17Aug 17 August. Friday, Week 19

(Or option: Our Lady of Knock, Readings from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lectionary II, 1421-1449)

1st Reading: Ezekiel (16:1-15)

Israel is like a baby girl, neglected but later espoused and loved by God

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you out of compassion for you; but you were thrown out in the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. I passed by you, and saw you flailing about in your blood. As you lay in your blood, I said to you, “Live! and grow up like a plant of the field.” You grew up and became tall and arrived at full womanhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.

I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off the blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with embroidered cloth and with sandals of fine leather; I bound you in fine linen and covered you with rich fabric. I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, a ring on your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head.

You were adorned with gold and silver, while your clothing was of fine linen, rich fabric, and embroidered cloth. You had choice flour and honey and oil for food. You grew exceedingly beautiful, fit to be a queen. Your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of my splendour that I had bestowed on you, says the Lord God. But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by.

Responsorial (from Isaiah 12)

R./: Your anger has passed, O Lord, and you give me comfort

Truly God is my saviour;
I am confident and unafraid.
The Lord is my strength and my courage,
and he has been my saviour. (R./)

With joy you will draw water
from the springs of salvation.
Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim his name;
among the nations proclaim his deeds. (R./)

Declare the greatness of the Lord,
for he has done glorious deeds,
make them known throughout all the earth.
Shout with rejoicing, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel! (R./)

Gospel: Matthew (19:3-12)

Voluntary celibacy are marital fidelity are among the signs of the kingdom

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”


The challenge of constancy

Instead of seeing religion in terms of obedience to rulers and laws, Israel’s relationship with Yahweh is described as a marriage bond. The people of Israel are portrayed as cast-off from birth, like an unwanted child left to die, like some kind of “riffraff” (Num 11:4). The Lord loved and espoused this unwanted child, despised by others. Yet after adorning them and raising her to the dignity of a queen, they turned aside. Israel was fascinated by her own beauty and became a harlot for “every passer-by.” Still, God remains committed to Israel, not just for a lifetime but for eternity. Therefore He says, “I pardon you for all you have done.” Such love as this, exceeding all measure, heroic in its fidelity and forgiveness, is overwhelming for us. It grants offers joy and absolute security; we always have a home with God, who treats us on a basis of loving equality like husband and wife. No longer are we children before God the Father, no longer feudal vassals, but like spouses to God. Prophecies like this are an important antidote to notions of multi-layered hierarchy, or a Church dominated by jurisdiction, sanction and law.

Jesus restates God’s original design for marriage: “a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one.” When the disciples recognize what a heroic commitment this is, they wonder “Is it better not to marry?” In reply Jesus explicitly states that such fidelity is possible only for “those to whom it is given to do so.” Fidelity is a divine imperative in the covenant between husband and wife, heroic in one sense, yet normal in another way. God’s grace of sacramental marriage inwardly motivates the spouses and supports their routine daily affection and dedication. Not only does Jesus go behind the tradition of Moses to recall (from Genesis 2:24) God’s original ideal for marriage, but he also says that, for the sake of the kingdom, some people are called to celibacy. Some stay single because of birth defects or other causes, while some choose it by a free decision. Celibacy can be received and lived as a special grace, liberating one for fuller service to God and our fellow human beings, on the example of Jesus himself.

Discerning the will of God

The Pharisees often put Jesus to the test. They knew that his teaching went beyond what the Jewish law required, even, at times, to the point of undermining the Jewish law. On this occasion they wanted to test his attitude to the Jewish law on marriage. They suspected that he would go against what the Jewish law permitted in relation to marriage, viz. divorce in certain circumstances. Their suspicions were well founded. The Lord’s vision of marriage was more radical than that of the Jewish law. He called on men and women to marry for life, and went back to the book of Genesis to support his teaching.

We are all aware that many marriages do not last for life; relationships break down, and people go their separate ways. That is the reality. The gospels show that Jesus knew how to accept the reality of people’s lives; he engaged with people as they were. He relates to all of us in the concrete situation of our lives. Yet, he also had a vision, God’s vision, for human life, including married life. He proclaimed that vision while continuing to relate in a loving way to all who could not reach it, for whatever reason. That includes us all, because none of us lives up fully to the values Jesus proclaimed and lived. There will always be that two-fold aspect to Jesus’ relationship with us; he loves us where we are, but keeps calling us beyond where we are. [MH]

(Our Lady of Knock)

On the evening of 21st August, 1879, people from the village of Knock in Co. Mayo, witnessed an Apparition of Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and cross on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church.There were fifteen official witnesses to the Apparition, who ranged in age from 5 years to 74 years old. Each gave testimony to a commission of enquiry in October of that year. The findings of the Commission were that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory. Since then, the great Marian shrine has hosted pilgrims from all over the world who make their way to Knock, seeking the motherly intercession of Mary and her inspiration to live the Christian life more fully.

2 Responses

  1. Brian Fahy

    In 1970, the year I was ordained a priest, a love song appeared entitled ‘For all we know’. Its lyrics hold wisdom. ‘Look at the two of us, strangers in many ways. Let’s take a lifetime to say I knew you well, for only time will tell us so, and love may grow for all we know.’ The difference of two personalities and the need for time to teach us well are recorded here, and the hope and trust that the love embarked upon will indeed grow strong.

    For many people this hope proves disappointing and time brings sorrow to their door. Indeed in my own case, a journey set out on in sincere goodwill in priesthood foundered because human development was not part of my training, but a crisis can prove to be the beginning of a new life, and I found joy in marriage, the while remaining faithful to the Lord and his love.

    For many people the way of love involves divorce, not because it is desired but because things break down. But the human heart is made for love and for faithfulness. God has made us all this way. Let us help one another to find it.

  2. Brian Fahy

    In the film ‘The Quiet Man’ Sean Thornton (John Wayne) fails to understand the traditions and family ways of old Ireland with regard to marriage and fortune. He comes from America where life is ‘freer’ and more disconnected. I don’t get it, he says. In a later film, ‘The Godfather’, Michael Corleone of America travels to Sicily and must learn the traditional respect for marriage that sees chaperones accompany him while he courts a local girl.

    There is a deep mystery in marriage that the very act of love is also the very act of generation of new life. It is God’s design and creation for two people to become one body not only in the act of love but also through the faithfulness of living life together.

    Modern life can separate out all these things, making sexual encounter often far less than the deep mystery that it is and is meant to be. Romantic isolation of couples persuades people that we only need one another and all will be well. That illusion can never last long. We are not isolated monads. We are always a connected people, and love is always personal and interpersonal and never a privatised occupation.

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