As we know, in Rome, a group of bishops from around the world
are gathering right now with the Holy Father,
to discuss the challenges of marriage and family
in these difficult times.
How appropriate that these very readings
will be heard by those bishops
as they have Mass together with Pope Francis,
as they begin their work!
We’re all aware of the deep confusion in our society
about even these words, “marriage,” “family.”
But the problem runs far deeper.
What I want to talk about today is the true nature of this problem;
and the way you and I are called to respond.
There’s a growing trend to say
that the identity of “male” and “female”
are not really fixed, unchanging facts;
but instead, are subject to change.
It’s celebrated; we know what’s happening:
folks in the politics and in entertainment
are seeking to impose a new “normal.”
Something happened last week that shows the issue runs deeper.
This is a bizarre, sad story.
A woman in North Carolina convinced herself
that she was meant to be blind.
She went to a psychologist; he agreed with her,
and then helped her put poison in her eyes, making her blind.
Now, the common reaction was to say, “how terrible!”
But how is this really different from a man saying he’s a woman?
It’s not; it’s just the next stage of the confusion.
See, the real confusion is not what marriage is;
but who we are: What does it mean to be human?
The first reading gives our answer: we are defined by our Creator:
we have dignity and worth from God.
But our society increasingly answers: we define our own existence.
We aren’t created; we self-create.
This may seem abstract, but it’s not.
You see, what makes a community a community
is not that everyone agrees on everything,
but that we agree on the essential things.
And when that consensus breaks down?
Then people who live side-by-side become strangers.
That’s where we are, and it is going to get worse.
Rebelling against God’s design for our lives isn’t new.
In the Gospel, when the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce,
they wanted to settle a debate:
could a man divorce his wife for any reason at all,
or for only some reasons?
They were not prepared for the Lord’s answer:
There are no excuses for ending a marriage.
“What God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
Now, I must pause to explain that when the Bible talks about “divorce,”
it doesn’t make the distinctions we make today.
Today, we use the term “divorce” solely as a question of civil law,
and we say, OK, what happened at the courthouse
doesn’t affect the true reality.
It can be confusing, but there’s a good reason for this distinction.
Sometimes a married couple has so many difficulties,
A legal separation can become necessary.
And as strong as the Church is in favoring marriage,
In those terrible situations, the Church will give permission
for such a legal separation.
Still, a legal separation, a civil divorce decree,
does not change whether a couple is married in the eyes of God.
So I’ve sketched the problem. How do we respond?
Pope Francis said something during his trip that is right on.
He told the bishops, we can’t just look back at how things used to be.
He’s right. We can’t just be sad. And we sure can’t be complacent.
So: what do we do?
You and I bear witness.
And I don’t mean in a business-as-usual way.
I mean that the moment has arrived for Catholics to be fired up,
full-time, all-in followers and messengers of Jesus Christ.
It isn’t easy anymore. Too bad. We can’t just look back.
In this new situation, you and I are going to have to tell people,
patiently and repeatedly explaining what we believe and why.
These readings are perfect for this task.
Why do we matter? Why does God care about our choices in life?
Because we are made in his image.
How do we know marriage is man and woman?
Because man and woman fit together in a unique way.
Only a man-plus-woman is “one flesh” – meaning it brings new life.
And let me say, when people began to separate
this one-flesh union from procreation,
that’s when the confusion about marriage started.
It didn’t just happen in the last few years.
This passage from Genesis was the springboard
for Pope St. John Paul’s theology of the body.
He taught that when a man and a woman come together,
that union is an icon of the Trinity.
The deacon who visited last week said it well:
notice how love, by its very nature,
breaks out of itself, and give life.
The love of the Father and the Son calls forth the Holy Spirit;
the love of a husband and wife calls forth children.
And who can fail to notice that in this Gospel passage,
right after our Lord teaches about marriage,
he says, “welcome children”?
As I said, we bear witness. But in a time of growing skepticism
and even hostility toward our message, words aren’t enough.
Our witness must be in how we live these truths;
and not as a burden, but as a joy.
Is that too much to ask?
When people are facing suffering and pain,
especially in their family life,
how do they bear witness with joy?
We do it by realizing that our joy is not in our circumstances;
but rather in who is with us in those circumstances!
Yes, we face crosses in our lives.
But we know that a life without the cross is a life without sacrifice;
and a life without sacrifice is a life without love.
Now here’s a hopeful thing:
What I just said is everyone can understand,
and see borne out in ordinary life.
But do you see what God did?
His plan – for our creation and our redemption –
finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ!
When Jesus came, and embraced the Cross,
he took what was already the common destiny of all people,
and placed at the center, as the means of our salvation.
This is why, as Fulton Sheen said so well,
You and I will never get anywhere
talking about Christ without the Cross.
But when we embrace the Cross, and live it:
That is something people will come to.
What did Jesus say? If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me!
Our witness cannot be angry.
I confess I feel anger about the times we live in;
I’m sure many of us do.
There is a place for what is called “righteous anger,”
but the truth is, most of the time, it’s not righteous—it’s just anger.
When’s the last time you met someone who was angry,
and you said, “I want to be just like that person”?
Our joy comes from our faith being founded the right way:
not on what we’re against, or even on what we believe.
It’s important to know what we believe;
but joy comes from knowing who we believe in.
Knowing Jesus is real, he is our God, he is our brother,
he is close to us, forgiving us, leading us, every day.
That will fill us with joy and drive out anger and fear.
And here’s something else that is hopeful.
When you and I meet people who have hope, and joy,
and fullness of life, those are people we want to be with;
and when we are with them, we can’t help becoming more like them.
Do you see?
That’s how we witness. We live our joy. As Jesus said:
If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.