Homilies,  Sunday,  Year B

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2021

In a beautiful comment on the gospel for this Sunday Pope Francis observed some year ago:  

“God did not want to come into the world other than through a family. God did not want to draw near to humanity other than through a home. God did not want any other name for Himself than Emmanuel. He is ‘God with us’. . . He is the God who from the very beginning of creation said: ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. We can add: it is not good for woman to be alone, it is not good for children, the elderly or the young to be alone. It is not good. . .  From time immemorial, in the depths of our heart, we have heard those powerful words: it is not good for you to be alone. The family is the great blessing, the great gift of this ‘God with us,’ who did not want to abandon us to the solitude of a life without others, without challenges, without a home. God does not dream by Himself, He tries to do everything ‘with us’. His dream constantly comes true in the dreams of many couples who work to make their life that of a family.  That is why the family is the living symbol of the loving plan of which the Father once dreamed. To want to form a family is to resolve to be a part of God’s dream, to choose to dream with Him, to want to build with Him, to join Him in this saga of building a world where no one will feel alone, unwanted or homeless. As Christians, we appreciate the beauty of the family and of family life as the place where we come to learn the meaning and value of human relationships. We learn that ‘to love someone is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgement, it is a promise.’ We learn to stake everything on another person, and we learn that it is worth it.”[1]

At the heart of this affirmation of the centrality of family in our life is the foundation of married love. We know only too well that, as a Christian community, our own perspective about marriage can be eroded by current public discussion.  However, I also think there is opportunity for us in the midst of these challenges.  This is for us to re-affirm for ourselves our fundamental sacramental understanding of marriage.  This sacramental understanding of marriage is ours; it is not a public perspective.  And what’s more it is a specifically Catholic understanding.  

People who are not of our own Tradition regard marriage primarily as a social contract, and as such it is open to change reflective of diverse social attitudes.  Marriage is a social contract; it has always been regarded as such culturally.  In Australia for example it is regulated by the Commonwealth Marriage Act of 1961.  However, as Catholic Christians we see marriage far more than simply a social contract. We are declaring that if this social contract is entered into freely, unconditionally, permanently, faithfully and with openness to the generation of further life then it is a powerful demonstration of the very life of God.  It is a very means by which we encounter the life of God: it is a sacrament.  It is our sacramental understanding of this contract between two people, not simply our social understanding, that maintains our belief that marriage is always between a man and a woman.  If we did not have such a sacramental understanding then our views may be different and open to change.  It is our sacramental understanding of the social contract that preserves our specific practice.

It is also important for us to identify that marriage is not the only form of life by which we can live out discipleship.  And indeed partnership is only one form of living a full human life. There are also other ways by which we can give ourselves freely, unconditionally, permanently and faithfully to others.  Celibacy is one such way.  In celibacy I give myself to others not through the structure of partnership, but rather through the relational structure of community.  I have often reflected on celibacy as the “sacrament of hospitality” – as a life lived in openness to a network of relationships, in and through which I discover myself. Most people will indeed discover themselves through the structure of partnership with another and the circle of life that develops from such a partnership. There are others, however, such as myself as a priest, who recognise that they discover who they are in God not through partnership but through a different form of relationship, the relationship of community.  It is not that some are called to relationship and others are not.  No, we are all called to relationship. However, there are certainly different ways by which we can live out our radical relational character.

We are all called to love, whether we be married or whether we be celibate.  And yet we know love is never easy.  And sometimes we find that we cannot continue to love in the way that we had first hoped.  Sometimes relationships do not work, and we have to make the painful decision to move on in a different way for reasons that are always complex. We talk about failed relationships, but it is important not to consider ourselves a failure because what we had hoped for with all our hearts may not be able to be realised for many different reasons.  Sometimes we do come to a crossroads and we must make some undeniably difficult decisions about what is best for all of us. And so, when we come to consider the beauty of family life that lies at the heart of our Christian understanding, what we must be careful not to do is to idealise family life so as to make it unattainable, something so ideal that simply constantly judges our own experience which more often than not struggles. As Pope Francis has also remarked,

“Perfect families do not exist. This must not discourage us. Quite the opposite. Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is ‘forged’ by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences. Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows. . . This is a great legacy that we can give to our children, a very good lesson: we make mistakes, yes; we have problems, yes. But we know that that is not really what counts. We know that mistakes, problems and conflicts are an opportunity to draw closer to others, to draw closer to God.”[2]

And most importantly, this is always learnt through the little things. As Pope Francis teaches,

“It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures .  .  . These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, [by siblings]. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to [grow in] faith.  Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world.”[3]

Let us pray that the little miracles which occur in the anonymity of our family struggles abound.


[1] Pope Francis, Address to Festival of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 27 September 2015

[2] Pope Francis, Address to Festival of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 27 September 2015.

[3] Pope Francis, Address to Festival of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 27 September 2015.

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