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Sunday 6 October 2024 Trinity 19, Twenty-seventh in Ordinary time, Proper 22

Drawn to each other, drawn towards God: the Sacred is Real Life

Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

By Dominic Robinson

Parish Priest, Farm Street Jesuit Church, London; UK Director of Landings Programme for Returning Catholics; Lecturer in Dogmatic Theology, St Mary’s University; Vice-chair, Catholic Association of Preachers

Context: Sunday Mass in a contemporary urban setting with a varied committed congregation, many of whom are appreciative of the charisms of the Jesuits and Ignatian spirituality, expecting encouragement and stimulation to live out their faith in daily life

Aim: to help churchgoers to stop and discern where we are going in the midst of the confusion of life

A few years ago, there was an extraordinary event at Westminster Cathedral in London: thousands flocked, including many young people, to pray in front of a small casket containing bones of a French nun, Thérèse, who died in 1897, at the tender age of 24 after many years of frailty and a short illness. ‘Why all this fuss?’ we may ask. Thérèse lived what seemed to be a useless life – a fairly spoilt childhood --lots of tantrums - and a very short life locked away in a convent. In fact, life itself didn’t really mean much to her: rather she believed she would come into her own on her death – ‘I will spend my heaven doing good on earth,’ she famously predicted. So why did the presence of her relics attract so many?

I wonder if it all pointed to the futility of life which is in a paradoxical, even twisted way, comforting. For all life throws at us – some consolation but for so many too much lack of fulfilment, illness, loneliness – the real world is perhaps in fact not here but lies somehow in the dust of what we return to. For all the grandeur of the surrounding Cathedral, all that we see is a set of bones. And we are left connecting with what we will become too and we wonder what our return to the earth will mean. The scientist theologian John Polkinghorne said we are not apprentice angels – we are body and soul – and it’s this earthiness we are left embracing through the practice of our religion. Christianity is an incarnational religion – that’s why we have sacraments – outward signs of God’s inner presence – and we give in to our need for tangible expression of the spiritual when we touch statues or light candles or consume bread and wine which we profess is body and blood.

But is that really enough? Well, the first reading this Sunday – from the second chapter of Genesis - gets to the heart of questions about our human identity. The first great human emotion in the Bible is human loneliness – and thus God created the animals with whom we share this planet, he created male and female to come together so we would not be isolated but complement each other, and he instituted this relationship of man and woman. Relationship with each other and with the earth itself satisfies our human longing and through our nurture of these relationships new life springs.

And that’s why in this Gospel Our Lord is so clear about the institution of marriage. The Pharisees think they have cleverly trapped Jesus on the indissolubility issue - the Jewish Law may be seen to permit divorce – and so maybe there are exceptions on grounds of unchastity or abandonment of Christian belief. But the Pharisees simply don’t get it. We struggle to keep relationships going, and there will always often be unavoidable breakdown. But what the Pharisees do not get is the bottom line - what marriage is as so vital a relationship: the unique means by which God’s plan of creation is carried out. It is how creation gives glory to God and so it is of essence to be upheld as uniquely sacred and indissoluble.

These Pharisees are motivated by the Law, not by love and compassion. So, too, Jesus’ own disciples want to chase the children away from Jesus. Once again, as with the easy divorce of women, the most vulnerable in society are being treated with disdain. In stark contrast, the Lord’s compassion looks especially to the most vulnerable and those on the margins. He wants the very best for us, including to safeguard and hold sacred the bond of marriage instituted as the visible sign of this pact of love between God and his People. A sacrament which makes heaven visible on the earth.

And so how can I act on these readings this Sunday? Just a thought for the week ahead: Think about marriage, your family or the family you might create, but more widely about your relationships with others at different levels of intimacy. Think of how you nurture your care for them, your nurture of the gifts given to you, of the world you inhabit. Think of how this is itself sacramental. Of how this builds up the Kingdom. How you are called not to be alone but to give glory to God through your love for another and for your earthly environment day to day. Admit your loneliness – your nothingness on this earth. Think on how one day all that is left of you on this earth will be relics – and how your destiny is in the real world this life is but preparation for – the life of heaven where our good deeds will go on, through the meeting of heaven and earth.

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