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.