I want to start by talking about art – like a portrait or a mosaic;
or, to use a term I’ll come back to in a moment, an icon.
What I’m describing is more than a snapshot or reproduction.
I can take a photo of you – click, done! Pretty simple. One dimension.
But art – whether with a camera or brush or chisel or something else –
brings discovery of hidden depths
and reveals something always there but not seen at first glance.
This is why really beautiful and profound art can seize our attention:
it leads us into something bottomless in meaning: we stare and stare.
So with that in mind, let me quote something Pope Francis said
in his encyclical, Amoris Laetitia:
“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon…
capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.”
This is a point Pope Saint John Paul II also made:
the family is an icon of the Holy Trinity.
As awesome as all Creation, the stars of the universe are,
only the human being is made in the, quote, “image and likeness” of God;
and that image and likeness is most fully revealed,
not in a solitary human being,
but when a man and woman are in communion; in a relationship.
In a word, “family”; which begins with the couple, but –
now circling back to Pope Francis’ words,
a couple that “loves and begets life.”
Because a couple that doesn’t love, and isn’t open to life,
is not an icon at all, but the opposite: if you will, an “anti-icon” of God.
Last week I said I was going through each sacrament, so:
this week it is matrimony.
And while this Gospel isn’t focused on marriage, it sure applies:
Because when Jesus talks about love,
he’s talking about, first, the divine love of the Trinity –
Father, Son and Holy Spirit –
and this love reaching out to humanity
and drawing us up into that divine love and life of God himself.
That’s what Jesus is saying: “as the Father loves me” –
that’s divine love – “so I love you” –
Jesus, coming down to our level, and catches us up into that divine love.
And then, if it’s totally clear yet, he says:
This love – human-becoming-divine love, is how we love one another.
Do you have a pet? You love your pet?
That love is real; but try as you might,
you can’t lift that faithful companion up to the human level.
And as real as the gap is between us and our pets,
it’s nothing compared to the infinite distance between us and God.
You and I are not God’s “pets”!
That would be a lot easier: we get fed, have fun, but no responsibility.
But that’s not God’s plan for us:
you and I are to be lifted up into the full reality of God’s own life.
We don’t have to understand what that means;
only take Jesus at his word that he has nothing less than that for us.
So we come back to the family.
Human beings made in God’s image:
we’re a receptacle, if you will, waiting for the Holy Spirit,
to bring us all the way into that fullness of life.
And the icon that God painted is the family: father, mother, children.
That’s the lovely account; but we know the less-beautiful reality:
family life isn’t idyllic;
couples do not endlessly gaze dewy-eyed at each other!
So how can married life be that icon?
And that’s the transformation that grace brings.
Grace is God’s life, poured into our lives, to make us like God;
and don’t be fooled by the pretty language:
grace is messy and painful and sloooow!
So if you find your own, personal journey of grace frustrating?
Fear not! That’s just it works. and the same with family, only moreso.
The struggles – of couples to stay in love, to deepen their love,
and of parents, trying to be generous in welcoming children – is real.
Holy Matrimony is the messiest of sacraments!
There are so many possible points here, but time won’t allow it.
But first, however challenging, how can this icon of divine love –
which a couple is – not be about life? So: it’s man and woman. Period.
And, how can that icon not be open to life?
We use this euphemism, we call it “protection,” right?
Protection from what? From LIFE.
Another point: isn’t it obvious that
married couples can’t just coast through,
and – this is hard to say – must not harden their hearts to each other.
God’s destination is indeed beautiful,
but we all know what ugliness can happen along the way.
And the message here is not – I repeat, IS NOT –
that one spouse is obliged simply to put up with ugliness and cruelty.
Sometimes things get broken; and we don’t know how to fix them: because we aren’t God.
That brings us to the Cross. Thank God for the Cross!
The Cross is for all those people
who have messes that are, let’s say, “un-clean-up-able”;
whose wreckage seems unsalvageable:
because on the Cross, Jesus’ wounds aren’t “fixed,” right? He dies!
They kill him and that seems to be the end. Defeated. Done. Final.
No! He dies but rises again. And notice: he still has his wounds!
So I confess I do not know how some family struggles get healed.
But here’s what you and I both know is true: the Cross is our hope!
In the words of St. Francis, “in dying we are born to eternal life!”
And it is the very messiness of the sacrament of marriage and family that this truth is revealed.
Each of us enters life in a family – and it’s messy;
from the very first moment, and all the way through: messy!
But God chose this reality as the icon that manifest
how his Divine Love enters and overcomes and transforms.
Thank you mothers; thank you couples, for being the icon of hope!