'What God has joined together let no man separate. These words are familiar to all of us for they are cited, most appropriately, in the ritual of marriage to convey the finality of the marriage pact. Significantly, Jesus bases his argument on the natural law. Woman was given to man by God not only to be the mother of his children but as a helpmate, a companion. She can only fulfill that role, to be sure, if she is treated in such a way as to be able to maintain and extend her sense of personal dignity. This means that if she is to be taken seriously she is recognized as equal in worth to her husband. Where the husband is a man of culture she too must cultivate her capacity for intellectual and spiritual matters. Only when she is in fact capable of responding on an equal basis to his interests as a person can she enjoy true friendship with her husband. Only then can she serve as his companion in any deeply meaningful way over an extended period of time. When woman is viewed as inferior to man she cannot long maintain the respect and honor that elevate affection above the level of a passing fancy. Even if the couple remain united all too often the fuller potential of their association is far from realized.
Our Lord emphasizes in this context the fact that God takes us at our word. He requires that we live up to our commitments, even when they are burdensome. When they impose limitations that seem to take satisfaction from life as we have know it he requires that we learn a new kind of satisfaction, that of the spirit rather than evade our responsibility by going away. Anybody who has heard confessions for some years or served as a counselor soon learns what self sacrifice such fidelity entails.
We who are religious are called also to make a life long commitment, not in the first place to another person, but to God by virtue of a vow that binds us for life. In our particular way of life we choose a community of persons who have the same obligations to God and whose living together is intended to serve as a support and stimulus to living out in fidelity the attachment to God that our vows create. In order to fulfill our promises to God we must prove to be helpers to one another. We cannot achieve our goal without doing all we can to assist one another on the way. This requires of us that we cultivate our natural capacities in the cultivation of skills and the pursuit of truth and knowledge appropriate to our vocation and personal gifts. Above all, we must work at displaying a considerate and thoughtful concern for those we live with, treat them with respect and avoid all words and acts that diminish their sense of worth. Gossip, unkind and critical talk has done immense damage to communities and families. Much of it passes unrecognized for the destructive behavior it is and thus remains uncorrected until it undermines that union that Jesus came to create among his disciples.
May the Eucharist we offer and share in at this altar today so enlighten us and make us aware of the requirements of the love of Christ in our dealings with one another. Then we shall be in a position to avoid the various obstacles to establishing and deepening that unity of spirit in the bonds of respect and mutual concern which alone is worthy of the community of the children of God. It is this unity of mind and heart that God intends in joining brothers and sisters together in the Christian community so as to be found at the end, children of his heavenly kingdom.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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