By Father Anthony F. Raso
HAVING, MUCH TO my Baby-Boomer astonishment, turned 70 years old on my last birthday, I am emphatically now a member of the “older generation,” with a view of the world to match.
I used to be ruefully amused by my elders who were always complaining that things were much better in their younger days, but were now all going south at 100 miles an hour. Now, guess who hears himself saying the same things about the 1950s and early ’60s? Yep, it’s that old guy that I see in the mirror.
From Rare to Routine
One of the things that bothers me a lot nowadays is the long, virtually unbroken line of young people who come to the rectory to arrange marriages and live at the same address already. This used to be a great rarity: Now it is rare when it is not so.
So what should I as “the old priest” do? Lecture them sternly about it? Actually, I’ve tried that and found that the couples were staring at me as if I had suddenly begun speaking to them in Martian.
Now, to be honest, I tend to let it go and continue on with the pre-nuptial investigation on the grounds that they wouldn’t be there in the rectory office at all unless they were trying to make things right now, so God bless them and onward we go. The way I’ve begun to figure it nowadays is that this is best way to go, the more “Christ-like” way in a world that is just no longer the way it was when I was growing up.
I made my peace with that, until I encountered today’s readings, which make me wonder if I’m being so “Christ-like” at all, at least according to an expert on that subject – Christ Jesus Himself.
In the Gospel this weekend, the Pharisees are up to their old tricks, trying to slip Jesus up by indicating that what He’s saying is at odds with what Moses taught about marriage and divorce. Moses, it seemed, was a lot more permissive about those bills of divorce, but Jesus is drawing the line in the sand much more decisively.
Why? It’s because marriage is such a sacred thing to Him. What God has joined together, He says, no human being must separate. Marriage brings a holiness to life that is unique and beautiful. The fruits of that holiness – children – are especially to be cherished because children, in their innocent acceptance of God, mirror God’s love in a way that touches His Sacred Heart and ought to leave a sacred warmth in all of our hearts.
Marriage is an institution that makes this so and therefore, it too must be cherished and defended. It was, He says, only because of the hardness of heart that Moses encountered that he allowed some loopholes on the question of divorce, but that was never what the Father in Heaven wanted from the beginning.
This is exactly what we are hearing today in the first reading from Genesis: When a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, the two of them become one and that “oneness” is holy, beautiful and good. There is no substitute for it, no matter how times may change. Living together outside of marriage was not the Father’s will, was not the Son’s teaching and is not what the Holy Spirit is inspiring us to accept.
As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is telling us in the second reading today, “He Who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin” and it is a holy origin, good and true. We cannot compromise on the teachings of God. If we make our little adjustments as to what the Lord taught, then we have to realize that those adjustments are not so “little” at all. Either we accept the light of the Holy Spirit or we will find ourselves moving out of the light into a sadder world and an empty darkness.
OK, so what is a priest (me!) to do? Is it acceptable in the name of being “Christ-like,” to let it pass when he encounters a situation that is contrary to the teachings of Christ, but not contrary to the ways of a world – which has made a radical shift away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the teachings to be found on the first page of the Bible, and all of the pages that follow, right up to the end of the book?
A friend of mine, another priest who is a sharp cookie indeed, once noted that it seems that the only sin left is that of “not being nice,” and it seems more and more each year, that he is all too chillingly right.
The answer, in light of this Sunday’s readings, is indeed to be more Christ-like, but to do so in the manner of Jesus. We must not compromise, adjust or modify the teachings of our faith, but act in a way that draws people in and never shuts them out, especially at a time when they are trying to do the right thing, as those couples in the rectory office are trying to do.
Yes, times will inevitably change. The ’50s and early ’60s are long gone, but the wisdom of Christ and the Holy Scriptures will never be gone. We need to remind ourselves of that. Instead of trying to make ourselves comfortable in a sinful world, we should make ourselves comfortable with the teachings of a Savior, who loves us and wants us to love one another with a faith that is solid and true. That faith finds its true reflection in children, in the arms of a loving Savior.
If we place ourselves in the arms of the world, the world will drop us. Jesus never has dropped us – and He never will.
Readings for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 2: 18-24
Psalm 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Hebrews 2: 9-11
Mark 10: 2-16 or Mark 10: 2-12
Father Raso is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.