• Gen 2:18-24
• Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
• Heb 2:9-11
• Mk 10:2-16
“No human institution,” writes Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez in Male and Female He Created Them (Ignatius Press, 2003), “is so deeply rooted in nature and in the heart of man and of woman as marriage and the family.” And yet, as Estévez goes on to demonstrate, marriage has so many enemies and is assailed from every side by forces—both internal and external—seeking to pervert and destroy it.
Divorce is rampant, adultery is common, and “same-sex marriage” is now a social and cultural “reality” (not to be confused with reality). It is not surprising, then, to sometimes hear that marriage is doomed, soon an artifact of a different era, rapidly becoming a victim of politics, apathy, selfishness, and a disregard for tradition and religion.
But, however dark the horizon, we shouldn’t forget that marriage is not the artificial construct of a particular culture, nor a transitory institution aimed at repressing this or that special interest group. Marriage pre-dates cultures, civilizations, political parties, and ideologies.
In today’s first reading, taken from the creation account in Genesis 2, the first man is put into a deep sleep and the woman is “fashioned” from the rib taken out of his side. “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
What exactly did that mean? This passage and question were the focus of much of Pope John Paul II’s famous “theology of the body,” given as general audiences early in his pontificate. He saw an “integral” connection between the mystery of creation and the sacrament of marriage.
He wrote: “The words of Genesis 2:24, ‘A man . . . cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh,’ spoken in the context of this original reality in a theological sense, constitute marriage as an integral part and, in a certain sense, a central part of the ‘sacrament of creation.’ They constitute, or perhaps rather they simply confirm the character of its origin. According to these words, marriage is a sacrament inasmuch as it is an integral part and, I would say, the central point of ‘the sacrament of creation.’ In this sense it is the primordial sacrament.”
This is part of the point made by Jesus in his conversation with the Pharisees. Divorce was allowed within Judaism, even being common among some Jews. The Pharisees, of course, focused on the Law of Moses. But Jesus indicated that the allowance given by Moses for divorce was a nod to man’s weakness, “the hardness of your hearts.” He insisted on going back to “the beginning of creation” and restoring the original meaning of marriage.
Creation and marriage are intimately connected, as marriage is a co-creation between the cleaving man and woman and the Triune God. In accepting the gift of the “other,” man and woman are given a profound wholeness. The very creative nature of marriage acknowledges God’s act of creation, his overflowing love, and his plan for humanity—a plan modeled in the sacrament of marriage.
Thus, the primordial sacrament is a sign revealing a mystery of infinite value: the gift of divine life. God invites man to partake in his divine nature and enter into full communion with the Trinitarian mystery. Marriage, the deepest and most profound of human communions, is a sign of that divine communion.
The primordial sacrament, wrote John Paul II, is “understood as a sign which effectively transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden from eternity in God. This is the mystery of truth and love, the mystery of the divine life in which man really shares …”
Marriage, then, was at the heart of God’s plan for man even before Creation. The Son was the author of this sacrament, for “all things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:1,3). In becoming flesh and wedding himself to humanity, he revived the roots and revealed the meaning of marriage.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the October 4, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
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