Saturday, October 31, 2015

Feast Of All The Saints

Imagine the most beautiful place you have ever been. Imagine the awe you felt at the grandeur of God’s creation. Imagine the peace it gave you to feel a part of all that surrounded you.

Now imagine the happiest day of your life. Imagine all the blessings that made that day so special. Imagine all the people you shared it with and the overwhelming feeling of love that enveloped you.

Now imagine the most intense religious experience you have ever had. Imagine the sense of God’s presence that you felt. Imagine all the intense emotions that welled up in your soul as you realized that you are loved by God as His unique daughter or son.

All those experiences no matter how intense or profound are only the faintest shadow of what awaits us in heaven.

There we will see God face to face. Saint John, in today’s second reading, assures us that “we shall see Him as He is.” He will no longer be hidden from us. There will be no question as to His existence. However, even more importantly, we will experience His deep, abiding love for us. We will see Him look at us with His loving gaze. There will be no doubt in our minds that we are desired by the God who created all this beauty from nothing.

Also we will be joined by all the faithful people of God who have ever lived. By God’s grace we will stand in the company of Moses, David, Judith and Isaiah. We will see the Blessed Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter, Saint Mary Magdalene and all those who knew Jesus during His earthly life. All the angels of God in their splendor will fill the heavenly chamber. As Saint John describes for us in the first reading from the Book of Revelation, together with them we will stand before the throne of our Heavenly Father raising our voices in praise for His goodness, mercy and justice.

Every year on this day - The Feast of All Saints - the Church reminds us of our calling to be saints. Each of us was created by God to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Heaven is our homeland. It is where our hearts will finally be at rest. It is the fulfillment of all our longing. It is where the mysterious plan of God will be revealed to us and all the struggles and trials of this life will finally make sense.

That is why we are given this great feast day every year - to give us hope. As followers of Christ, we struggle in this life. We do not feel at home in a world where human life is seen as disposable, where the only purpose is to experience pleasure and the only value of a person is his or her ability to be productive. We feel out of place in a society that fills its mind with worthless entertainment while the soul is undernourished. And we do not understand how there can be so much poverty and misery on a planet abundantly blessed with natural resources. Yet on this day we profess our belief that we were not made just for this world. We await a new heaven and a new earth where God’s justice will rule supreme. All that is lacking in this present life points us to the life that is to come. Despite all the setbacks we experience, despite the ridicule we are subjected to because of our beliefs, we hold onto our faith in a good God who has called us to spend an eternity of joy with Him. We hold onto our hope that He will triumph in the end.

Saint John in today’s second reading tells us: “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure as he is pure.”

This feast not only reminds us that we are called to spend all eternity with God in Heaven, it also teaches us how we are to live in this life. We are to use the good things of this world to help us along on our journey to Paradise. We have to be disciplined to not allow them to distract us from our final destination. We are to be pure - that is, untainted by the materialistic values of our age.

We often have the misconception that the saints were so focused on heaven that they did not enjoy the things of earth. But nothing could be further from the truth. We know that Saint Francis loved nature and animals. All the saints enjoyed intimate, emotionally sustaining friendships. For every saint, there is another saint who was his or her good friend. We think of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica. Understanding that the things of this world are passing helped the saints focus on what really mattered - faith, hope and love.

We are all called to be great saints, each of us right where we live and work. We are called to remember our dignity as children of God whose true home is in heaven. We are called to focus on the things that really matter - faith, hope and love - as we live in a world that only understands what it can see and touch. If by God’s grace, we persevere no matter what trials we may experience, then we can hold on to the hope that we will see our Heavenly Father as He is and be like Him.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Jesus Is Praying For Us

Whom do you turn to when you are in trouble? Who helps you when everything else you have tried fails? Who comforts you when nothing seems to be going right?

How often is it Jesus that you turn to? Is it your first thought to lift up your hands in prayer at the moment you find yourself in need? If not, why not?

Over the past few Sundays, we have been reading from the letter to the Hebrews. In this beautiful book of the New Testament, Jesus is described as the High Priest who has ascended into Heaven and is offering prayers for us constantly at the throne of God.

What a comforting thought it is that Jesus is in Heaven praying for us. As He promised His disciples at the Last Supper, He has not left us orphans. Rather He has us constantly in mind as He enjoys the glory of His heavenly kingdom. Therefore, He is the first one we should turn to in our need.

Sometimes we are tempted to think that because Jesus is God and never sinned He could not possibly understand our human situation. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is human in every way that we are. He lived a totally human life including having a body with needs and temptations. The fact that He never sinned does not make Him less sympathetic to our weakness but more so. What does sin do? It makes us selfish. It makes us center on ourselves and forget the needs of others. Because Jesus never sinned, He is free to concern Himself with us and our needs. As we see in the gospels, no one who ever lived was as sensitive to the stigma of the outcast, the pain of the sick and the anguish of the sinner. Therefore, however small or insignificant our needs may seem, we can be sure that He knows what we need before we even ask. We can approach Him with confidence knowing that He cares for us.

Also, the fact that Jesus is the eternal Son of God does not keep Him from caring about our needs. We may be tempted to think that with the state of the world He has more important concerns than ours. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Because Jesus is God, there is no limit to what He is able to do. He is everywhere. At every moment, He is aware of each and every one of the seven billion people on earth. He does not have to stop thinking about one person to pay attention to someone else. He keeps all of us in mind constantly. He is never too busy for us, even though so often we are too busy for Him. We can be confident that when we turn to Him He will be waiting for us saying, “What took you so long?”

This was the experience of so many people in the gospels who sought Jesus out for healing. When they saw the huge crowds that were always pressing in on Jesus, they could have felt discouraged. They could have thought that there was no way that they could possibly reach Him through so many people. Or they may have thought that there were so many others in need of healing that Jesus could not possibly concern Himself with them. But they knew they had nowhere else to turn and so they did whatever was necessary to reach Him.

Today’s gospel - the healing of Bartimaeus - is a beautiful example. When this blind beggar hears that it is Jesus who is passing by, he wastes no time crying out to Him. The crowds tell Him to be quiet, that Jesus does not care about a worthless beggar like Him, but He refuses to listen. He cries out even louder over the rebukes of the crowd. Jesus hears Him - in fact, He already knew Him - and grants the desire of his heart, to be able to see.

We can be assured that Jesus hears us when we call out to Him and that He will grant us the desires of our heart.

After Jesus heals Bartimaeus, He tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” In the next sentence we read that the way he chose was the way of Jesus: “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” Bartimaeus had a choice to make. He could choose his own way, remaining in Jericho and maybe even continuing to beg. Or he could follow Jesus. He chose to follow Jesus on the way leading to Jerusalem and to Calvary.

When Jesus answers our prayers it is for one reason - so that we may be freer to follow Him on the way, so that we can see more clearly the steps we need to take to follow in His footsteps. If Jesus hears us, then we need to hear the cries of the poor around us. If Jesus reaches out to pick us up, then we need to pick up the weak who surround us. If He gives us new life, it is so that we can share in His suffering and death. We are always to free to “go our way”, but we will never be so free or so happy as we are when we decide to follow Jesus on His way.

We have a great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who stands before the Father’s throne pleading for each of us. He knows our needs. He sees them even more clearly than we do. Therefore, we can always approach Him with confidence knowing that we are heard and that He will answer. We approach Him today at this altar where He offers us His Body and Blood to strengthen us and heal us. Let us reach out to him, ignoring the crowd of voices in our heads telling us that we are not worthy, that our concerns are not important or that it is all too good to be true. Jesus is here. Let us do whatever is necessary to call out to Him and experience all that He has to offer us.

(this article appeared in Connect!)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Raising Others Up

Thomas Vander Woude was a 66 year-old retired commercial airline pilot and father of seven children, the youngest of which, Joseph, has Downs syndrome. While working in the yard one day after morning mass, Thomas heard his son calling out for him. He had fallen through the metal covering of their septic tank and was struggling to get out. Without hesitation, the father called out to the house for help and jumped into the sewerage to try to push his son out. While his wife held onto Joseph's hands, the father submerged himself to keep his son's head up above the muck. When rescue workers arrived, they were able to finally pull the young man out of the tank and stabilize him. Unfortunately, the father, whom they estimated had been in the tank about 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious and later pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital.

While Thomas Vander Woude's death was heroic, it was no surprise to those who knew him. His family, friends and fellow parishioners recounted how what he did to save his son was in keeping with the generous spirit of service he displayed throughout his life. Besides being a father of seven sons and a grandfather of twenty-four children, he went to daily Mass, was a veteran of the Vietnam war, volunteered as a basketball coach and trained altar servers. His was a life of service and giving that culminated in offering his life to save another person. His pastor, Father Francis Peffley, said it best: "His whole life was spent serving people and sacrificing himself. . . . He gave the ultimate sacrifice. . . . Giving his life to save his son."

By his heroic act, Thomas Vander Woude was living out the meaning of the Mass he had attended that tragic morning. At every liturgy, we recall how Jesus humbled himself to enter into the muck of our world of sin so as to lift us up above it.  And, along with the bread and wine, we offer ourselves together with Jesus as a living sacrifice to the Father. We pledge that we too will give of ourselves in service to the needy, the lonely and the desperate so that the blessings of eternal life may be extended throughout the world. When we come to Mass, we are not unconcerned bystanders. Rather our lives are at stake. We are proclaiming that Christ has died to save us and that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves in service to others.

Jesus makes this very clear to his disciples in today's gospel reading. Though he was the most powerful man to ever walk the earth, Christ did not become human to amass wealth for himself or dominate others. He came to seek out the sick, the suffering and the sinners. Not only did he desire to instruct and heal them, he gave his life suffering the cruelest death imaginable to open up heaven to those who would believe. Jesus was not in it for the glory. And anyone who follows him must be willing to live as he lived. To be like our master, we must make ourselves the slaves of others.  

As a parish family, we can relate to the bickering that went on among the disciples. We all love our church and many of us give long hours of our free time to support it. Many of us are generous when it comes time to give to special collections or help out with fundraisers. However, it happens more often than we would like to admit that generous people get overlooked and feel slighted. We can feel bitter that others get the recognition we believe we deserve. We can resent that we are giving so much and others are giving so little. Or we can get so frustrated and offended by the pettiness and gossiping of others that we want to give up altogether.

While it is natural to want to be recognized for our work, it is not what the follower of Jesus is called to seek. All the great saints prayed that they would be overlooked and taken for granted even as they spent long hours in service of others. What they wanted more than anything was to be recognized by God for their work. So they continued on even when they were made fun of because they wanted to be like Jesus who gave without counting the cost and who did everything not for the glory it would bring him but out of pure love for others. Each of us who calls Jesus "Lord" must do the same.

We are gathered here to recall the sacrifice that Jesus made to save us. Are we willing to give of ourselves for others? Are we willing to go without so that we can give more generously to the needy? Are we willing to risk injury or even death to protect the helpless? Are we willing to take on the thankless jobs no one else wants out of pure love for Jesus? Are we willing to go without being recognized because we set our hearts on the reward that only God can give?  Above all, can we do all this with a spirit of joy and thankfulness because we are blessed to be able to know, love and serve our Lord?

People like Thomas Vander Woude become heroes because they live for others and not for themselves. Such people give of themselves daily in big and small ways. We cannot help but be inspired and challenged by them. However, we have as our supreme example of love and sacrifice the one who has saved us - Jesus Christ our Lord.  He will offer himself to us again in this Eucharist, giving his very body and blood to nourish and sustain us. Let us not overlook or take for granted what he has done to free us from sin. Let us approach the throne of grace with awe and trembling that it is our Lord whom we are receiving. And let us ask for the strength to serve him in everyone we meet and to do whatever he asks of us especially when the task is hard, the hours are long and there is no recognition or glory.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Burden of Wealth

In his book, Parables, Fr. Anthony De Mello tells the following story.

A wise man had been wandering the countryside of India. One night, outside a small village, he lay down under a tree and began to fall asleep. Just then, a villager ran up to him, shouting, “The stone! The stone! Give me the stone!”.  The wise man asked the villager what he was talking about. He replied that he was told in a dream that a wise man outside the town would give him a stone that would make him wealthy beyond his wildest imagination. “Oh”, the wise man answered, “You must mean this stone.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a diamond as big as a man’s head. “I found it on the side of the road a few days ago”, he explained. “You can have it.” The man’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw it. He took it from the wise man and ran home as fast as he could.

However, that night, the man tossed and turned all night, unable to rest. First thing in the morning, he ran back out to the tree where the wise man was sleeping, and shook him awake. “What else can I do for you?”, the wise man asked. The man answered him, “Give me the freedom you have to be able to give away that stone so easily.”

We associate being wealthy with being free. When we are young, we cannot wait to get a job so that we can move out of our parents’ house, get our own place and be able to make our own choices. However, we realize fairly quickly that with work comes responsibility. The things we think will make us free - our own place, a car, credit cards - come with a steep price. To pay for all these things, we have to work more hours and find ourselves with less free time. Later on as we have a family and others begin to depend on us for their livelihood, we have to invest even more time and energy into our jobs. When we do have free time, all we want to do is rest before we have to go back to work again. What we thought would make us freer to enjoy ourselves actually begins to take over our lives.

In fact, wealth and the hoarding of material goods is probably the one thing keeping most people from experiencing the fullness of life that God wants for them. It is not that material possessions are bad. Rather, they are all gifts of God and integral to our well-being and happiness. However, we tend to treat money as the only reason for living. It crowds out every other good thing we could otherwise be enjoying. And it gives us a false sense of security. We think that as long as we have a job and enough money in the bank, everything will turn out fine. Then we get sick or experience some other tragedy, and we find that our money does not solve all our problems. Then we have no idea where to turn for answers.

Today’s gospel is a perfect example of how wealth can keep us from being the people God dreams we can be.

The young man who runs up to Jesus is a very good person. He keeps all the commandments but he is not satisfied. He wants to make a deeper commitment to his faith. He wants to live his religion at a more profound level. Jesus is certainly impressed by this young man’s sincerity and zeal. But there was something holding him back. Jesus could sense it and puts his finger on it. He was a rich man unable to part with his possessions. Because of his wealth, he was not free to follow Jesus.

Many people throughout the past two thousand years have heard these words of Jesus and taken them literally. They have sold all they had, given it to the poor and dedicated their lives to serving God. Like the wise man in Mello’s parable, they are the freest people who ever lived. Now, it could be that there are some people in this church today who are also called to take Jesus’ words literally and experience such total freedom. However, most of us have responsibilities that keep us from being able to leave our jobs, sell our homes and give away our possessions. How can we answer Jesus’ radical call in our everyday lives?

A first step for us would be not to give everything away but to give something away. A good question to ask ourselves would be, what do I have that I do not absolutely need but would still be hard for me to give away? Is there someone who needs it more than I do? Could I sell it and give the proceeds to a worthy charity? If not, what is keeping me from doing so?

I would make a bet that, if we did find it within us to give away that material possession that we think means so much to us, we would not feel regret or sadness. Rather, we would feel elated and maybe even relieved. We would know the joy that comes from being able to help another human being. And we would have a taste of the freedom that Jesus offers.

Something else would happen. We would begin to see that making money and having nice things is not all that life is about. We would begin to take notice of all those who have less than we do, who are looking for work or who are not able to feed their families. Rather than feel superior to them or blame them for their misfortune, we will begin to feel a sense of responsibility and concern for them. We will want to help.

Then we will be richer than we ever could imagine.  

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Call

The saints we call "great" are not great because they knew how to follow rules. Rather, their greatness and holiness were a result of their willingness to go beyond what was required, to go beyond the letter of the law, to follow Christ. It is the holiness of Saint Francis who not only kept the commandments, but gave all he had to live among the poor. It is the generosity of Mother Theresa of Calcutta who left her native land to seek out and serve the poorest of the poor. These great saints teach us what it means to follow and to serve Christ. It means not only keeping the commandments and following the rules, but being willing to sacrifice anything and everything to do God's will.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus meets a young man who is full of enthusiasm for his faith. He has been keeping the commandments throughout his life, but, deep in his heart, he knows that God has something more to offer him. And so he throws himself at Jesus' feet asking what more he can do to inherit eternal life. Unfortunately, he is not prepared for the challenge Jesus places before him. " Go, sell everything and follow me."  The young man is utterly shocked by Jesus' words and, despite his initial enthusiasm, cannot bring himself to sell his possessions. He was torn between his desire to follow Jesus and his attachment to his belongings. He is not free to follow Jesus because he is held back by material things. Interestingly, the gospel does not tell us that the young man felt relieved or grateful the he was able to keep his possessions. Instead, it tells us that he went away sad. Our possessions can never replace the joy and freedom that comes from following Jesus.

Our Lord is offering a challenge to each of us who have gathered here today to ponder his word. He is extending an invitation to go beyond an approach to faith that is based just on following rules. He is challenging us to stop trying to figure out how little we need to do and how much we can get away with. He is inviting us to be like the young man in the gospel and to discover that religion is about having a deep love for God and experiencing the joy that the Holy Spirit gives. At the heart of it, Jesus wants us to welcome him into our everyday lives and to make him our friend.  As Cardinal Basil Hume once put it, "Holiness involves friendship with God. There has to be a moment in our relationship with God when he ceases to be just a Sunday acquaintance and becomes a weekday friend." That is what the young man was seeking when he ran up to Jesus. That is what is being offered to each of us here today - friendship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is another challenge, however, that Jesus is extending to us. If we want to continue on this journey to his kingdom, there is going to be something we need to leave behind. It may not be every single one of our possessions, as it was for the young man in the gospel. It is more likely a bad habit, an unhealthy relationship or something else that is keeping us from experiencing all the joy and peace that God has planned for us. Every single one of us has something we are holding onto, something we are trying to keep hidden from God, that is draining life away from us and keeping us from getting closer to him. He is asking us if we love him enough to let go of it for good. Or will we continue holding on and letting it keep us in darkness and in slavery.

As we look into our hearts and consider the invitation that Jesus is making to us today, it may be clear to some of us what it is we need to give up.  For others of us, however, it might not be so clear. It begs the question,  how do we know what God's will for us is? How can we be sure that it is God asking us to give something up or to do something for him? These are questions which the saints have been grappling with throughout the centuries. There are no hard and fast rules for recognizing the voice of God because it involves mystery. The most important thing for us is to put ourselves in God's presence daily and ask him to give us the wisdom we need to sort out his will and the strength to carry it out. Today's first reading promises us that if we ask God for such wisdom and seek it out, he will not fail to give it to us. And, as so many saints before us have learned, we will come to desire it and treasure it more than any material possessions.

For the Christian, religion means more than following rules, keeping commandments and attending church services. It means, above all else, having a close and personal relationship with Jesus. That friendship is what gives life and meaning to the dogmas we hold and the principles we live by. As we grow in love for our Savior, we will find that spending only one hour a week with him on a Sunday is not enough for us. We will find ourselves making more time for prayer and looking for opportunities to go to Mass during the week. We will find ourselves going out of our way to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The material possessions that once gave us a sense of security will no longer be as important to us.  We will find ourselves wanting to live a simpler life so that we can give more of our money to the needy. And we will no longer look on our faith as something we have to do but as someone we have to love - namely, Jesus and our neighbor. Then we will know what it is to be on the path to everlasting life.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Loving Union

Before there were countries, before there were churches, before there were colleges or universities, there were families. Before there were languages or cultures, human beings bound themselves in relationships based on kinship and blood. From the beginning, the family has been the place where the young are born and raised, where individuals share responsibilities and resources and where the sick and elderly are taken care of.

And at the root of families is the sacred institution of marriage. Men and women, out of love for one another, unite in an unbreakable bond from which children are born and raised. The yearning that a man has for a woman and a woman for a man comes from our human nature. God placed it in us from the very beginning. We were not created to be alone. We were created for companionship, intimacy and partnership. The fullest and most beautiful expression of that desire is the institution of marriage.

From marriage and the family arose other structures of communal life - tribes, nations and churches. These other institutions came about not to replace the family but to strengthen it - to protect it in time of war, to provide education and to ensure sufficient jobs. Throughout the history of civilization it has been clear that the stronger the family was, the stronger the society would be.

No government and no church created the institutions of marriage and family. They have been with us from the beginning. Just so, no government or church can change the definition of marriage. Under normal circumstances, no government or church can claim to have more of a say in how a child is raised than parents and family members do. And because governments and churches are made up of families, undermining marriage and families damages society as a whole. It would be like sawing off the branch that you are sitting on.

Jesus makes it very clear to us just how important marriage is. His first miracle took place at a wedding feast. He often described Himself as a “bridegroom” who was sent to consummate the union of God with His people. When Jesus speaks of marriage, it is always in reference to how we as human beings were created. When He instructs the Pharisees in today’s gospel, He makes it clear that, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” And He teaches them that marriage did not come from Moses but from God Himself.  The result is that no one has the right to end a lawful marriage - not even the couple themselves. As He tells us, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

From the beginning, then, marriage was meant to be a permanent union of a man and a woman. The permanence of marriage is a sign of God’s faithful love for His people. Just as a man and a woman love each other for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, so God perseveres in His love for us no matter what.

God put this desire to live a faithful, life-long love in each of our hearts. We know the truth of Jesus’ teaching instinctively because it is written into our very nature. Whenever we see couples who are celebrating forty, fifty or even sixty years of marriage, we cannot help but rejoice with them. We see that faithfulness in marriage is a beautiful thing and we naturally desire it for ourselves.

The permanence of marriage is not only a good for the couple themselves, it is good because it is necessary for the raising of healthy, happy children. It is clear from our personal experience and from scientific research, that children thrive when they are raised by their biological fathers and mothers. Each child has a right to be conceived in love and raised by his or her biological parents. To intentionally take a child away from his or her parents is a grave injustice. Sadly, this happens frequently in our culture through reproductive technologies such as surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination.

Children are a precious gift of God. They give us much joy and hope for the future. All married couples should embrace children and be generous in giving them life. There are many reasons couples may choose to limit the number of children they have. However, before making a decision to stop having children, a couple should go to God in prayer and ask if there are any other young lives that our Heavenly Father would like them to bring into the world. Through prayer, we may find that our reasons for not having children are not as serious as we think. We may discover that whatever we think we may be able to afford or achieve by not having children pales in comparison to the joy and happiness a baby would bring into our lives.

As followers of Christ and as good citizens, we are called to promote and defend marriage as the most basic institution of our Church and our society. By our own honest efforts to live as good and holy husbands and wives and to raise our children in the values of our faith, we do much to build up a more just and peaceful world. By welcoming children, we witness to the value of each human life no matter how weak, how vulnerable or how unproductive it may be. More than ever in human history, our world needs such a witness.

It is true that many times we fail. Not every marriage lives up to what God calls it to be. Many fathers and mothers fail to be good examples to their children. As a Church, we have to not only support traditional marriages, but we have to reach out to help those whose marriages are struggling or have failed. We have to stand beside single parents and those who are suffering because of circumstances beyond their control or choices they made in the past. No matter where we may find ourselves, we can all find a place in the family of the Church. In it we have a faithful father who is God, a loving brother who is Jesus and many children all longing for the ultimate wedding feast - the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Exclusive, Lifelong and Fruitful

What does it mean that we are created in the image and likeness of God? Simply put, we are like God because we have the ability to love. By making us capable of and willing to give ourselves totally to another person in a life-long embrace of love, God shows us who he is. God is love.

Today's first reading is taken from the book of Genesis which tells the story of the creation of the world. On the last day, God completed the crowning achievement of his creation when he formed man from the clay of the earth and breathed a soul into him. While God proclaimed that all his creation was good, he said of the man that he was "very good." But right away, God noticed that something was not right. This man whom he made capable of loving had no one to love. None of God's other creatures were suitable partners to the man. So God decided to take a rib out of Adam to form a woman. When Adam sees Eve, he is overjoyed. We can hear in his words how relieved he was that finally he had someone he could share his life and his love with. "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!" The man who was made in love and for love, finally had someone to give his heart to. Without someone to love, the man could never live up to the potential that God had placed within him. Without a suitable partner, the man could not reflect the image and likeness of God and so fulfill his destiny. The two - man and woman - were created to be one flesh.

In the gospel, Jesus gives us an even deeper understanding of what this lifelong partnership of love is. When asked whether or not it was permissible for a man and woman to divorce, he says that it is God himself who unites a woman and man in the sacrament of marriage. Therefore, no one - no government, no church, no individual - has the power or the right to separate them. Just as God made Adam and Eve for each other, so he makes every woman especially for the man she marries and ever man especially for the woman he marries. Married couples are literally made for each other!

This is a truth that every married couple should reflect on daily. Can each of us love and honor our spouses as someone who is made especially by God to be our partner? Can each of us rejoice over the woman or man God has given us to spend our life with just as Adam rejoiced over Eve? And, if we are not yet married, can we trust that God has someone picked out for us already and will introduce us to him or her at just the right time if that is indeed his will for us?

Just as we are each created in the image and likeness of an unfailingly loving God, so married life is meant from the beginning to be a reflection of the faithful love of our heavenly Father. The love that a man and woman show each other in good times and in bad times, for richer,for poorer, in sickness and in health is meant to be a living portrait of the faithfulness and love that God shows to all of humanity. And we see the supreme example in the life and person of Jesus Christ who, as we hear in the second reading, gave his life so that we could be saved. Love is not only showing affection to one another and having romantic dinners. It is, above all, sacrificing ourselves for the good of the other. It means waking up in the middle of the night to feed a baby. It means taking a second job to provide extra income when our spouse is unemployed or disabled. It means sometimes not watching our favorite TV show or not going to our favorite restaurant to accommodate the other's wishes. All those mundane chores and sacrifices we make throughout our day, even though they do not seem heroic or significant, are sanctifying us and making us more and more like Jesus who gave of himself for us. Through the mystery of the sacrament of marriage, husbands and wives are knitted together in one flesh and live out a level of love which is deeper than emotions because it is rooted in and draws its life from the mystery of the love of Christ.

Even as we reflect on the beauty and the power of God's words, we must keep in mind those for whom those words are difficult to hear and accept. There are many for whom marriage and family life are often burdensome and painful. There are many who are separated from their spouses by divorce or death. And there are those who have given up hope of ever finding someone to share their lives with. In a world that seems to revolve around couples, they can feel left out and lonely. If married couples are to live their lives as reflections of God's love, then they must always be willing to open their homes to those who have no families, to those who spend their holidays alone and to those who grieve the loss of a loved one. Following the example of Jesus, families cannot be closed in on themselves, but must be willing to share their blessings with the needy. Then the all-embracing love of Christ will be the hallmark of their homes.

We are each created with a desire to love and to be loved. The more we love, the more like God we become, because he is love. Marriage and family life is one way, along with consecrated celibacy and a chaste single life, that God has given the world to help us grow in holiness. The supreme example of love which we are all called to follow whether we be married or single is that shown by Jesus Christ. In a short while, we will be invited to this altar to become one flesh with him through the sacrament of the Eucharist. Let us take this opportunity to ask God to help all married couples to grow in love and holiness and so inspire us to live the commitments we have made as people made by love and for love.