Monday, June 4, 2012

Marriage and the Holy Trinity

While still Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, "Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment."  This quote came quickly to mind on Saturday evening and Sunday morning as applause broke out in the Church while I made my way back to my chair following my homily.  I was embarrassed.  I do not preach for applause or other accolades.  I preach the readings, and sometimes I say things because they need to be said.  Because I am not in the habit of writing my homily prior to delivering it, in what follows I submit a written version of what I preached for Trinity Sunday.  It is not a transcript, but I intend to be as faithful to what I said as possible.  I do so only inasmuch as a number of people have asked me to write it, and it is easier to send them here than to send a copy to them by email.


In Catholic teaching, we sometimes use the phrase "sacramental economy" which bears a bit of explanation.  The word "economy" is derived from a Greek word, which originally was associated with the ordering of one's household.  It was had to do with the manner in which one would organize one's slaves and laborers and the like.  The word implies something ordered and systematic.  We should also be reminded of the meaning of the word "sacrament."  Those who were catechized by means of the Baltimore Catechism would quickly tell me that a sacrament is an outward sign of an invisible reality instituted by God to give us grace.  A shorthand way of saying this is that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace.  Thus, when speaking of sacramental economy, we are describing the manner in which God has created the world so as to communicate something about himself.  Another way to think of this is to say that when God created the world, he left his fingerprints all over it.  For example, in the transition of the seasons from spring, to summer, to autumn, to winter, and back to spring, we see something of God's eternity.  He is without beginning or end; He always has been and always will be.  Similarly, that we see plants die and the world go dormant each fall only to return to life in the spring reminds us of God's promise of resurrection; death is not the last word in life.

Today we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  This mystery is the central mystery of Christianity.  As Christians, we profess that our God is Three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each distinct and yet equal in dignity.  And yet, even though distinct from each other, these Three Persons are One.  Our God is One in Three, Three in One.  Moreover, we believe that from eternity, God the Father has been begetting God the Son, and in return, God the Sun has been offering Himself back to the Father.  Another way of saying this is that God the Father has loved God the Son with the deepest intensity, and God the Son has loved God the Father with an equal intensity.  This love between the two of them is so profound that it takes the form of a third person, God the Holy Spirit.  This reality is a mystery in the truest sense of the word.  Though we can understand it in part, we will never plumb the depths of the Holy Trinity.  God, however, has always desired that we should know him.  As a result, within human life, he has given us an experience that mirrors the reality of God's love within himself.  This reality is holy matrimony.

It works like this: Within marriage, a man falls in love with a woman, and he loves her more deeply than he has ever loved another person.  Likewise, the woman falls in love with the man, and she too has never loved so deeply,  The love between the two makes them one, and the love they share actually manifests itself in the conception and birth of a child.  Family life is something of a mirror for the reality of God's love within Himself.  It is for this reason that no Catholic in good conscience may support any effort to define marriage as anything other than the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman for the entirety of their lives together.  Simply stated, the union of two males or of two females cannot express the mystery of God's love in the way that the union of one man and one woman is able to do.

The Holy Trinity is the foundation of all of reality.  Everything we experience in life, we experience precisely because of who God is.  Life as we know it would be altogether different if God were different than he is.  Likewise, because He is foundational to existence, marriage, the institution by which we recognize something about God, is also foundational to the human experience. Human society and culture are precipitated upon the existence of marriage as it has always existed.  Without the coupling of man and woman, we would have no culture, we would have no society, we would have no nation.  Marriage and its ensuing family provide the context out which all of these elements of human existence are born.  As a result of this, we must admit that there is no such thing as marriage between two men, and their is no such thing as marriage between two women.  They are incapable of accomplishing the ends for which marriage exists.

At this point a caveat must be made.  Mother Church does not hate men or women who possess this inclination.  She loves them as much as she loves any of us.  Nor must we say that two men or two women are incapable of great affection for one another.  We might even admit that what they share is a form of love.  Allow me to be very clear, however:  This form of love is not the kind of love that reflects the reality of the inner life of the Holy Trinity.  By its very nature, unions between two persons of the same gender are incapable of becoming this sort of sign to the rest of us.  

Because of the weight and value of marriage, because of the role marriage plays in helping us to understand God properly, it becomes incumbent upon every Catholic to do all within his power to resist whatever efforts are made to redefine or damage the institution of marriage as humanity has always known it.  It is equally pressing that we do all within our power to defend this institution.  Marriage is not simply a civil right.  It is not simply a social institution.  It is a union established by God Almighty, and it is not within the realm of our authority to redefine it or to try to make it something other than it is.  This is not a matter about which we can choose to be ambivalent.  Because marriage rests at the core of our society, and to change how we understand the nature of that union must necessarily affect how we perceive everything else, and most especially how we perceive God Himself.  Catholics must take a stand.

The Holy Trinity has existed from all eternity as a communion of love.  This love is deeper than any we can expect to experience in this life.  And yet, because of the union of man and woman in marriage, we know something of this Divine Communion into which we have each been invited by virtue of our baptisms.  If we are to properly know this God who is love itself, if we are to properly understand who we are in relationship to God whose very existence is a union of persons, marriage must stand and must be defended.  It rests upon our shoulders to do so.


1 comment:

  1. I can understand the applause. It sounded, at the end at least, like marching orders to me. Which is great for the formation classes and lay class's but maybe not so much for the Mass. Just what I got out of it.



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