“What Is” or “Ought To Be”


Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 7, 2018.

According to Business Insider, Millennials rank the world’s top 10 most serious problems in the following order:

10. Lack of economic opportunity and employment (12.1%), 9. Safety / security / well-being (14.1%), 8. Lack of education (15.9%), 7. Food and water security (18.2%), 6. Government accountability and transparency / corruption (22.7%) , 5. Religious conflicts (23.9%), 4. Poverty (29.2%), 3. Inequality (income, discrimination) (30.8%), 2. Large scale conflict / wars (38.9%), 1. Climate change / destruction of nature (48.8%)

I don’t know that I would agree with these exact problems, nor would I necessarily have them in this order, but I would agree with Millennials that these problems are real and concerning. I would add to the list the scourge of abortion and the increasing number of divorces, addiction, homelessness, and suicides. I would also add to the list the degradation of fertile land, the over fishing of the world’s rivers and oceans, the destruction of entire species, the unjust distribution of the world’s resources and the lack of governmental unity on all of the issues listed above. We are in a state of crisis and more than I hear, “How can I help?, What can I do?” or “To what degree am I contributing?” I instead hear, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

Acknowledgement of the crisis as present and real takes very little effort and presents very little challenge, if any. It creates very little discomfort and does not require an evaluation and transformation of the way I live and engage in the world. In fact, simple acknowledgement of the problem appears either unconcerned, or a bit of a defeatist. Christians, of course, are neither. We care a lot and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to care about unity, healthfulness of relationships, and the planet of which God has called has called us to be stewards.

In the reading from the Book of Genesis today God calls Adam to be united to another like him. It’s the great story of what every man says when he meets his life-mate, and what I said when I met mine, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman, ‘for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” Right when I saw Jill I knew she and I were one flesh. Almost fifteen years and two children later, it is more true than ever. It is not good for me to be alone and she is a fabulous partner for me in my life.

My wife helps me to be a better person. She challenges me to live up the the high calling I’ve received in Jesus Christ to be a man of character, strength, discipline and holiness. And I don’t care how many people mock the Church with regard to it’s stance on divorce and remarriage, its insistence on chastity and holiness within marriage, and it’s call to being open to life within marriage, I know from the deepest part of my being that this is the way it ought to be–Man and woman serving each other in mutual care and concern for each other, their children, their church, and their world. And to be clear, this is not only the Catholic Church’s teaching, this is the teaching of Jesus himself that we hear in today’s Gospel.

Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  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, no human being must separate.”  In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.  He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (MK 10:2-16) Put plainly, Jesus is clearly against divorce, and so is the church he established. There’s just no way around it without clearly violating the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles in every generation who teach what he taught.

In light of the 6th Commandment, Jesus and the Catholic Church today call us to never lower the bar nor to settle for what is. Jesus and the Church challenge society to recognize and to strive for what out to be! I know from personal experience that tragedy, brokenness, violence,  and civil divorce do occur. The sinfulness of humanity cannot be ignored and the dignity and safety of people–and especially children cannot be jeopardized. But we cannot and must not be okay with the brokenness. As Christians we must admit that although this is the way it sometimes is, it is not the way it ought to be. Everything short of man and woman united together forever in love is less-than-ideal and should be recognized as so.

I remember giving a retreat on the beauty of the Church’s teaching on Holy Matrimony. More than a few people there were quite willing to voice their anger about their single family home–either the one they’re in or the one in which they were raised. One woman said, “My dad left us and my mom did the best she could with the cards she was dealt.” I agreed whole-heartedly. “That’s not the way it ought to be,” I said. Sadly, though, it is the way things too often are. I shared with her my own experience of a single mom striving mightily to put food on the table with three kids and an abusive husband. That’s not the way it ought to be. That’s not the way Jesus wanted it. That’s not the way the Church wants it. For the love of God, let’s never never lower the bar and settle for brokenness just because that’s the way it is. Let’s continue to talk about the beauty, unity, goodness, faithfulness, and life-long, life-giving companionship that ought to be!

And while I’m on what ought to be, Genesis also teaches about humanity’s stewardship and care for all of God’s Creation. The Biblical account of creation is NOT about things or no things, but that all things have their proper origin in God. God created every living thing, but important to understanding the proper relationship of all things to God and to each other, we read that, “The LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name.  The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all wild animals.” GN 2:18-24 Now we know that ultimately, none of these animals proved to be suitable to the man, but the naming of them is significant.

In the Hebrew tradition, which rings true still today, to name something is to claim a degree of authority over it. Not unlike a parent naming a child. To name a child or even a pet for that matter, is to say that the child or pet is now under that namer’s protection and care. The one with the authority to name has become its provider and protector. The Genesis account is quite clear that humanity indeed has the high calling of providing for and protecting the whole of God’s creation–plants, animals, rivers, oceans, and air. God created, and gifted us with the great responsibility of ensuring that his creation was cared for. The story of Genesis doesn’t just teach about things or no things, it teaches the right relationship between all things to God and to one another. Genesis teaches the right relationship of man to God, of man to fellow man, and man to the earth. Right relationships is the way it ought to be. Everything that falls short of that right relationship is what we call sin.

My brothers and sisters, we have not been good stewards. That’s the way it is. Over fishing, over hunting, poaching, poor land management, pollution of the air, land, and sea are just the beginning. The 7th Commandment recognizes that this earth is not mine or yours to destroy, but is instead a stewardship to be respected, to be used with care, and treasured for future generations to enjoy. To fail in this regard is to to steal from future generations. And stealing is a sin!

Click here for an amazing resource for our Church’s many teachings on Care for Creation and Stewardship of the Earth from the US Catholic Bishiops website. It is an excellent primer with links to a variety of church social teaching on the environment and care for our common home. It would be worth your time to peruse the Bishop’s website. It has a ton of useful topics, teachings, news, and resources.

The story of Genesis has much to teach us about marriage and family, sin and grace, about the earth and all that inhabit it, and the way things ought to be. Let’s not lower the bar and settle for the way it is, we are about working toward and striving mightily to achieve together what ought to be!

For Reflection:

How familiar am I with Jesus and the Church’s teaching on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony?

To what degree am I involved in strengthening my marriage and family, and helping to support other marriages in crisis?

How much do I concern myself with the environment and familiarize myself with what the Church teaches in that regard?

How much do my own spending habits, consumption, and lifestyle negatively impact the environment and the poorest of the earth?

By catholicevangelist

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