AUGUST 18, 2006, FEAST OF ST JOHN EUDES- EZ. 16, 59-63; MT. 19: 3-12.
I WILL SET UP AN EVERLASTING COVENANT WITH YOU, says the Lord through the prophet Ezechiel. LET NO MAN SEPARATE WHAT GOD HAS JOINED, Jesus declared concerning marriage between man and woman. The prophetís words, spoken some six hundred years before those of Jesus, were never long out of our Lordís mind. He himself was to fulfill that promise of an everlasting covenant and to leave a permanent, living memorial of it in the Eucharist. We will enact this memorial on the altar here at this mass and will echo the prophetís words as Jesus did at the Last Supper. "This is the cup of the my blood, the blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant". The fulfillment far exceeds the promise, for this covenant is ratified, not by the blood of sheep or goats as was the former, but by the blood of the Son of God made flesh.
The stress that Ezechiel places on the fidelity of God to his promise is expressed by asserting that the covenant to be made will be everlasting, and so will engage God permanently. That is to affirm that "God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice", as St Paul states the matter (Romans11:29). He will not retract his offer of mercy and forgiveness, ever. And what he engages himself to give to those who accept his offer is life shared with himself unendingly.
In todayís liturgy this prophetic text sets the context for our Lordís teaching on the permanence of marriage. The union between man and woman is to be permanent; woman is a gift to man, God gave her as a companion and helpmate. He created them to be joined permanently. Their mutual fidelity is to reflect the permanent fidelity of God himself to his promise.
The apostlesí reaction to such a demanding teaching is nothing if not realistic; it even seems cynical. "If marriage must be permanent, better to stay single." They entertained no illusions, it seems, arising from the view of marriage as the fruit of a romantic love. That such fidelity places great demands at times on human nature is proved by the facts. Adultery and divorce have always been in evidence throughout the ages. In those societies where divorce was not permitted or made very exceptional by law and public opinion, adultery was not rare and often was and is still accepted as a fact of life. Although Jesus bases his teaching on natural law, yet in non-Christian societies commonly adultery, especially practiced by the man, is quite common. In our own society the percentage of divorces in recent years is reported variously from 30 to over 50% depending on the area and age brackets studied.
Jesus, however, is not impressed with this argument. Rather, he seems to agree that indeed marriage poses serious challenges but not marrying poses even more! The fact is that God gave man and woman to one another because of need. Obviously if there are to be children born woman is essential for man. But the Biblical text Jesus has in mind presents that need, not as biological, for the sake of progeny; rather, as psychological and social. The Man (that is the meaning of Adam) was lonely; he felt the need of a companion, someone with whom to share meaningfully. Without such a partner he felt incomplete, isolated from his own nature; other creatures could not provide for what is felt as more personal to the self. Jesus speaks to this fact of our nature. He points out that remaining unmarried is more than most can happily manage; only those persons can succeed in such a cond, he tells us, who enjoy a particular grace. "Nor everyone can accept this teaching, only those to whom it is given to do so." He does not stop there, however, but recommends such a way to those who are offered this gift. "Let him accept this teaching who can."
Both in marriage and in a single life dedicated to union with God there is one and the same interior aim and that is to learn to love with a strong and heart-felt concern for the good of another. St. John Eudes, whose feast we celebrate today, came to understand this well. He chose the way of religious life, remaining unmarried for the kingdom of God. At the same time, he dedicated himself to the work of extending the love of the heart of Christ to those who needed it most. To young women who went astray and to seminarians called to witness to the transcendent love of the God who gave his beloved Son to reconcile us all to himself. This awareness of the nature of true love is what inspired his ministry and his theological work that made him the exponent of the love of God manifested in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of Mary. May that same love take ever deeper root within us as we strive to be faithful witnesses to Godís fidelity, pledged to us in his word and in the Eucharist that we now offer.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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