Saturday, October 6, 2012

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Did you catch the movie, Marley and Me, which came out last year? If you did, you’ll remember that it’s about an especially naughty dog named Marley. But even more than that, it’s about John and Jenny, the husband and wife who own Marley. At one point, they go through a rough patch- fighting about kids, careers, choices they’ve made, and of course the dog. Things get pretty bad, and John shares what’s been happening with a friend. The friend, who’s a self-absorbed playboy, asks John when he’s going to leave Jenny, as if that were the obvious thing to do. But John wouldn’t even consider doing that. He’s committed, no matter what. And because of his commitment, he and Jenny are able to work through their problems and move beyond them to happier days ahead.

Years later, John bumps into his old friend and shows him photos of Jenny and their kids. "You did well, man," says his friend, but there’s a hint of sadness in his voice and on his face. He seems to regret the emptiness in his life because of his failing to commit like John did.

The message here is that marriage takes commitment. And that’s exactly what Jesus says to us in today’s gospel, isn’t it? Marriage is forever! For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. Two become one flesh! What God has joined together, no human being must separate.

But not everyone sees things that way these days, do they? Some argue that marriage is an outdated institution we just don’t need in our "post-modern" world. Evolutionary biologists say that monogamy is unnatural, and that we’re not "wired" to be faithful to one person for life. For proof, they say, just look at the divorce rate!

Sometimes divorce is necessary. Most of the time, however, it’s not. Two-thirds of divorces today come from "low-conflict" relationships. The couple drifts apart, things get boring, routine replaces romance, life gets stressful, spouses disappoint each other. Things don’t turn out the way they hoped or expected.

None of this should surprise us, however, because we’re all broken people. Every one of us is wounded in some way. We have immaturities, insecurities, and fears. We’re selfish and we’re sinners. Since we bring all of this messiness to our relationships, there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, because no person is perfect.

That’s why marriages typically go through what we might call a "period of disillusionment." It’s also why commitment is so essential. At a wedding, promises are made that nothing is going to be a "deal breaker." Spouses commit themselves to each other- before God and before the Church- to stick together through thick and thin. Marriage is a permanent bond.

Of course, marriage is about love. But commitment is a main ingredient of love. That doesn’t sound exciting or romantic, but that’s the honest truth. When some people say they "married for love," they mean they made a mistake when they were "head over heels." When the feeling was gone, the "love" was gone. But to really "marry for love" is to stay commited, with or without "lovin’ feelings."

Think of it this way: We’ll never believe that we’re truly loved by another if we think they have their fingers crossed behind their backs, are looking for greener pastures, waiting for a better offer, or have one foot out the door. Fair weather lovers are not really lovers at all. It goes without saying that others will never really believe that we love them without commitment on our part.

That’s why Jesus said what he said. That’s why God made things the way he did. As Jesus explained, marriage for life was part of God’s design "from the beginning." It’s only because we’re "hard of heart" that things don’t work out.

Sure, marriage commitment is hard. Nobody said it wouldn’t be. But Jesus has shown us the way. Consider this: in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, it’s the bride and groom who are the ministers of the sacrament, not the priest or deacon. But that ministry doesn’t end at the altar. After the wedding, husbands and wives continue to minister to each other, by presenting Christ to each other. And you can’t present Christ to your spouse if you aren’t totally committed to him or her the way Christ is committed to us. Jesus never turns his back on us. Jesus never gives up on us. Jesus never stops loving us. That’s why he ended up on a cross.

Love requires commitment. At the same time, commitment helps us learn to love. Commitment is more than just sticking together, come what may. It also involves working on loving each other more and more. None of us are able to love perfectly, this side of heaven. But we can always learn to love more than we’re able to love today. That’s one reason why God brings husbands and wives together: so he can teach them lessons in love, and so they can help each other become holy. Some of those lessons can be hard. God’s love can be "tough love." But it’s the only love worthy of the name.

Marriage can indeed be difficult at times. But God doesn’t set us up to fail. Because with God, every marriage can be a great marriage. That’s what God wants for every marriage! Even those that may seem to be dead. Remember: Jesus’ commitment led to a cross. But that cross led to resurrection. The same can happen in marriages. Commitment can involve crosses. That same commitment can also lead to new life. It happened with John and Jenny in Marley and Me. It happens with real couples too. "Forever" doesn’t have to be a death sentence! For Christians, forever is eternity.

And Christian marriages can taste that eternity even now. Through commitment. Through love. It’s like that line from Les Miserables: "To love another person is to see the face of God."

(My book of daily meditations for Lent, to be published by Ave Maria Press in November, is available for pre-order: )

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