27th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B

To such as these

It was a hard but heroic task for Catholics in Elizabethan England to keep up the practice of their faith. By law, everybody was supposed to belong to the Anglican State Church. Therefore, the only solution for Catholics was to have priests go around in disguise from place to place, offering Mass in private homes at no small risk.

The English Catholics did receive spiritual rewards for their spiritual daring. Jesuit Father William Weston, one of the courageous English missionaries, tells the story of a fascinating thing that occurred at a Mass celebrated in a secret "Mass-house" by his fellow Jesuit Father Leonard Hyde. Father Weston got the account from Father Hyde himself.

This Mass was offered around the end of 1685. Among the householders and Catholic friends who attended, with great devotion, there was a small child. The child, evidently a boy, watched wide-eyed all that was going on at the altar and among the participants.

At the end of Mass, he went up and tugged his mother's skirt. "Mother, Mother" he said. "What's the matter, child?" the mother asked him. "Didn't you see? Didn't you see?" "See what?" she replied.

That wonderful little baby! It was so beautiful … like nothing you have ever seen before. Uncle priest put it in Father's mouth. Father took it, and it disappeared. Oh, what a pity! He kept repeating "Oh, what a pity! " It was clear that he was deeply moved, and most sad to have the beautiful infant that he saw in the consecrated host disappear.

When Jesus' disciples tried to keep the little children from clustering about him, they were doubtless trying to spare Him annoyance. But what He saw in the Little ones was mankind at its most innocent. Only if grownups retained or recovered this innocence of eye, could they hope to look on God face-to-face! "It is to such as these," he says in today's gospel, "that the kingdom of God belongs." One day in 1685 He lifted the veil of eternity for a moment to prove His point.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q548: The Pharisees had a reasonable question: if divorce was okay for Moses, why did Jesus object (Mark 10:2-12)?

I've always wondered if today's priests feel like they are being tested, like Jesus was tested, when folks approach him with a question about divorce. Back in Jesus' day a man could divorce his wife for the slightest excuse. The Jewish Encyclopedia says that the highly respected Rabbi Hillel [who died shortly before Jesus was born] and his school believed that any action of the wife which displeased the man entitled him to give her a bill of divorce. On the other hand, Rabbi Shammai [who died about the same time as Jesus' crucifixion] and his school insisted the reason had to be sexual immorality. But it was only the man who had such rights. Most importantly before Moses' ruling, a man could divorce his wife simply with a verbal pronouncement. The required bill of divorce showed down this process, and was a small way of defending the helpless woman.

Jesus helps his audience to refocus on the real question: what does God intend with the Sacrament of Marriage? He clearly states this purpose: God intends a permanent marriage bond of love, and an unbreakable bond because it is God who brings two people to the Sacrament. This is the way it was in the beginning in the Genesis story of intimacy, because Eve was created from near the heart of Adam. Moreover, both husband and wife are responsible for maintaining this marriage bond - and both can be guilty of adultery if they disrupt or destroy that bonding process. A marriage bond that is truly sacramental - i.e., there were no impediments at the beginning - cannot be dissolved in the eyes of God.

Now everyone knows full well the extremely high divorce rate in our sick society, and that includes the Catholic population. Ask yourself: what actions are you engaging in to nurture and grow your marriage bond? Do you have a support group of Catholic couples who seek to grow in their marriage spirituality (e.g., "Teams of Our Lady¨)?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement "until further notice¨ (CCC #1646). Marital intimacy demands total fidelity and requires an unbreakable bond between husband and wife (ibid.). Today, tell your spouse that you love her - and use more than four words!

The Two Shall Become One Flesh

Today's readings focus on marriage. Marriage can face many great challenges and difficulties.

For too many today it is seen simply as a legal arrangement, but the scriptures present a very high spiritual ideal of marriage. Genesis tells us that God did not want the human he had created to be alone, so he paraded all the creatures of the earth before him to find an appropriate partner. But none of them would do. So God created the woman and the two become one flesh. The ancient Jews saw this union of man and woman as a reflection and a symbol of the eternal covenant between God and Israel. Every close friendship requires some self-denial and the close friendship of marriage demands even more. We are told that we are to place our married partner (spouse) before everything else: work, job, advancement, wealth, leisure and having our own way. Every thing except God comes second. The Epistle to the Hebrews admits the difficulties in following Jesus' way and tells us that in working through the suffering our identification with Jesus is perfected. In fact marriage is something like the incarnation where the Word of God becomes "one flesh" with the flesh and blood received from Mary. St. Paul compares the relationship between Christ and the Church to the marriage bond. Jesus sees it in the same sense and rejects divorce as a breaking of the covenant. Our mutual self giving in marriage is modeled on Jesus' self giving.

Lord help us to see that following your way of giving for the other may cost, but a closer union with you is worth any price. Lord, bless us in all the days of our lives, in times of joy and of sorrow, with close ties of union with you and each other.