Sunday, October 04, 2009

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Towards Completion

Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16 or 10:2-12

Sisters and brothers, have you ever come across that bumper sticker with the message about marriage? You know the one I’m referring to. It goes something like this: No one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished! Many of us laugh when we come across it. I’m one of those who do. We find it funny because, of course, there is a double meaning to the word finished.

The first meaning is the obvious romantic one. It’s the one that people often use at the beginning of intimate relationships. It’s the meaning that Tom Cruise was using in the feel-good movie Jerry Maguire. In a particularly popular scene, after Jerry tells Dorothy, his secretary, that he loves her, he immortalizes in movie history these marvelously mushy (some might say cheesy), yet amazingly effective words: you complete me. You complete me, he says. In other words, you finish me.

The other meaning is the very opposite of the first. If the first is often used at the birth of relationships, then the second is usually voiced when they die. It’s the meaning that Meryl Streep had in mind in that scene from the movie Kramer vs Kramer, where Streep’s character, Joanna, is in the process of leaving Ted, her workaholic husband. Ted desperately tries to coax Joanna back into their apartment. But she responds by pleading with her soon to be ex-husband in these words: Please don’t make me go in there… If you do, I swear, one day, next week, maybe next year, I don’t know, I’ll go right out the window. I’ll go right out the window. In other words, if I go back to our marriage, I’m finished.

Finished: one simple word with two very different meanings. And it is the context, the circumstances, that determine which one is intended. Jerry Maguire or Kramer vs Kramer. Romance or divorce. Completion or death.

No one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished!

More than just a (hopefully) snazzy opening for a homily, this line also happens to highlight a connection that we find in our readings today, if we look hard enough. It is a connection between two questions: on the one hand, the question about the meaning of marriage and, on the other hand, the question regarding what it means to be a complete human being.

I say if we look hard enough because, at first glance, the main message of the gospel appears to be nothing more than the prohibition of divorce. And Jesus does indeed speak out against the Mosaic law that allowed a man to divorce his wife for the most trivial of reasons, not least because, as scholars tell us, this same law could result in the abuse and exploitation of women. But Jesus’ response to the Pharisees takes the conversation to a whole different level. Like the Kramers in the movie, and others faced with the painful task of negotiating the death of a relationship, the Pharisees are concerned with the Law. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? And in many circumstances this can, of course, be a legitimate concern. For instance, even as we Catholics continue to uphold Jesus’ prohibition of divorce, Canon Law also admits certain narrow exceptions, such as the so-called Pauline Privilege. Also, there may be certain situations in which a civil divorce might well be a prudent course of action for a Catholic, provided that s/he does not remarry.

Even so, to remain with the Pharisees (and the Kramers) at the level of the law would give us too narrow a view of what our scripture readings are saying to us today. For, in the gospel, Jesus’ concern is not just with the ending of marriages, legal or otherwise, but also, more importantly, with the beginning of creation. Referring to the book of Genesis, Jesus invites us to consider not only what it tells us about the true meaning of marriage, but even beyond that, also about how one becomes a complete human being.

As we heard in our first reading, more than a simple contractual alliance, more than just a joint checking account, or a shared double bed, the true meaning of marriage is a profound union in which two people become one flesh. In a sense, they are no longer two but one – sharing a common origin, a new creation. And this process of union is also a process of completion. For notice the circumstances in which the first man and the first woman come together. Notice how, at the beginning of the reading, even though the man has already been created, he is not quite complete. God says: It is not good for the man to be alone. And notice too, how the completion of the man is brought about. The process is rather different from what Jerry Maguire might have had in mind. It is not a filling of some inner void in the man by some external creature. The attempt to do this with the animals fails. They are found to be unsuitable. They do not have enough in common with the man. He can only exert mastery over them, but no true partnership can be formed. No true intimacy is experienced. The man remains lonely. It is only when he falls into a deep sleep and gives up something of himself that success is achieved. Quite paradoxically, completion comes with self-donation, and with completion, communion. He gives up a rib and the two become one flesh.

It is at this point that we finally arrive at the crux of what the scriptures are saying to us today. For, as you well know, the early Fathers of the Church delighted in drawing parallels between the creation of the first man and the crucifixion of Christ. Just as the first man fell into a deep sleep in which the first woman was formed from his rib, so too did Christ fall into the sleep of death on the Cross, during which the Church was born from the blood and water that flowed out of his pierced side. Also, as the second reading reminds us, just as the first man became complete and came to share a new common origin with the first woman, by giving something of himself, so too was Christ made perfect through suffering, such that he who consecrates and those who are being consecrated – you and I – all have one origin.

It becomes clear then, sisters and brothers, that the scriptures have something important to say to us today regardless of whether or not we have ever been married or divorced, regardless of whether we are women or men. For, as baptized Christians, we are all members of the Church of Christ, the same Church that the Lord formed through his sacrifice on the Cross, the same Church that is destined to become his bride when he comes again. And, as members of this Church, whether married or single, separated or divorced, female or male, we are all called to perfection in Christ by imitating him in giving of ourselves to others.

No one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished!

Sisters and brothers, both as individual Christians and as Church, how might the Lord be drawing us further towards completion today?


  1. Being complete – when two becomes one reminds me of the Chinese song that extols the virtue of two pieces of dough mixing together to form one whole. At the same time I’m reminded it’s rather futile to clap with one hand.
    You speak of Communion beyond just the union of the two partners and therein where most of us miss the mark. With some effort, it is not that difficult to make a marriage work if we exercise empathy and remember that it would be unthinkable otherwise for one who is now married for 38 years to be without my soul mate.
    Secular wants and needs have invaded the sanctity of marriage. Catholics who view Church as the place where they are best remembered only when they are “hatched, matched and despatched” fail to recognize that it is a Sacrament instituted at Creation. We have become evangelized by the world.
    So help me Lord.

  2. Thanks for featuring my 2 favourite stars-- Tom Cruise of Topgun fame and Meryl Streep in the beautifully touching Music of the Heart. I love them! :)

    Indeed, when the spark of love is lit at early romance or deep friendship, the whole world seems bright, beautiful, possible and promising....
    Yet when the flames of love turn to ashes at the end of a deep relationship, what's left may be hostility, blame, regret, guilt, pain...lots of pain...

    More often than not, those in committed relationships depend only on themselves to begin, live out and end their partnership without recourse to a deeper spring of quenching, and a more lasting source of fire.

    Many have the futile hope for the other partner to fill the void of longing that only the divine spark can satisfy. Leaning on the other partner for substantial support, two people go through life's journey with two legs instead of four. (Whatever happened to the other good leg?)

    Self-donation is only possible when one goes into committed relationships with two feet firmly grounded in Divine Love, grown in solitude in preparation for communion with another- to give and receive of each other's transparency and bear lasting fruit of fidelity, honesty, beauty and liberty.

    Only the spark of God's love can create a flame stronger than the death of secular influences and seduction for instantaneous happiness vs deep joy that come from bearing one another's frailties and triumphs.

    Only with God as centre can any committed relationships confidently proclaim, "Till death us do part"

    As for loving friendships which have turned into mountains of smouldering resentment or distancing misunderstanding, God can still pour the oil of healing on ashes of tears and pain, if we allow Jesus to walk us through our cross to newness of life (on the Father's terms).

    No relationship is irredeemable for the Redeemer. But will we trust and submit to his purifying Fire of Love?

    Be blessed today.

  3. Fr Anthony Ho also gave a beautiful homily on the same reading last Sunday, and quoted from a book. Sorry I can't reproduce the exact words but in a nutshell, forming a couple necessarily involves a dying of the 2 individuals and rebirth as another entity.

    My husband and I are different in many ways, but we do have some shared interests, namely our 2 kids and the life we built together. As two rather headstrong and stubborn individuals, there are clashes. Resolution almost always involves either of us making a compromise, or agreeing to disagree.

    It seems so easy to divorce when couples disagree. But when we get married in Church and joined in the eyes of God, a civil divorce is not binding on God.

    I do feel sad for individuals caught in unhappy marriages, especially where there's infidelity or other selfish habits involved. The only justification I can find for remaining in such a marriage is that it must be God's test of that person's faith and that maybe the wayward spouse would change.

    I believe that couples struggling to raise up well-adjusted children while under the pressures of work, and at the same time, making the marriage/couplehood strong are a testimony of God's love. There's self-sacrifice, mutual compromise and ALOT of commitment involved. That's marriage!

  4. Here's a facetious look at marriage which also highlight realities for some. It's not all a bed of rose.
    It is not a subject of jest but a Sacramental commitment, come what may.

    Marriage is the social institution under which a man and woman (in love) establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc., and live happily ever after... or...

    1. Marriages are made in heaven. But so again, are thunder and lightning.

    2. After marriage, husband and wife becomes two sides of a coin... they can't face each other, but, they still stay together.

    3. Married life is very frustrating.
    In the first year of marriage, the man speaks and the woman listens.
    In the second year, the woman speaks and the man listens.
    In the third year, they both speak and the neighbors listen.

    4. When a man opens the door of his car for his wife, you can be sure of one thing: either the car is new or the wife is.

    5. Marriage is when a man and woman become as one.
    The trouble starts when they try to decide which one.

    6. Marriage is not a word. It is a sentence ... a LIFE SENTENCE.

  5. I read with interest the sermon and the comments and have often wondered why there is a strong call in the bible and church teaching to resist separation / divorce in marriage and perhaps even in all relationships between flawed human beings. Many marriages do indeed start out when through rose tinted glasses each partner looks to the other to complete them. To look for a father that wasn’t there or perhaps to have a mother’s love all over again. And yet as things begin to fall apart... each person will now view the other's actions, inactions and inadequacies, through his or her own special retro-spectroscopic lens and through them justify his or her distancing, self justification and outright quarrel or stone walling. Some may even presume that God was never there in the marriage in the first place or the two were never intended to be one, thus justifying all future separation.

    However, the growing up and finishing of a person takes time, a journey through the experience of hardship, joys and pain of living life in relationship either in marriage or community. Often this growth requires about half of a life time before one is able to come to terms with reality and the realization of who one really is. And even then, the change continues.

    God really wants to finish us, either as single or couple and I believe that it is through a committed marriage or rather the commitment and fidelity in marriage where there is time for both self growth and benevolent permission for the growth, and forgiveness of the other that the 2 can truly become one. Indeed all of us are guilty of a multitude of actions which do not uphold ourselves and others and yet we are blameless because we each do our best, to the best of our ability and knowledge at any given point in time.

    The journey to true love and compassion for self and the other and the ability to truly love without expecting love in return may require us, me, several stages of refinement before becoming manifest. It is in the safe confines of a relationship that is giving, where there is willing compromise and acceptance of frailties, as in a committed marriage that this journey can be fully truly lived out in the day to day, in the heart and not just in the mind. Centered upon God’s redeeming and compassionate love without blame.


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