Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2018
Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2-9:11; Mk 10:2-16
7 October 2018
Dear friends in Christ,
I am a bit of an AFL fan and like many, I enjoyed the Grand Final match between Collingwood and West Coast. I was especially impressed by the team spirit and good sportsmanship displayed by both teams. At the homecoming party, the coach of the premiership team attributed the gritty come-from-behind win to the players on and off the field, staff, families, friends and supporters.
And this brings me to today’s scripture readings. The book of Genesis tells us that we are created to be in relationship. It is not good that the man should be alone. Adam was incomplete by himself. He longed for wholeness and that longing could only be fulfilled when he was in relationship with another. When he was given Eve, he exclaimed in delight “This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh”. He was made more wholesome and complete by the company of another.
Marriage is made for mutual fulfilment. But of course, this is not the only way to fulfil this need for the other. Today we are more aware of the complexity of human sexuality and we are learning to respect it. We are also aware of many ways in which people can forgo sexual love in committing their lives to others: aged parents, the poor, the disadvantaged, homeless children et cetera.
Thanks to Jesus, we recognise also the gift of celibate love in which women and men consecrate their lives to God and offer themselves to the human community in special ways of devoted service.
People can come to maturity and find fulfilment in all these ways, for essentially, they are all ways of living in love. We are not meant to be alone. Since the death of my father, I am learning to be more aware of my mother’s loneliness. I know I cannot replace my father. But at least, I can be more available to her and accompany her more closely.
In the Second Reading we look at Jesus reaching out to belong and to give himself in love. To love is to open ourselves to suffering. There is no other way. Jesus himself, we are told, was made perfect through suffering. There is a lot of suffering in whatever form of love and service that we are committed to. None of us grows to maturity by running away from the reality of our lives, and this includes the pain. Like the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must our love know pain and suffering.
It is not good for us to be alone. However, inevitably, death comes to us all and separates us from those we love. This is especially painful when death is accidental and premature.
Today’s Gospel deals with something that can be even more painful than death: when one has given one’s heart to another in love and in trust and the other person does not honour the commitment and breaks the trust. As well as the dangers of tragedy or death, we have to face the possibility and the pain of relationships failing or turning sour. Love is beautiful, but it is also delicate, and it can be fragile. The rending of a love relationship can leave us shattered in such a way that healing seems impossible.
Jesus is asked his opinion on the topic of divorce which often disadvantages women and leaves them completely vulnerable. He challenges the men of his time to focus on God’s design for marriage as a relationship based on love, respect and equality. It is a way of life in which men and women can grow, through unselfish commitment, to become humble and grace-filled adults.
This is not to say that every marriage is made in heaven. Sometimes we human beings, even with the best will in the world, enter into destructive relationships that cannot bring either person to this mature loving. In such cases we need the courage and the humility to acknowledge our mistake and to go through the pain of separation. We will need as much understanding and love from the community as it can give.
Whatever path we walk in our journey of giving and receiving love, we are not meant to be alone. We need community, and it is here that the Church has a key role, in supporting us as we strive to build love and in supporting us when our efforts collapse about us.
Wherever we find ourselves in our relationships, let us remember the good news that God is love, and that all God’s grace is now being offered us to find the truth that will set us free. Everyone in this church, whatever our past history, is capable now of loving and receiving love.
We must not compare ourselves to others or attempt to measure our love. Knowing that we are not meant to be alone, let us take whatever small steps of love present themselves to us and we will be astonished at the results. God is love and so love – any real love – is the stuff of which miracles are made.
Brothers and sisters,
Pope Francis has consistently said that the Church is not a museum for saints but a hospital which heals the wounded, strengthens the weak and lifts up the lowly. Our very credibility is at stake when we lack merciful and compassionate love for those who are struggling or are removed and disengaged with the lived reality. Let us endeavour to be the Church where everyone can feel welcomed, forgiven, loved and encouraged to live according to the Gospel.