Sunday, July 27, 2014

Made in Heaven

   Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  

A priest got up to preach at a wedding and began,
“Marriages are made in heaven.”
Which is when an old man in the back piped up,
“So are thunder, lightning, tornados, and hail!”

On Thursday, as I often do,
I was listening to a Lighthouse Catholic Media CD in the car.
(If you’ve never picked up one those CDs
on the racks in our churches, you’re really missing out!
They’re by top-notch Catholic speakers
on important and interesting topics.
I can’t urge you strongly enough to give them a try.)

The subject of this particular CD was marriage.
(And before you go looking for it on your way out from Mass,
we don’t have this one available yet,
but I’ll be ordering some copies very soon.)
It wasn’t focused on any of the usual issues that you’d expect:
not about sex before marriage, not about same-sex marriage,
not about divorce and remarriage.
It was about something far more fundamental—
something which impacts everything the Church has to say
on these topics and so many others.
And the basic contention of the speaker, Dr. Brant Pitre,
is that, when it comes to God’s plan for our salvation,
marriage isn’t everything—
it’s the only thing.

Have you ever noticed that the Bible
both begins and ends with a wedding?
The first one—from Genesis—takes place in the Garden of Eden;
the last one—from Revelation—in the New Jerusalem.
The first marriage is between Adam and Eve,
between man and woman;
the last is between heaven and earth,
between Christ and the Church, between God and the human race.
From the very start, God’s been leading up to this big finish:
the first union—“till death do us part”—
pointing to and preparing us for
a communion that is eternal.

All between these two biblical weddings,
marriage is a favorite metaphor
in the writings of prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea,
in the parables of Jesus, and in the letters of St. Paul.
In this Sunday’s first reading,
we find King Solomon praying to the Lord for wisdom,
and his prayer is granted.
Among the wise writings he left us is the Song of Songs:
a lengthy love poem—right in the middle of the Bible—
that’s not just romantic, but downright racy;
a celebration of what’s right and beautiful and holy
about the love of bridegroom and bride;
a passionate book which more than hints
at the ultimate love story—
the one which ends happily forever after.

The two parables we hear from Jesus this Sunday
help us to realize that all this talk of marriage
is more than merely metaphorical:
it’s the truth at the very heart of reality.
The treasure buried in the field,
the pearl of great price—
we assume that these are moral lessons
about the virtue of making
whatever sacrifice might be necessary
in order enter the Kingdom of God.
But what if that’s completely backwards?
What if we are the hidden treasure, 
we the pearl in the market,
and God is the one who recognizes our true worth,
who will stop at nothing to take us as his own?

Indeed, God has paid the highest price—
the Father gave his Son, the Son gave his life—
motivated only by the purest love.
Whatever it takes, no matter the cost,
the Lord pursues us,
that we would belong to him and him alone.

Although most often unknowingly,
we experience this reality in every Mass.
The Eucharist is matrimonial, too:
it is the marriage feast of the Lamb of God;
it is a continual wedding reception.
One of the great photo-ops at a wedding reception
is when the bride and groom feed each other a piece of cake.
I always feel kind of sad if they smash it into each other’s faces…
…but there’s something deeply moving
if they begin their marriage by feeding each other
with clear and obvious tenderness.
Every time we approach the altar,
Christ, the bridegroom of our souls,
reaches out to lovingly place a morsel in our mouths—
not of cake and icing, but something infinitely sweeter:
his most sacred Body and most precious Blood.

We’re now at the end of the Catholic Church in America’s
annual Natural Family Planning Week.
Hopefully you read Bishop LaValley’s letter in last Sunday’s bulletin,
or some of the articles in the North Country Catholic,
or the other literature made available in our churches.
If you haven’t yet, why not now?

Whenever she addresses matters of sexuality,
you hear people say,
“The Church should just stay out of my bedroom!”
That’s such an ironic statement in this day and age
when there’s so much very public and frank talk about sex—
when everybody else seems to be invited into that intimate space
which was once considered rather sacred.
But the Church only shows
such care and concern for sex and marriage
because God has a plan—a plan for the world’s salvation—
and he’s built that plan right into the nature of things:
into our bodies and our souls,
into the structure of our relationships and our society.
What Christ’s Church desires to teach us today
is precisely the same as the Lord
has desired to teach us since the beginning:
that marriage is indeed “made in heaven.”

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