Fr. Bryan Howard
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 7 October 2018
I may have told you this story before, but it’s worth telling again. In 1947 the Fort Lauderdale Hurricane, also called the Hurricane of 1947, struck the coast of Florida as a category 4, killing 17 people. It passed over Florida into the Gulf and made a bee line for New Orleans. It passed right over the Business District downtown as a strong category 2, killing 34 people along the Gulf Coast. As the eye passed over the city, a young man named Bob Peyton left his house and walked, through the flood waters, to the other side of the city to check on a girl he liked, Jeannette Hudson. When her father answered the door he took one look at Bob and turned back, calling, “Jeannette, that Peyton boy is here, he’s either insane or he’s in love.” They would get married about 3 years later and eventually have 5 children, including my mom.
People sometimes ask me how I knew I was called to be a priest. If they’re married it’s easy to answer; I just ask them how they knew their spouse was the one for them. It’s something that’s hard to explain, isn’t it? But you know, just the same. Both the priesthood and marriage are vocations. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which literally means “to call,” as in to call someone from the other room or call someone on the phone. They’re called the sacraments of service. You see, all the other sacraments give you grace so you can grow in holiness: baptism makes you a Christian, confirmation stirs up the grace of the Holy Spirit in your soul, confession forgives your sins, Communion unites you to the Body of Christ, and anointing of the sick brings healing to your soul. The Sacraments of Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony give you a grace to help you serve someone else. In Holy Orders, deacons, priests, and bishops are called to serve God and His Church, and in Holy Matrimony, and man and woman are called to serve one another.
Christ won the grace of the sacraments for us on the Cross by pouring out His life for us. Married people are called, in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, to live out the love that Christ gave us through His Cross and Resurrection: a love that is complete and unconditional, that is freely given as a gift, and that is fruitful, bringing about new life. When Jesus talks about marriage in the Bible, He points us back to the book of Genesis, to the creation of Eve and the marriage of Adam and Eve. That passage recounts how Eve was created when God cast Adam into a deep sleep, took a rib from his side, and formed the rib into Eve. This says something about the type of relationship that Adam and Eve are supposed to have. What does the rib cage do? It protects the heart and lungs. The ancient Hebrews thought of the heart not as the center of passion, like we do, but as the source of life, so Eve’s job is to guard Adam’s life, and Adam’s job is to give of his own flesh and blood, his own life, for his wife Eve.
That is God’s original plan for marriage. Unfortunately, sin enters the story to tear apart the relationships between Adam and Eve and God, but Jesus points us back there to understand what the purpose of marriage is. In a natural sense, the purpose of marriage is to have and raise children. We’re not like ants who can start working as soon as we’re born; we need love and care to grow in maturity, and the best way for children to get that is with the father and mother. But Jesus raised marriage from natural to supernatural when he made it a sacrament. Spiritually, the reason for marriage is for husband and wife to reflect the love of God in the world by the love they share with one another, and thus help one another to get to heaven. To put it simply, your job, as a husband or wife, is to get your spouse to heaven. This is why praying together as a family and coming to Mass together as a family are so important and so powerful. It shows your family, and especially your children, that spending time with God each Sunday is important and is worth making sacrifices for.
If the love of God is unconditional, then husbands and wives shouldn’t put conditions on their love for one another. I know that’s not realistic in our fallen world, but that why the second and third most important phrases a husband and wife can learn, after “I love you,” are “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.”
If the love of God is faithful and never abandons us, then husbands and wives are called to fidelity. They promise to be faithful to one another in their vows when the promise to be true to one another “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.”
If the love of God is fruitful, then husbands and wives are called to be fruitful, not only in having children, but in raising them in the faith and in being a witness in the world to the love of God. The one thing that gives me the most joy and encouragement in my priesthood is seeing families who are really trying to live out the love of God. Being generous with your spouse and children is the best way to show the generosity and fruitfulness of God.
Today is Respect Life Sunday, where we focus on the dignity of all human life. I’m convinced that the best way to increase the respect for life in our countries is through strong, healthy, holy families. So, as you pray for an increase in respect for life this month, also pray for holy families.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.