Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Great Mystery - Homily for the 21st Sunday in OT

Ok, be honest—how many of you elbowed your spouse during that second reading?

And I know what you were saying with that elbow: “See,” you were saying, “See, you’re supposed to make me breakfast every day. It says so right there: be subordinate to me as though to the Lord!”

But if we go back to the beginning—you remember Adam and Eve—if we go back to the beginning and before The Fall, we remember how innocent they were. Eve was “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” says the giddy Adam. They were innocent together, one body, walking in communion with the Lord, naked and without shame.

It was only after The Fall—only after their sin—that we see domination and power-grabbing enter into their relationship. So this begs the question: why would St. Paul exhort Catholics to continue a domination that was the result of The Fall?

Hint: he’s not.

So, what is Paul saying here?

*          *          *

Well, there are two keys to understanding the passage. The first comes at the very end of the reading. Paul says, I speak of

            a great mystery… Christ and the church.

If we are going to understand the marriage between husband and wife, Paul is telling us that we must firstly understand the mystery that exists between Jesus Christ and His Church. And so Paul begins:

            Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her…

What Paul is revealing is that Jesus Christ is in love. He is a bridegroom and the Church is His bride. Jesus, the husband, loved His wife, the Church, so much that He went to the Cross—died—for her: he “handed himself over for her.” And it wasn’t just that He died, but even before that, He

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-7).

Jesus did not seek to dominate us, but to serve us,

            to sanctify her [the Church, us], cleansing her by the bath of water with the word.

By the bath… I think of a husband and wife here. The wife has been injured or is sick and cannot bathe herself. Her husband lifts her into the water and pours water on her hair and gently takes care of her, cherishing her and loving her.

This is the image that Paul gives to reveal Jesus’ love for us. Jesus, our divine spouse (see Jn 4:16ff), calls us to Himself and cleanses us by baptism, by confession, by His blood so that

He might present to Himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing

of any such thing that smacks of sin or impurity or death. You see, Jesus cherishes His bride, the Church, and does not seek to dominate her but to help her become holy—that we might be filled with “splendor”—that is, glory.

To accomplish this, Jesus becomes a servant to the bride, that He may lift her who was cast down by the domination of sin (that is what really dominates)— that He may lift her up to the glory of heaven. Remember: this is what He wants for us: to be home with Him forever in heaven.

And what is heaven called? It is called the “wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) where a certain someone is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). And who is that someone? Who is getting married? It is the Church, the “wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9) betrothed to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This is why Jesus, when He dies on the Cross and as He gives up His spirit, says, “It is finished.” In Latin, the line is: “consummatus est.” It is consummated. What is consummated? The marriage between Jesus and us. Hence, on the night before Jesus died, He said “This is my body, given up for you”—which is what a bride and groom say on their wedding night. “This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant”—that’s wedding vows.

This great marriage continues even to today as we hear those same words at Mass and as we receive the Eucharist.  Just as Paul says:

            He who loves his wife… nourishes and cherishes [her]...

Jesus nourishes His bride with the Eucharist, that is His body. Do you see the love? This Jesus who gives and gives and gives—Eucharist after Eucharist after Eucharist—constantly giving, constantly pouring out—and even when we aren’t all-there, even when we are taking His generosity for granted. And He would have every right to be resentful and to hold this against us!

But He is not a dominating God. He is not a God that keeps tally. No. Jesus is a God that loves… and He doesn’t count the cost. Even when the cost is His infinite, loving self.

This is how much God loves you. It is a great mystery, that He should love you in such a way—in such a way that He becomes subordinate to you. And that’s the scandal. He has humbled Himself beneath you, taken the burden of love upon His own shoulders, becoming the servant who bathes you and feeds you and lifts you up.

To think: He has subordinated Himself…. and to you.

*          *          *

Now. Now we can understand the rest. And so the second key:

            Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Reverence for Christ.

That’s the key. Be subordinate out of reverence for Christ. Reverence. What does this mean? To revere means to acknowledge the sacrifice, to receive it and hold it up—to honor it. Which is what we said in our wedding vows, right? “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

And these aren’t just your words. These are words that Jesus says from the Cross to you. From there, as His arms are open, His side pierced, His spirit given… everything about Him is saying “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

To do the same for your spouse… that is to reverence Christ.

In this way, we realize that Jesus has already died for your wife. He has already died for your husband. He has loved them so much as to become subordinate to them, Himself taking the burden of love and becoming a servant for their salvation: happiness with Him in heaven. We are simply called to do the same, to enter into this “great mystery.”

As men, this means my brothers and my spiritual sons—this means that our main job in life, beyond our work, beyond our striving for excellence in what we do to support our families—our main job is to bring our wife and our children to heaven. Joshua’s words hit home for us today: “

If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve…

It is so easy to serve the god of busy-ness and business, the god of money and activity and entertainment, the god of pride and holding on to hurts, the god of ourselves and selfishness. We’re all tempted by this and God knows that I have not always been a good spiritual husband to my bride the Church—I who am called to image Jesus!

But when we serve these dominating gods—pride, money, the world, ourself—when we serve those unfulfilling, self-serving and dominating gods, we become those gods and we dominate our wives. We become indifferent and uncaring and so we bark out commands or lose our patience or have expectations that are beyond the pale—when, in reality, all our wives really want is to be cherished.

Our main job is to bring them to heaven. To pray with them, to forgive, to be patient, to love. As Christ the servant-groom.

*          *          *

Wives, my sisters and spiritual daughters: would you not follow such a man? If you knew that your husband’s first goal was to get you to heaven—to the ecstatic bliss of happiness forever in heaven—if you knew that everything he was doing was oriented to that, you would follow him, right?

I mean, why not?

Of course, I know: I get it: we aren’t very good at that. We are sometimes like Adam when the snake is in the Garden and you are afraid and you want security and you feel as though if you don’t reach out and grab your own happiness, then it ain’t ever gonna come to you.

I know.

So pray for your husband. And wait. Don’t reach out and grab. You’re right: it’s so easy to not-need your husband. But when you grab, there is something about your dignity that is lost. Let us hold the door open for you. Give your man a chance.

You see, the world grabs. The world is content with itself and is quickly forgetting about God. You see the shape that the world is in, right? Ok.

*          *          *

So we see what we need to do. And yes, yes it is really, really difficult: to be another Christ! To be on the Cross!

But this is why Jesus gave you the sacrament of Holy Marriage. And not only that, but He gives you again and again His body in the Eucharist to nourish and strengthen you that you might become like Him: a total gift of self.

That. That is what Paul is getting at. It’s not about domination. It is about donation: about gift: about becoming a gift to be given. Jesus given to you; you now give to others.

So, it's not saying, "Hey, make me breakfast." It's "how can I serve you today?" How can I be Jesus for you, my love?

And yes, your gift could be rejected. God knows how many people have rejected His Son here this morning! Even in the gospel, it says

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

An unrequited love. A husband calling out, “I thirst!”—I thirst for your love!

Oh! How will you respond?

Lord, I trust you. I believe you have the words of eternal life. Help me to become a gift to others. For I know, Lord, that as I humble myself just as you humbled yourself, that not only do I love better, but I better know your love. I become one with you. And that is everything. Lord, teach me this great mystery. Jesus, help me to love!

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