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Select Homily
October, 7 2018

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan


It is relatively easy to preach on these marriage passages

at an anniversary mass

filled with couples who are celebrating twenty-five,

            forty, even fifty years together.


It’s easy to speak about the covenant of marriage

when you look into the eyes

of partners who have mined both sorrow and joy—

who know the size and shape

of each other’s secret regret

and the texture of their private dreams.


We can preach these passages with conviction,

when speaking to people who have walked together,    

facing down their demons

and holding tight to their blessings.  

People who don’t duck

when preachers toss out words like  


            and covenant,

                        and commitment.

People who don’t flinch 

when the standards are high

and the requirements are tough.


There are couples whose marriages

are a source of deep and abiding joy.

Their partnership raises them up

and offers them a foretaste of God’s perfect love.


There are also couples who struggle and fall

but stand once more to face trials and temptation,

and find in that effort

a larger spirit,

            a more compassionate heart

                        a new understanding of the cross.


Maybe these couples were strong,



                        or just very, very lucky,

but whatever the reason,

for these men and women,

two became one,

and these readings fall upon them

like a benediction.  


It’s also easy to preach about marriage

at the beginning of it all,

when two people

armed with more hope than experience,

stand eagerly before the altar—

            before their friends—

                        before the Church

and offer up their pledge to God.    


At that moment of promise,

many of those listening

can almost count the stones that lie in their path

and name the irritating grains of sand to come.

But in that one joyous moment,

the world is filled with possibilities,

and the words we just proclaimed

surround them like a shield.


But there are other times;

times when these words

feel like assault weapons

aimed directly at the wounded and maimed.

There are times when these words fall hard

on people grasping onto the tattered edges of their lives--

people who wonder how dreams can so quickly tarnish

and promises so easily fail.


There are times when these words rain down on those who

despite all of their hopes,

despite all of their dreams,

find that the bond is broken

and so are they.


Sometimes it is tempting,

to look upon those who are hurting and say,

“These teachings are just too hard”.

“Too unrealistic”

“Too outdated to sustain”


Who can live this?

It’s not fair to demand it.

And given the reality of our world,

it seems almost harsh to proclaim it.


After all,

people live longer, today.

Cultural challenges to marriage are complex.

Times have changed.

Statistics show

that even promises made in Church have a tendency to fail.


Wouldn’t it be easier,

and more “pastoral”

to simply water down the truth?

Isn’t it safer to lower the bar

than to raise our expectations?

Isn’t it more practical to throw up our hands

and admit most marriages fail,

than to roll up our sleeves

and prepare couples for the task?  


There is no question

that preaching the ideal can be painful.

It reveals the cracks in our façade

and the sins in our closets.

It reminds us

that we are all broken people,

searching for the roadmarkers on the way home.


But we miss much more

than an affirmation of marriage

if we shy away from these readings

or duck their true meaning.

We miss something profound about our faith—

something profound about our God.


For the Biblical story begins in birth—

in the making of the world

and in the creation of man and woman

in the image of the God who first imagined them.


That same Biblical story ends

with the vision of the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Throughout its pages,

God’s love for his people

is seen as the love of a husband for his bride.

God’s son is the heavenly Bridegroom,

united with his bride,

the Church.

This imagery permeates our story.


The Bible reminds us that marriage

is a way we can experience


the great mystery of God’s love.

It reminds us

that the covenant of marriage

does not lie in the margins of Christian life,

but in its heart.


It is a lens

through which we can view

those great concepts of




                                    and hope.

It is a loving response to God’s call.


Like Holy Orders,

marriage is a calling and a vocation

that can lead us to holiness.


The covenant of marriage is challenging,

to be sure.

It can leave us at the same time,

open to great joy

and vulnerable to great pain.

It is risky,


and incredibly rewarding.


And for that very reason,

we must continue to teach the truth about marriage.

We must celebrate its beauty

and mourn its death.

We must reach out to those in pain,

yet never lose sight of the ideal.  

We must teach our children well,

by our words,

and by our witness

that the covenant of marriage

does not lie in the margins of Christian life,

but in its heart.


© Susan Fleming McGurgan 

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