brothers, have you ever heard that popular saying about marriage? It
goes like this: A
man is not complete until he gets married. And then he is finished!
I think many of us laugh when we hear it for the first time. I did.
We find it funny, because the word finished
has a double meaning. The first meaning is the obvious romantic
one. The one that people typically use at the beginning
of intimate relationships. It’s what Tom Cruise meant in the
feel-good movie Jerry
Maguire. In a memorable scene, after Jerry tells Dorothy
that he loves her, he goes on to immortalise in movie history those
marvellously mushy (some would say cheesy),
yet amazingly effective words: You
complete me, he says. You
complete me. In other words, you
meaning of the word finish
is the opposite of the first. If the first is used at the birth of
relationships, then the second is heard when they die. It’s the
meaning that Meryl Streep had in mind, in that scene from the old
movie about divorce. Kramer
vs Kramer. Streep’s character, Joanna, is in the process
of divorcing Ted. Her workaholic husband. Ted tries desperately to
persuade Joanna to go back with him into their apartment. But she
responds by pleading with him 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
will go right out the window. In other words, if
I go back to our marriage, I’ll commit suicide. I’ll die. I’ll
One simple word. Two very different meanings. And it is the context
that tells us which one is intended. Jerry
Maguire or Kramer
vs Kramer. Romance or divorce. Completion or death.
one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished!
More than just
a (hopefully) stylish way to begin 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. The question concerning the death
of a marriage. And the question about how to become a
human being. I say if
we look hard enough because, at first glance, our readings
don’t seem to say much to us, beyond telling us that divorce is
God has united, man must not divide. It is true that, in
the gospel, Jesus criticises the Jewish law which allowed a man to
divorce his wife for the most trivial of reasons. And Jesus does this
because this same law could result in the oppression and exploitation
of women. But Jesus also takes the discussion of marriage and divorce
to a whole new level. From death to completion
Kramers in the movie, and many others undergoing a painful divorce,
the Pharisees in the gospel are concerned about the law. Is
it against the law for a man to divorce his wife? They
want to know how a marriage can be ended. Legally finished.
In many circumstances this is, of course, a legitimate concern. For
instance, although we Catholics frown on divorce, Canon Law does
admit certain narrow exceptions. There may also be certain situations
where a civil divorce might actually be a prudent course of action.
Even for a Catholic. Such as when s/he may be trapped in an abusive
marriage. Provided, of course, that s/he does not remarry. Especially
in cases like these, it is important to know what the law says. How
to finish a marriage. How to bring it to an end.
But if we
remain only at the level of the law. If we consider only one meaning
of the word finish.
Then we would have too narrow a view of what our scripture readings
are saying to us today. For Jesus’ concern is not just with the
of marriages. But also, and more importantly, with the beginning
of creation. Jesus wants us to consider what the book of Genesis
says. Not only about how marriages may or may not die. But also,
beyond that, about how a person becomes a complete human being.
marriage is much more than a simple contractual alliance. More than
just a joint bank account. Or a shared double bed. Marriage is a
profound union, in which two people become
one body. They
are no longer two but one. A new creation. Sharing a
common origin. And, as in the movie Jerry
Maguire, this union is also somehow a process of
completion. To see this, we need to pay close attention to the first
Notice how, at
the beginning of the reading, even though the man has already been
created, he is still somehow incomplete. 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 not quite
what Tom Cruise might have had in mind. It is not a filling of some
inner emptiness in the man by some external creature. The attempt to
do this with other 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 real 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 away something of himself, that
success is achieved. Quite paradoxically, completion comes only with
self-donation. And, with completion, comes true communion. He gives
up a rib. And they
become one body.
It is at this
point that we finally arrive at the heart of what our readings are
saying to us today. As you know, the early Fathers of the Church
delighted in drawing parallels between the creation of the first
couple, and the crucifixion of Christ. Just as the first man fell
into a deep sleep. And the first woman was formed from his rib. So
too did Christ fall asleep on the Cross. And the Church was born from
the blood and water flowing from his side. And just as the first man
was completed and came to share a common origin with the first woman,
only by giving something of himself. So too was Christ made perfect,
through suffering. Only by laying down his life for our
sake. So that the
one who sanctifies (Christ himself),
and the ones who are sanctified (you and me) are
of the same stock. Share a common origin.
clear then, sisters and brothers, that our readings have something
very important to say to us today. Regardless of whether or not we
have ever been married or divorced. Whether we are women or men.
Young or old. For, as baptised Christians, we are all members of the
Church of Christ. The same Church that was created when the Lord gave
his life for us on the Cross. The same Church that Christ is destined
to claim as his bride. To take to himself in marriage. When he comes
again at the end of time. And, as members of this Church, the Bride
of Christ, we are all called to become like him. To imitate him in
giving of ourselves to others. For it is only in doing this that we
become fully what we were meant to be. Completion comes through
loving self-donation. The kind of self-giving out of which happy
marriages are made.
one is complete until they get married. And then they are finished...
brothers, both as individual Christians, and as Church, what must we
do to allow the Lord to do for us what Dorothy did for Jerry Maguire?
To draw us further towards completion today?