said of Mary is also said of the Church and therefore of us.  As Mary was conceived without sin so the Church was conceived on Calvary without sin.  This is why the Church is known as ‘Holy’.  We, though sinners, are part of that holy Church.  Baptism cleansed us and made us one with Christ, one with His Body and Bride.  When we sin Confession restores that union, restores us to our baptismal innocence.  Living in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary is living in union with the heart of the Church, with the heart of Christ’s Body and Bride.  It is living in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  These two Hearts are inseparable. 
At Fatima our Lady promised us: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”.   This alone should be our consolation and our hope no matter how dark the times may get.  She has warned us that there will be difficult times ahead – soldiers can expect no less!  Yet she has also promised us that we will see her victory.  It is through His Mother that our Lord will conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Nothing can stop the victory of Christ. 


Sunday, November 13, 2016

TAKING THE MESSAGE SERIOUSLY: a homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Year C (Luke 21:5–19)


 As usual you can listen to the homily here.
Humanity has a fascination with time.  We go over and over the past and we really long to know what is going to happen.  How many people consult their horoscopes no matter how often they are wrong?  In fact we so often caught up in the past or the future that we rarely spend any time in the present moment.  That’s one of the reasons why mindfulness is so popular – people trying to cope with today by spending time in the now.  One of the benefits of real prayer is that one is grounded in the now with God.  God has no past or future.  He is One, now.  Even eternity is a human concept applied to God to signify that He has neither beginning nor end.  God IS. Prayer is being with God in His NOW.  Prayer is entrusting ourselves, putting all that we are at His service NOW.  Due to the Fall, though, we do not experience life as a ‘now.’  We are dragged in so many directions.  So much so that we can lose sight of what is really important. 
The Lord warns us that ours is not to be an easy life.  We are His disciples, His followers and He is our captain, our King.  We are at war with the forces of evil and because they are already defeated by the Cross there is now a period of mercy where we are to proclaim Him everywhere.  We therefore will find resistance, opposition, persecution and death.  The persecution Christ speaks of is due to our Faith in Him not any other reason.  Our ancestors suffered so much for the Faith.  We have grown soft. 
This persecution may come even from family members.  Christ warned us He had come to divide: people MUST choose whose side they’re on.   We can expect betrayal as Christ was betrayed.  I know of a man, a good, hard-working, gentle giant, who was passed over for promotion because of his faith.  His wife was told so after his death.  I know of families torn apart because of those who have rejected the Faith (I have cousins in North Africa who are Muslims).   The Church, and each of us, individually, must follow in the footsteps of Christ even to Calvary because Calvary is the gate to the Resurrection.   The life we will secure through perseverance is not in this life but in the next.  Our bodies will be restored to us whole and perfect as God intended them to be.
As regards the greater persecution that is to come to the Church before Christ returns we must distinguish between Public and Private revelation.  What is revealed in Scripture, especially the New Testament, and preserved in the Tradition of the Church, is Public Revelation – we must believe it to be Catholic and to be saved.  Public Revelation ended with the death of the last of the Apostles.  It is unconditional with regards to what will happen in the future, that is, nothing anyone can do will stop it from happening.  Persecution will come, people will abandon the Faith, the Anti-Christ will come and Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. 
Private revelation consists of those messages, prophecies, and apparitions given to persons since the time of the Apostles.  No private revelation can be considered worthy of belief until the Pope and the bishops have examined it and discerned whether it is worthy of belief or not, i.e. whether it is Catholic.  It matters not one whit how often our Lady or a saint appears or how beautiful or holy the message or the messenger appears.   If it is not approved by the Church one cannot believe it. One does not have to believe any private revelation even if the Church approves it as worthy of belief though often we do.  Often such messages are conditional i.e. things may not happen if people respond and change.    If we respond appropriately to these warnings we can change what happens to our world.
Many knowledgeable people are saying that there is a real danger of another world war or of war spread throughout the World.  Private revelations have long warned us of a great chastisement to come if the world did not change.  This was not so much about God punishing mankind but God allowing mankind to suffer the results of its own evil.  God, it is said, will step in with three days of total, supernatural, darkness to in order to end this evil.  He will do this as an act of mercy.  There are those who think that, given the evils in our world today: widespread abortion, perversion, corruption, and cruel wars and the loss of basic human charity that we are getting very near to that chastisement.  You do not have to believe this but many saints have spoken about it.



All that said we began in October the Centenary of Fatima.  Fatima was a private revelation, probably the most important of our era, but it has certainly spoken to the hearts of many Catholics.  Not many private revelations are confirmed by a miracle of the Sun seen by 70,000 people including atheists.  Not many private revelations predict an imminent World War and give the sign for its arrival (a very unusual aurora).  The message of Fatima still applies for it is essentially the message of the Gospel.  Remember the warning of our Lady at Fatima that Russia would spread her errors around the world.  This warning was given when the Russian revolution was only then just beginning.  What were Russia’s errors?  They were not just Communism/socialism but materialist atheism, secularism and extreme nationalism, as well as subservience of the church to the state.  What can we do?  We can do what Heaven asks and change.
We are called by our Lady at Fatima to change our behaviour and to do penance i.e. make sacrifices, especially those required by the duties of our state of life and keeping the moral law, in reparation for our sins and the sins of others; we are to pray, especially the rosary; we are to repent of our sins and go to Confession; and we are to cultivate a deep devotion and trust in the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  We are to love Jesus through, with and in the heart of Mary, above all in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  Through her we can gain any grace or blessing we need and ask for.  Christ intercedes with the Father on our behalf and we need to take our role seriously and intercede for the world.
If we take our Faith seriously we will listen to the voice of God in the Scriptures and in the Tradition of the Church and draw close to Him in prayer and service.  If we cast ourselves upon His loving mercy we will not be turned away.  God is merciful but He’s not indifferent.  He will not allow the evils in this world to continue indefinitely.  As St Peter says we should consider our Lord’s patience as an opportunity to be saved.




Wednesday, November 9, 2016

THOUGHTS ON AN ELECTION

It has been a tumultuous US Presidential election campaign.  Perhaps no other has been discussed worldwide and its results dreaded.  I would not have wanted to be a US citizen voting yesterday.  Clinton is so pro-abortion that it is almost a sacrament to her.  She's a hawk likely to draw the US deeper into world conflict but she has experience in governance and she knows the law.  Trump is the face of a brand of American politics that Europeans do not understand.  He has run major enterprises but has no experience of governance.  He has reached out to Catholics, to Pro-lifers, and to minorities (especially the Afro-American community) and seems to have captured the mood and the support of what is still the backbone of US society.  Yet it is not Trump alone who is elected but his team.  Who he is picks to run various parts of the US government and to be his advisers will be key.  One presumes as a successful businessman he knows how to delegate and empower and also how to hold people to account and how to fire them.  This can be said: he is in a strong position.  Congress remains Republican and may be more likely to support him now that he has the top job.  Though I am reminded of a Japanese proverb:

"The man in power is like someone riding on the back of a tiger.  Everyone else looks on with envy and awe but he alone knows the true nature of his predicament."


PRAY FOR THEM!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

LETTING GO AND SERVING GOD: HOW THINKING WE'RE SOMETHING MEANS WE ACHIEVE NOTHING

Have you noticed the reports about our present generation of young people and their lack of self-confidence?  I have met some who show no such lack, indeed some are very impressive persons.  Yet there does seem to be a problem and the causes are not yet clear.  Perhaps it the greater and earlier exposure and greater dependence on technology, a technology that is more personal than before.  I grew up with TV my parents waking me to watch Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon.  Many of my childhood memories are around TV but the TV was a family possession firmly under my Dad's thumb.  We didn't have a record player until my teens.  Play, when I was a child, was usually outdoors with whatever toys you had or even ones made up: a stick became a machine gun, ploughed-up ground or a building site was alien terrain to be explored.  The spread of technology has brought many benefits but I wonder about the downside: the isolation it can bring (parents may trade the security of knowing where their child is for that child's own secure sense of self), the dictatorship of Facebook, the erosion of social skills.  Gaming is a subset of that technology.  How does it erode or narrow our imaginative capacity?  How much does the modern media (gaming, film etc) degrade our imaginative lexicon or gallery?  Perhaps too our society is so information saturated that we know too much at a superficial level and too little at depth.  I wonder how many of our children and young adults are as familiar with our nation's stories as were previous generations, with her music (beyond the tired and trite ballads), with her art and culture? Perhaps decades of telling our youth that they can be anything they want to be has left them afraid to be anything at all.  Perhaps not telling them the hard truths of life (you have to work hard, life is not fair, failure is common, you are limited in many ways and eventually you will die and  be forgotten) means that even a little contact with reality is a cold shower they cannot bear.

Knowing who we really are and who we really are not is of vital importance.  Our age overvalues the individual while conspiring to deprive him of access to true depth.  So we have more 'rights' but in a context where the pursuit of God is sneered at.  You may be anything you want but do not seek to be religious or holy.  The truth is we do not matter.  We are here for a short time and then must face God and Judgement.  We are nothing, nobodies.  We do not have to exist and one day we will not (at least here on Earth).  So what's there to risk?  Now is the time to cast our cares on the Lord and discover the power of Providence.

Monday, November 7, 2016

IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR HIM IF A MILLSTONE WERE TIED AROUND HIS NECK

There are weird synchronicities in life. I was only thinking on the very verse “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” yesterday morning.  It has powerful resonance today after the Church has had to deal with the scandal of the abuse of the young and the vulnerable by religious and clergy.  The danger is that we begin to think that the evil has passed.  ‘The price of peace is eternal vigilance’ and the evil of child abuse can always creep back in.

Note that our Lord is not saying that ‘these little ones’ sin by being the victims of someone else’s malice.  I think he is saying that there is a harder judgment and punishment awaiting those who so maim others that they become enmeshed in sin and self-destructive behaviours in turn.  I am thinking of a man who comes to our church.  He’s a chronic alcoholic and homeless, his brain already damaged by years of alcohol abuse yet he is always respectful in church though he can be noisy.  After one of my ‘ferverinos’ at daily Mass he turned to the congregation and told them “Now go and sort your own selves out”.  He has prayed aloud beautifully at times and while we do not give him Holy Communion he comes up and we give him a blessing while he taps his breast.  He once said that he would like to have been a priest.  I am told that he comes from a large family, all alcoholics.  My point is that having been reared in such an environment what chance had he to live a healthy, normal life?  What chance had he to become a priest?  Whose sin is at the root of this man’s state?

The consequences of our sins ripple out like the wavelets created by a stone tossed into a pond.  We are all fallen and so prone to sin yet we must accept the consequences of our sins whether we realise those consequences or not.  Recently I have started praying for all those affected by my sinfulness whether hurt, or led astray, or given bad example by me.  We need gentle, loving, fraternal correction.  We need others to watch over us, not in judgment and still less in condemnation, but in caring solicitude so that we can progress on the path to Heaven.  The closer we are to fulfilling the Lord’s will the more we will have faith that moves mountains and heals the broken.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

LOVING ONE ANOTHER INTO HEAVEN: a homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday of year C (Luke 20:27–38)



As usual you can listen to the homily here.
The function of a priest’s homily or sermon is not primarily to draw on his own experience but to present the teaching of Christ and His Church, to form and inform the faithful so that they can follow Christ more effectively and fervently.  So when I come to speak about marriage I am obviously not talking from any deep knowledge of married life but from the teaching of the Church.  My purpose is to unveil God’s plan for the union of man and woman.
I must begin by bewailing the poverty of the English language when it comes to emotion.  When we think of marriage we most often also think of love.  But that word ‘love’ is applied very widely in English.  I can say I love beer, pizza, and a host of other things, even bad things, as well as loving spouse, parents, children, friends, and God.  One word stretched so far becomes very thin in meaning and power.  So when I speak of ‘love’ I ask you to hear ‘total and unconditional self-gift’.  This is what I think God means by ‘love’.
I must also point out that our purpose in life is not a happy retirement.  Our purpose is to get to Heaven and to bring as many people with us as we can.  All other purposes and ends are secondary to that purpose.  Success in this life without getting to Heaven is ultimately the greatest and most appalling failure.  That is true just as much of marriage as it is of any other vocation.
Just as a tree grows yet remains the same tree the teaching of the Church unfolds and deepens over time .  Until the Twentieth century few theologians gave much thought to the theology of marriage.  Oh you might think, theology: the thoughts of some bunch of celibates what would they know?  Well one of the most influential of those thinkers was Dietrich von Hildebrand, a German Catholic philosopher and anti-Nazi (he was top of their most wanted list) and a layman, married twice.  His second wife is still alive. 
The Church has always held that marriage, the union of man and woman, is part of the Divine plan for creation.  For a long time they spoke of its end or purpose as being procreation but that has been deepened so that we can speak even of three ends of marriage: union, procreation, and salvation so that marriage is unveiled as a path of sanctification.
Firstly the union of man and woman in marriage is a good, perhaps the greatest natural good in this world.  Union means that a man and woman can form a lifelong bond that goes beyond the merely physical or psychological.  Man and woman are meant to be bound together, we have the capacity for this spiritual union in our very souls.  We are made for one another like left hand and right hand, like left eye and right eye and together we can do what on our own we cannot.  Through marriage the spouses teach one another how to love.  St Paul speaks of the husband loving his wife and the wife respecting her husband and usually that is taken to mean he’s using different terms for the same love.  Might I suggest there is more in what he says?  I suggest that St Paul may be saying that men and women love but in different ways and that the path of marriage involves learning from one’s spouse the breadth of love, and the real meaning of total self-gift.  In the Sacrament of marriage, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural bond becomes a real supernatural bond that has Eternal consequences.
Secondly through marriage children are brought into the world and so our nation, our society and our State are built up.  With each child that is conceived there comes the possibility of all the good that that child will do and all who may come to exist through that child and the good that they, in turn, will do.  To adapt a Jewish proverb ‘who conceives a child blesses the world entire.’  What a wonder then is marriage and the conception of children.  It was often said in the past that a woman’s place was in the home but actually the home is the proper place for both man and woman.  Home is not a building it is the people you belong to and the first duty, by far the most important duty, of a husband or a wife is to love and care for their spouse and to love and care for their children.  No job, no career, no sporting, social or cultural event or activity, nothing save the worship of God should come before it.  I exempt Sunday Mass because here we are on the doorstep of our Eternal Home and if we do not make it to Heaven all our effort here on Earth is worthless.
Finally, marriage is a true and valid way to salvation.  It is said that on the day of his Wedding the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor said to his wife “Now we must help each other into Heaven” and she was delighted for that was her desire as well.  Marriage is sanctifying because it is also penitential in that we can do penance for our sins through the suffering it can bring.  (Dad story) It is also ascetical, that is, it is a spiritual training ground where we learn how to live a virtuous life.   As athletes use weights to train so we can use the difficulties of living with others to grow in love and virtue.  Marriage is a good, a natural good but as a Sacrament it becomes a supernatural good, that is, it is a channel of grace, of God’s own life and action on the spouses’ souls and the world, a path to salvation for them and for their children.  Christian marriage is ordered not just to the good of the spouses but of the whole of Heaven and Earth.  Sanctification is the consequence of entering marriage wholeheartedly, cooperating with God’s grace and so marriage can be as sure a path to Heaven as any other vocation. 
One of the fruits of the efforts of theologians to unfold the Church’s teaching on marriage was a move away from using the juridical, legal terminology of ‘contract’ to the biblical language of covenant.  A contract is usually a fixed-term, finite agreement for the exchange of goods and services while a covenant is an open-ended, unlimited, union for the exchange of love and life.  Both have consequences (and penalties attached) when they are not honoured but those for a covenant are much more substantial, even eternal.
Having made this move to the language of covenant it is extraordinary that today the term ‘partner’ is used even by the Sacramentally married.  It is a sign that society, always behind the Church in its thinking and having rejected the Faith, has reverted to a legal and this-worldly understanding of the union of man and woman.  Reducing marriage to a contract is robbing people of its richness and glory.  Study after study has shown how it benefits people to be married and to become parents.  We religious and clergy may live longer but there is a physical and mental downside to our way of life – part of its cross.  Though that said, having lived so many years with friars, we do say that some women were spared an awful life by our vocations.
A friar told me this story: a priest goes to comfort a recently bereaved old woman.  ‘Don’t grieve so.  Soon you will be with him in Heaven for ever’ “Oh Father,’ she replied, ‘that’s what I’m worried about.’  Of course what is not of God, what is fallen, does not survive the death of our bodies.  Only our true self, our immortal soul survives and all other unimportant concerns fall away.  Those relationships that are founded on and built up in grace also survive.  If you want to keep your bond with your spouse into eternity then build up your life together in communion with the Lord.  
Seek to be converted, to love ever more truly and consistently, to forgive and to share your Faith with one another.  Try not to take one another for granted but rather begin each day with thanksgiving for how the Lord has blessed you.  What is built on the Lord lasts forever and no flood can ever bring it down.





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