21 Jun 2015
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
God breaks into the storm and says: “I am God.” I am God. As we know, Job is getting himself lost in a storm of pride and beginning to think he knows better than God. And the disciples are getting themselves lost in a storm of fear and anxiety about what’ll happen. But to them both, God says: “Be quiet! Be still . . . I am God, not you.”
And this dynamic in Scripture today is a good illustration of a current storm swirling in our world today—the debate over marriage. There are at least two sides to this debate that involves pride and anxiety. But over them both, God says: “Be quiet! Be still . . . I am God the Creator, not you.” And that voice has very practical implications for us in this debate.
For example, if you’re already wanting to take a defensive stance in your mind just because I’m talking about marriage and the proposal for gay marriage, God says to you: “Be still . . . I am God. I am Creator of all. Be still.”
Now, there are various ways that things are created. Sometimes things are what they are because the Church teaches it. You know, like a little kid who says, “Dad, why do I have to do this?” And dad says, “Because I said so.” When we look at the ritual of marriage—the procession, the readings, the rings, and who stands where—the ritual of marriage is what it is because the Church teaches it to be that way. The Church (and human history) is the creator of the marriage ritual.
But sometimes God speaks and things are created. The Ten Commandments are a good example. “Thou shall not kill.” The Church hears that and upholds it; the Church doesn’t create that law; God creates that law for humanity and puts it into our soul.
And sometimes things are what they are because God has simply created them to be that way. The laws of physics, the laws of nature are good examples: the law of gravity, or the way that elements on the periodic table react with one another, or—when it comes to human life—the need for one egg and one sperm to make a new human being. This is where God breaks in and says, “I am God, and this is what I have created.”
Oh, and God also creates us, and he creates us to love. We are who we are not because the Church teaches it, but because God creates us to be this way. We are creatures of the Creator, just like the physical laws of procreation which come from God alone. And we are simply incapable of changing or redefining what God has created. God breaks into the storm of pride or fear and doubt and says: “I am God, not you.” The marriage debate isn’t about anything the Church teaches. The nature of marriage is not what it is because the Church teaches it. Instead, the Church recognizes and upholds what God has created.
And so, it can be a mistake (of a sort) to say: “The Church teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman.” No, it’s more correct to say the Church recognizes the simple nature of marriage and passes it along—like a scientist who looks into a microscope and makes a discovery and says, “Ah! I see it! I didn’t make it, but I see it for what it is.”
And that’s important to keep in mind because, for many people, the “Church” has no authority whatsoever. Happily, they don’t even have to listen to the Church to see what we’re talking about. An atheist can see the physical and sexual complementarity of a male and female. There’s no other way that human life can come about. It doesn’t take a faith of any kind to see that.
The Church doesn’t teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and so it is. The Church recognizes in the simple order of God’s creation that it can only be between a male and a female. But, as we know, there’s more to the nature of marriage than procreation. There’s also love. And the idea of love seems to be more at the heart of the debate over marriage.
God creates us to love; after all, we’re made in the image of God who is a Trinity of love. Love is a good and essential part of the nature of marriage. And it’s a good and essential part of any close, intimate friendship—regardless of a person’s gender. Love is essential to being an alive human being.
But there’s such a confusion in the last decade or so over these terms: marriage and love. And by “confusion” I don’t mean people are stupid. By “confusion” I mean these two words—marriage and love—have been so fused together that they’ve become practically synonymous. Marriage is love; love is marriage. If I love someone, then I ought to be able to get married to them. And so, the nature of marriage can be seen to be simply love.
Of course, marriage is not love. And love is not marriage. And just when we’re about to say, “But what about . . .,” God steps into the brewing storm and says once again: “I am God. I created the nature of this thing you humans call ‘marriage,’ and I am love itself. Marriage and love are not the same. I am God. And this is what I have created. I am God, not you.”
And our faith in God’s goodness and wisdom helps us to admit that, yes, marriage is marriage and love is love, and they’re really distinct from one another. Our faith also helps us to see also that love itself means many different things. Again, God created the complex-ity of love, not the Church. It’s up for us to discover what love is, but not to define it.
We see in God’s creative work that there’s filial love—you know, between siblings and between parents and their children. And there’s erotic love—from the idea that something is ‘lacking’ in us. And so, erotic love compels us to find fulfillment in other things, other people. There’s spousal love—the love between a husband and wife as co-creators with God. And then there’s agape love—or self-giving, sacrificial, ‘other-centered’ love. That’s the love we see on the Cross; it’s the love that pours out from the Sacred Heart. And that’s the love which every human being is made to give and to receive: agape love.
And then there’s friendship, which can be a kind of love. Again, the Church has recognized since ancient times that there are different kinds of friendship—some are loving, some are not. Some friendships are purely utilitarian. You know, Joe over here is my friend because he owns a truck, and every now and then I need to borrow his truck. Some friendships look like love, but they’re really utilitarian as well. You know, I might share my deepest secrets with someone, but I’m not really interested in what he or she has to say. It’s very one-sided.
And then there’s this thing called “disinterested” friendship. It’s kind of a strange term. But it doesn’t mean that a friend is apathetic and uncaring. It means that those friends put aside their own personal interests out of care and love for the other. And this kind of friendship is like agape love. It’s a friendship where each person says to the other, “I accept and love you for who you are. And I’ll do anything for you.”
When two people, whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual, male or female, when any two people have that kind of depth of relationship in the soul, we see them as experiencing that most perfect of friendships—that friendship which a living image of divine and sacrificial love—not erotic love, not filial love, not spousal love, but agape love.
And so, it’s understandable why anybody who experiences this kind of love, this kind of soul-penetrating friendship might desire to be married . . . because that’s part of what marriage is. It is a commitment to another person for life, for richer for poorer, in good times and in bad until death do they part.
But, again, love is not marriage; it’s a part of marriage, but it’s not marriage itself. And marriage is not love. Now, love takes many forms, as we know: filial, spousal, erotic, agape. It happens in both men and women, in both homosexuals and heterosexuals. It happens in the hearts and minds of the saints. It happens in everyday, ordinary people living their everyday lives. It even happens in the clergy and in religious sisters and brothers.
But marriage, by its created nature, can take only one form. Marriage isn’t only about love; it’s also (and more fundamentally) about union. It’s about a total and complete union between two people. And this union is spiritual, emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical. And such a total and complete union is built into the nature of man and woman.
This is not to deny or even denigrate the very real, the very true agape love and self-gift that might exist between two people of the same gender. But again, we’re not talking about love—even the best kind of love. We’re talking about the nature of a union; a nature which no human being ever created nor can ever change.
We hear God say again, “I am God—not you. You are my creations, just as this union you call ‘marriage’ is my creation. You are not the Creator; I am.” And so, regardless of what the state governments legislate, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides at the end of the month, regardless of even what the Church ‘teaches,’ the nature of marriage is beyond human control.
We have no power to change it, just as we have no power to change the orbit of the plants around the sun, or power to change the law of gravity, or power to change water into wine. That belongs to the Creator alone. And so, the stormy debate that surrounds the question of marriage is, ultimately, impotent. It has no affect whatsoever on the nature of marriage.
Obviously, people’s minds will be affected when they ignore the voice of God in that storm. The storm will rage on for at least a little while; and people will be affected. Society will be affected. The next generations will be affected by thinking that God can be replaced by the human will. And the sin of Adam and Eve will be perpetuated. But the nature of marriage won’t be changed—because God is God and we are not.
And this isn’t a reason for anything to feel defeated or triumphant. The nature of marriage is by God’s working, not ours. But so, too, is the nature of love. So, too, is the nature of committed love and friendship, regardless of who you are—male, female, homosexual, heterosexual, married, single, or celibate. As a people of faith, we rejoice in what our God has created. Just like our friend Job in Scripture, when we realize that, “Oh yea, God is God, not us,” we can stop arguing about things which we don’t have any control over, and we can start giving thanks for the things we do have a say in.
We have a say in how we love others. We have a say in how we are friends to one another. Regardless of who we are, we are each made to love. We’re not all made to be married. But we are all made to love and to give ourselves to others in love. And that’s the task God puts before us. God speaks to us out of the storm cloud and says: “Be quiet, be still . . . I am God. Now go and love one another according to the way that I have made you.”