August 24, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Husband and wife called into great mystery of marriage

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church”
(Eph 5:2a, 25-32).

The readings for this Sunday, the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, present us with “hard sayings” that challenge us to look beyond commonplace understandings to the heart of God’s truth.

The first reading, which is from the Book of Joshua (Jos 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b), reminds us that we have a fundamental choice. We can commit our lives to the Lord, or we can devote ourselves to other gods. Just as in Israel’s early history, we are confronted with many false idols that can take possession of our minds and hearts—even as we claim to be faithful to the Christian way of life.

Any life that is obsessed by money, political power, social standing or sexual self-gratification is a life that is fundamentally misguided. Only conversion—turning back to God—can restore a wayward soul to the right path.

In the second reading, St. Paul challenges us to see marriage in a totally different light. Far from being just a social contract or a convenient living arrangement for cohabitating couples, Christian marriage is something holy. It is a sacrament that unites a man and a woman in a way that makes them “one flesh” without in any way sacrificing their individuality.

“This is a great mystery,” St. Paul tells us (Eph 5:32). It is possible only because we are members of Christ’s body, his Church. Husbands are challenged to love their wives as Christ loves his Church. Wives are likewise called to respect and be open to their husbands out of reverence for Christ. No one—husband or wife—should dominate the other. Both are called to love unselfishly and to give themselves wholeheartedly for the good of the other.

The Gospel for this Sunday (Jn 6:60–69) quotes Jesus’ disciples as saying, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60)

The saying referred to is from the paragraphs preceding this Sunday’s reading. Jesus responds to the request for earthly bread by saying: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6: 48–51).

By baptism, we become one in Christ. We are now his flesh and blood. Our reception of the Eucharist renews and strengthens our connection to Christ. When we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we enter into communion with Christ and with all our sisters and brothers. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6: 54-­55).

No wonder the disciples found this to be a hard saying. Some couldn’t handle it and returned to their former way of life. But others, led by St. Peter, remained faithful. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” Simon Peter says. “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6: 68–69).

We are all one flesh in Christ, but when a man and a woman enter into a sacramental marriage, they participate in this great mystery in a unique and beautiful way. The love of husband and wife makes possible the family (the domestic Church) and this sacred institution nourishes, supports and gives life to its members, the Church universal and society at large.

The mystery that is marriage should never be underestimated or taken for granted. To unite and to give life are the dual purposes of the sacrament of marriage. No marriage accomplishes these purposes perfectly, but wherever Christ is present his grace is sufficient to heal whatever brokenness exists and to bless the couple with love.

“For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph 5:29, 31). †

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