Cling To The Cross – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily October 3, 2021

“I think the two themes today in the scriptures are one, who is man? Who is mankind? What are we, the human person, our fancy term would be anthropology, what we are and then the meaning, God’s plan for marriage. In the book of Genesis if you read through that first chapter of Genesis the creation account, as God creates all the elements and all the creatures after every event of creation the scripture says, ‘and God saw that it was good and evening came and morning followed, the first second…whatever day.’ We see that line, and God was that it was good, but today in the first reading from the second chapter of Genesis we hear something quite different. God said, ‘it is not good. It is not good for man to be alone.’ Gen 2:18 That one line says something very important about who we are as human beings as human persons. We are made in the image of God and we are not meant to be alone. Now some of us are more social than others. Some enjoy solitude more than others, but none of us were meant to be alone. Why? Because we’re made in the very likeness of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In His very nature is relationship. He calls us to be social to live in community. He made us in other words for friendship. That’s the biblical view of mankind. Now today you have a lot of poplar and modern philosophies that focus more on the individual especially we Americans put a lot of emphasis on individual freedoms and of course that’s okay as far as it goes to a form of Government or politics, but pushed too far it distorts the biblical meaning of man, what we were meant to be, our Christian anthropology the biblical understanding of who we are. Now in the scriptures Adam was given dominion over the creatures by naming them, but none of them was a suitable partner for Adam and then God creates Eve, woman, created from Adam’s side co-equal with Adam, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Finally someone suitable, someone like him, but yet different, complimentary, someone with whom he could enter into genuine relationship, genuine friendship. They were made for one another. We are all made to be social beings not to be turned in on ourselves to be turned out to seek communion preparing us really for that ultimate communion we are called to with God. There’s a co-equality of all men and women because we’re made in God’s image and we’re made to relate to one another to share ideas to share a gaze to share a conversation to share love. The readings, especially the Gospel today, goes on to a particular kind of friendship, a particular kind of human relationship, one that when lived in accord with God’s plan becomes a visible sign of an invisible reality. A visible sign of an invisible reality, that’s a definition of a sacrament my friends! We’re talking about marriage. We’re talking about God’s plan for marriage.

Now Christians understand marriage not as an invention of the Church, but God’s plan from the beginning. It’s written into the very way we are created.the kind of friendship that marriage demands mirrors at least as well as we sinful human beings can mirror, the love of God for His people, the love of Christ for His Church. In the imperfect love of husband and wife we get a peek, we get a sneak preview through the curtain of God’s perfect love for us. When we see them sacrificing, when we see them denying themselves, when we see them turning out of themselves toward the other, when we see them bearing burdens out of love for the other we get an image of God’s great love for us, but marriage has always been under attack by the evil one, by the disorder that comes from original sin and thus divorce, the choice to separate what God has joined was an issue in Jesus’ day just as it is today. While the breakup of a marriage is a grave matter, we must show sympathy for those going through it because we know how painful it can be and the Catechism says that not all parties in a divorce are culpable. There’s a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful in the sacrament in marriage and is unjustly abandoned and one who through one’s own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage. I don’t know why there’s so many divorces today. Probably there are lots of reasons, but like all vocation crises it probably has to do with a lack of understanding marriage really is. Today the world defines marriage as just two people who love one another and want to spend their lives together. That’s not marriage. That’s not marriage. It’s much more than that. Christian marriage is so much more than that. If it’s not understood in the context of faith o a call from God with divine purposes related to salvation it’s a diminished view of what God means for marriage. You know when I do marriage prep, I see so many couples comes in and I don’t know how lon they’ve discerned marriage whether they’ve really discerned it before they even started dating, but sometimes they kind of come in all googly eyed and just in love with one another which is great, but they kind of worship one another and I often warn them. Be careful. Don’t ever worship one another. Don’t ever put your spouse on a pedestal because 100% of the time you’ll be let down because they may be wonderful, but they are not God. Better, walk hand in hand, arm in arm. Focus on the one thing that you’re both destined toward. Focus toward Heaven, focused on God worship together. Help each other worship the one true God. Help each other grow deeper in your faith. Help each other in your walk toward Heaven. Help each other understand what is eternally important and that will draw you close together. That will keep you focused on an eternal goal. That will help you through difficult times. If they recognize this calling that they’re called to be gift to the other, difficult struggles and challenges will be easier to deal with, to be a helpmate to the spouse helping them get to Heaven. If you understand that marriage is that it takes on a deeper meaning. In the Catechism, marriage and Holy Orders are called sacraments at the service of communion of unity of bringing people together. Marriage has a purpose of helping God populate Heaven to create new life. When this common life becomes a way, a path together to serve God and worship Him then it becomes something of deep meaning. Marriage, a common life, a husband and wife, father, mother is how the journey toward Heaven is lived out if you’re called to that vocation with eyes fixed on Jesus. When I have a wedding I always give a couple a crucifix. They often would prefer travel vouchers, but I give them a crucifix and I give them a crucifix because it is a sign, I believe, of marriage. Now some people look at that and they go, ‘Father this is a happy occasion, why are you bringing up someone dying on a cross?’ Well if you understand the cross as just something that burdens you down that you bear with resentfulness, well yes, then it wouldn’t be a sign, but that’s not the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus Christ is not an unwelcome burden, it’s a joyfully received burden that’s accepted out of love and it’s an expression of love. It’s an expression of giving all that I am, my last breath, my last drop of blood out of love for you. It’s a sense of giving yourself in total gift. That’s why it becomes a sign of what marriage is called to be. When we see a husband and wife making that kind of loving sacrifice for one another we all are blessed. We get a hint. We are reminded of God’s perfect love for us.

There’s a town in Croatia, about 13,000 people live there. They say that in no one’s memory has there ever been a divorce in that town. How can that be? Well because of the pressure from the Turks and the Communists people there have historically suffered. Their Christian faith has been under persecution and they’ve had to cling strong and hard to the cross. The cross became a symbol of love and life for them, a symbol of deliverance and salvation. They know the experience of salvation that comes through the cross and they cling tightly to it. Do we have any newlyweds here, anybody that’s newly married in the last couple months? Raise your hands if we have a couple here. Don’t see any. Anyone married a year or less? None? Anyone married two years…? Where? A year or less? Come up here. (That’s why the newlyweds didn’t raise their hands. They knew what was coming. Last time they come to this Mass.)

Lauren and James, there’s this Croatian marriage ritual. The priest says to the newly married couple. He says it right after they exchange their vows. He says the way to salvation comes only through the pathway of the cross. Because we are all sinners, your commitment to love one another will demand that you endure the cross. Lauren and James, in one another you have not found an ideal partner. Rather you have found your cross and it is a cross to beloved, to be carried, a cross not to be thrown away, but to be cherished. The cross represents the greatest love for on the cross the love of the Heavenly Father for humanity was revealed. I invite you Lauren and James to take this cross to place your hands together on the crucifix together as I bless it. Heavenly Father, you so loved the world that you sent your only begotten son to endure the cross for our salvation. The cross represents divine love, a love that Lauren and James have vowed to imitate in their love for one another. Bless this crucifix and set it aside for holy purposes. May it be a sign in their home of your love and a reminder to this bride and groom that their love for one another must bear witness to Christ’s love for His bride the Church. Then the priest sprinkles it with holy water. Lauren and James, your hands are united on this cross. If either of you abandons one another you let go of the cross. If you abandon the cross you have nothing left for to abandon the cross is to abandon Jesus. May the graces that flow from the cross of Jesus and the grace of this sacrament of matrimony help you in your journey that you began on your wedding day. Amen.

That’s the ceremony in that little town in Croatia. They cling to the cross and troubles come even in that little town in Croatia. People are sinners. They make mistakes. They hurt each other. Problems in life become burdens, but instead of running to a lawyer or running to a counselor they look to that cross that’s hanging on their wall that cross that they clung to on their wedding day and they bow and they cry and they weep before that cross and they seek healing from the one who can heal, the one who can heal hearts and they work through their troubles looking to that cross. That’s a great tradition and maybe why that town has been able to endure all the trials of life with basically no divorces in memory. The Lord tells us who we are. We’re made for friendship and He tells us that there’s a certain plan and a kind of friendship that we call marriage that has a divine purpose, but we can’t do it on our own. We need to look to Him especially His love revealed on the cross and so that’s what we’re invited to do especially married couples look to that cross. Thank you very much. You can keep the cross since I put you through this today.”