Wednesday, January 13, 2010

01-17-2010: Second Sunday Ordinary Time

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 62:1-5 / Psalm 96 / 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 / John 2:1-11
The wedding feast at Cana, today’s gospel story, is oft cited as the bedrock on which the Church’s intricate theology of marriage, and her even more convoluted laws regarding marriage, are founded. This, despite the fact that there is no mention of a bride or groom, no allusion to a ceremony or ritual (Was there a hoopa? Did the groom smash the wine glass?); only the dilemma of no-more-wine and how Jesus solves the problem. We might conclude that if this passage was indeed about the foundations of marriage as sacrament and institution, then wine must be an indispensible ingredient.

Although I find the Church’s laws and regulations regarding marriage at times incomprehensible, some of the theological tracts regarding marriage that have come down to us through the ages are quite beautiful, predating and possibly contributing to our western notion of romantic love and its relationship to marriage. The idea that there are both a procreative and a unitive component to marriage is uplifting and edifying. Young people falling in love, wanting to share their lives with each other, create a family, make a go-of-it despite the contrary pressures found in contemporary society are all attractive and ennobling sentiments. There’s an especially poignant line in the Catholic Nuptial Blessing: married life has been established as the one blessing not forfeited by original sin or washed away in the flood. But, at the risk of bursting that seemingly perfect bubble, the idea is but an ideal – and ideals and reality are seldom the same.

Truth is, marriage as an institution has changed, and changed in very fundamental ways through the centuries. Arranged marriages were the rule in most cultures from history’s beginning to very recent times, and in many parts of the world today remain the norm. Of course this doesn’t negate the unitive aspect of spousal love even if husband and wife find themselves in an arranged marriage, but it does eliminate the rather parochial western notion that people must marry for love. And though polygamy is unacceptable to the Judeo-Christian West, a great percentage of the world’s population still practices it. Less we Christians get too soon judgmental, remember that many of the great figures of the Bible whom we venerate as saints were practitioners of polygamy. From Abraham to Moses to David – and don’t forget Solomon who, not content with mere multiple wives, took on those 900 concubines as well!

Divorce is often given as a reason for the breakdown of the institution of marriage, but divorce has always existed in various forms in every culture. Some will no doubt contend that the Church does not recognize divorce – true enough. But at the risk of inviting objection, it seems to me for all intents and purposes a Catholic annulment is effectively just a euphemism for the same. I recently had a couple who requested to write their own vows. Obviously very much in love, they wrote to promise to marry each other for all eternity. I had to point out to them that even God doesn’t require that depth of heroism – until death would do just fine.

Then there’s gay marriage – the latest assault, some say, on the never-changing institution of marriage. According to recent poles and ballots, most Americans seem to be firmly against it. All well and good. But, apart from issues of medical insurance, pension and death benefits etc, it seems to me more a matter of semantics than anything else. If it were to be legalized across the nation, it’s hard to imagine how it would mean the end of the institution of marriage. People seem to jump to dramatic conclusions and then equate very different issues like gay marriage and abortion. Mixing apples and oranges is nothing new when hot button issues arise. I recently read an article in a respected Catholic publication that proposed the theory that the changes in the liturgy since Vatican II was a direct cause of the priest sex scandal and the horror of abortion. Reductionism is always a danger, but never so counterproductive than when used with a religious zeal.

If marriage is indeed the one blessing not forfeited by original sin or washed away in the flood, I’m sure it will survive these more recent and way-less spectacular “threats.” Perhaps it’s important to remember that for all the poetry and theology and law, marriage is about relationships between human beings; and relationships are arguably the most complex and confounding of human experiences. It’s refreshing to think that long ago in little-known Cana Jesus might have understood this better than most when he offered his solution to the problems of the day: sit back, he seems to be saying, and have a glass of wine.

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