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By Deacon Bickerstaff, The Integrated Catholic Life, Oct. 7, 2018
I have a message of hope and encouragement this morning. I believe this message is urgently needed. Why? Because too many of us feel hopeless and discouraged. We look here and there for happiness and fulfillment, but find no meaning for our lives and certainly no joy.
I am certain that we would all agree that we live in exceedingly challenging and dangerous times. The only explanation I can offer for this is the abundance of sin in the world and our lack of authenticity. I believe we have forgotten who we are, why we are, the purpose of this life and of the eternal life to which we have been called. We mistakenly believe that what we do essentially defines who we are; instead, who we are ought to govern what we do.
We also live in a time of particular self-centeredness. Whether we think too little of ourselves or too much of ourselves, make no mistake it is about self that we mostly think. We talk a good game of love, but it is impossible to will the good of another if we place ourselves before everyone else.
This way of living is tiring, frustrating, and lonely. It is entirely lacking in true joy and peace.
The answer to these times is for us to return to God and His plan for us. Incredible as it may sound, we are His human family so let us embrace all that He has revealed to us about our purpose and dignity.
We first need to know who we are. Each of us is freely made for freedom and in the image and likeness of God. And second, we need to know the ultimate purpose for which we are made. Each of us is invited to journey through this life on earth as a pilgrim destined for eternal communion with God, sharing in His beatitude and glory in the life to come.
This is the meaning of life. This is our very dignity as human persons. We are made for God and our dignity comes from Him. This is the first and greatest principle in Catholic Social Teaching. Derived from our human dignity is our right to life, for the unborn child and for those of us who have already been born. This right to life must be respected, defended and promoted.
Jesus teaches us that the greatest commandment is to love God above all, with everything we have; and the second is to love one another. In this way, we journey through this life toward the life to come. This is our vocation—redeemed by Christ, by His grace, through faith, we are to attain communion with God in heaven.
God calls each of us to live out our vocation in a particular state in life. Some are called to be priests or deacons, some are called to the active or contemplative religious life, and others to the single life. Most are called to the married life. Each is called to be chaste.
But make no mistake, we are all called—we are pilgrims on journey. Our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as our leader, bringing us to salvation and to glory. Jesus has tasted death so that we might have new life and that even in death we will live in glory. I want you all to remember that glory awaits each of us who believe!
An essential part of God’s plan is the family, even for those who are not called to be married, for all of us need the family.
In a 1986 homily in Perth, Australia, St. John Paul II observed, “it is everyone’s experience that healthy relationships in marriage and the family are of the greatest importance in the development and well-being of the human person.” He went on to say, “The economic, social and cultural transformations taking place in our world are having an enormous effect on how people look upon marriage and the family. As a result many couples are unsure of the meaning of their relationship, and this causes them much turmoil and suffering. On the other hand, many other couples are stronger because, having overcome modern pressures, they exercise more fully that special love and responsibility of the marriage covenant which make them see children as God’s special gift to them and to society. As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
Now, these times in which we live are difficult, but they are not unique. Ever since sin entered the world, we have struggled to live according to God’s plan.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking him a legal question concerning divorce. Jesus used the opportunity to emphatically drive home the purpose, importance and qualities of marriage. Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mark 10:6-9)
Jesus’ words echoes today’s first reading from Genesis. In the very moment of creation, God ordains the holy purpose of marriage.
Marriage is between one man and one woman who enter into a permanent and exclusive relationship, open to life and for the good of the other.
Again, St. John Paul II wrote in his 1981 Familiaris consortio, “Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of His graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their ‘beginning,’ that is, to full understanding and the full realization of God’s plan.” (St. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio #3, 1981)
It is in Holy Matrimony that man and woman image the inner life of the Trinity. Loving one another without condition a husband and wife share a benevolent, life-giving love that welcome children into the family and society. These children are always gifts from God. Each child is a blessing, not a burden. In this way, the husband and wife also become father and mother.
The marriage covenant is an image of the New Covenant. Gaze upon a crucifix. Each spouse is to love the other with the same sacrificial, outward-looking, selfless love that Jesus has for His church.
God intends that we first encounter the risen Lord in the family; that we first come to know and experience His love in the love of mother and father shared for each other and their children.
This is not always easy, but it is always attainable because it takes three to get married. The husband and wife become one flesh by the grace of Christ who seals their bond. When the family embraces and lives according to this reality, a joy and peace exists in the family, even in trial and difficulty. When this bond is not respected, pain and suffering are sure to follow.
Because the marriage covenant is an image of the new and everlasting covenant, and because the family is an image of the church, we should renew the marriage covenant and commitment to our family at every Holy Mass where the New Covenant is renewed in the Eucharist.
Each of us, those who are called to the married life, and those who are called to a different state in life, are called to live out our vocation in holiness, set apart for God. The following are three books that you may find helpful.
Three to Get Married by Venerable Fulton Sheen
The First Society by Scott Hahn
Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer by Father Thomas Dubay
Pope Francis has three simple words of advice to live the married and family life: Please, thank you and I’m sorry. Courtesy, gratitude and forgiveness are essential to healthy relationships. And so is grace. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He promises to enter in if you open. Turn to Him today in trustfull surrender and ask for his friendship and help.
Into the deep…
Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.