Sunday, March 9, 2014

What God Has Joined

I hope and pray that your Lent is off to a grace-filled start!

   First Sunday of Lent   A 

Despite that whole unfortunate incident 
with the serpent and the apple...
Why did Adam and Eve have the perfect marriage?
Because Adam would never have to hear
about all the other men she could have married,
and Eve would never have to hear
about his mother’s wonderful cooking!

It’s pretty difficult to get reliable data
on why marriages break up these days.
When couples file for divorce,
they often reduce their difficulties to a single legal catchphrase
(like “irreconcilable differences”)
and, in many cases, might not actually have very keen insight
into the reasons their marriage didn’t work.

Given the Church’s vested interest in marriage and its success,
I was rather intrigued by an article
that came to my attention the other day
concerning three major sources of modern marital problems.
The first was no surprise: finances.
I suspect financial struggles and disagreements
have been taxing married life
since—oh—the day after money was first invented.
Sharing expenses, inequality of incomes,
different career goals, 
what sacrifices to make for the children—
not to mention mounting bills or unemployment—
all can put incredible stress on a relationship.

But the next two causes just might startle you a bit:
they were Facebook and pornography.

Facebook has only emerged
as a major contributing factor in the last few years—
still being a pretty recent innovation, and all.
Social media—in and of itself—is not the problem;
posting an interesting photo
or connecting with old friends—in moderation—
are harmless diversions,
sometimes even useful tools.
The trouble comes when 
such virtual connections become a substitute
for genuine face-to-face relationships;
when I spend all my time managing my online persona.

And pornography, while not exactly anything new,
has only come out of the shadows 
in the last couple of decades
as a major contributor to divorce.
With its widespread and seemingly “anonymous”
availability on the Internet, 
the use of pornography—according to some statistics—
is now cause of about half 
of all divorces in this country.
The issue here is not all about sex,
but even more about self-centeredness:
an impulse that should be all about reaching out
gets turned entirely inward.

Reduced to their most basic elements,
finances, Facebook, and pornography are really just expressions
of mankind’s three most disordered values:
possessions, power, and pleasure.
The temptation of possessions is to find our security
in the things of earth instead of those of heaven;
it’s the temptation of greed and envy;
it’s a temptation against faith.
The temptation of power is to believe
I have full control over my life and can perfect it all on my own;
it’s the temptation of pride and wrath;
it’s a temptation against hope.
The temptation of pleasure is to meet a legitimate need—
for food, for intimacy, for rest—
in an illegitimate and selfish way;
it’s the temptation of gluttony, lust, and sloth;
it’s a temptation against love.

These three basic human temptations
are the same three temptations endured by Jesus in the desert.
(Their technological cover may keep changing,
but the devil isn’t exactly very original!)
And even for Jesus, they’re temptations to divorce.
You see, Jesus’ 40-day sojourn in the desert
comes right on the heals of his baptism in the Jordan River—
when he was revealed as God’s uniquely beloved Son
by a booming voice from on high
and the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove.
In the person of Jesus, God and man, heaven and earth,
have been wed as one:
united by a bond of love so tight
that it can never be undone.
Satan, therefore, has a strong interest
in breaking up this relationship—
in getting Jesus to deny his identity as true God and true man.
It’s funny, really:
the temptation which triggered the original sin
was to convince humans that they could be gods,
while the temptation set before the Son of God
is to get him to deny his humanity!

In what ways does the devil tempt you to divorce—
not to break up your marriage,
but to divide your soul from the Lord?
What varieties of possessions, power, and pleasure
seem to have the power
to separate you’re spiritual life—
the life you come to celebrate and nurture here at Sunday Mass—
from your day-to-day living?
Are there parts of your life from which God is cut out?

Such questions only make sense, of course,
if we recognize to what extraordinary lengths God has gone
to enter into a close and personal relationship with us—
not with the human race generically, but with you and me individually;
if we believe that the Incarnation, the Cross,
and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
are all parts of a magnificent courtship
by which God has revealed his undying, passionate love for us;
if we can think of the day of our Baptism as our wedding day—
the day our souls were united to God in an enduring bond;
if can you look ahead 40 days to Easter—
when we will renew our baptismal promises—
as a chance to say “I do!” all over again.

We can draw up lists all-too-lengthy
about the many things which can break marriages apart.
But there are three things that have the power
to make any marriage last:
true faith in each other;
abiding hope for tomorrow;
and self-giving love,
which always puts the other’s needs ahead of my own.
Despite all the devil’s many temptations,
may our disciplines this Lent help us to grow
in such faith, hope, and love.

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