The Story of Creation is found in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. God said, Let there by light. There was light, and God saw that it was good. God then created the sky, the seas and the land; and saw that this too was good. Then God said, let the earth bring forth vegetation that bears seed and fruit; let there be living creatures in the waters and over the land. And God saw that it was good.
The next thing God does gives us the first clue of who God is and who we are. God said, let US make human beings in OUR image, and after OUR likeness. Whoa! Right there, in the first chapter of Genesis, God reveals something essential - that God is not alone. Whoever or whatever God is, we know from the beginning that God has a Co-Creator. Let US make human beings in OUR image.
Okay, the Old Testament tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God, but to know what that means - and more importantly, to know what that entails - we have to know what God looks like.
When I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, it’s not a pretty sight! I sure hope that’s not what God looks like! I don’t know if God’s eyes are blue, but I’m pretty sure He has more hair than me! And I wonder if God is as short as me or as tall as my son?
Surely, that we are made in God’s image and likeness means something more than the trivial aspects of our physical appearance. Rather than focusing on physical attributes, maybe image and likeness has a deeper meaning. You might say, well, we have intelligence, the ability to reason, to know right from wrong, the capacity to love and to forgive. Are these the attributes that make us the image and likeness of God?
Perhaps, but today’s readings reveal something more. Christians believe in the Trinitarian God - The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Three persons; yet, one God. In other words, God is not a solitude; rather, God is a community. A Father and Son in a loving relationship with each other. The love between them is the Holy Spirit. This Spirit has an identity of its own because it extends beyond the relationship of the Father and Son for a greater good. This love bears great fruit in the form of new life. God creates so that He can extend his love, and His creation has the opportunity to return love to its Creator. In other words, the very essence of God is relationship. God himself is a relationship between the Father and the Son and between God and His creation.
So, if we want to know what God looks like, don’t look in the mirror, especially first thing in the morning...instead, look at the relationships we have. That God intends for us to live in relationship is made clear in the second chapter of Genesis. There in the Garden of Eden, Adam gives names to all the creatures as a sign of his dominion and stewardship. Nonetheless, without a suitable partner, Adam was lonely. Pained by Adam’s loneliness, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a suitable partner.” These words show that God does not intend for us to live in isolation. Rather, He made men and women to share their journey with someone who complements them. He made us to love and be loved, and to see our love bear fruit in children. This is God’s dream: to see His Plan for creation fulfilled in the union between a man and a woman, whose mutual love is open to the possibility and miracle of new life.
Genesis teaches us that sacramental marriage is neither new nor of human origin. Marriage is an institution created by God from the beginning. Asked about the possibility of divorce, Jesus reminds the Pharisees, “Have you not read from the beginning the Creator made them male and female. For this reason, man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh”.
Just as the Holy Trinity is a relationship between the Father and the Son sealed by the Holy Spirit, the bride and groom who declare their consent before God are sealed by the same Spirit. In this way, the married couple is an even closer image and likeness of God. And when the mutual and intimate love of the marriage produces new life in the form of children - whether natural or adopted - the family becomes an even more perfect image and likeness of God.
The Sacrament of Matrimony is intimately tied to the Holy Mass. When Christ was pierced with a lance on his side while hanging on the cross, water and blood gushed forth from his wound. The water and blood represents the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. Just was Eve was fashioned from the side of Adam, so too was the Church fashioned from the side of Christ. This is why we say the Church is the bride of Christ and Jesus is the bridegroom.
There is a good reason why the Church requires that Catholics get married in front of the Altar. The Altar is the place where solemn sacrifice is offered. What is the sacrifice made by the bride and groom? It’s the radical gift of self. The total and complete self-giving of one’s life for the sake of the other. This is what Jesus did for us. He gave his life so that his bride could live.
Every Mass is a wedding feast where, at the Altar, Christ renews his nuptial vows with his bride, and we renew our vows to him. During the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ renews his eternal covenant by offering us his very life – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. In turn, we “lift our hearts up to the Lord” and offer our lives in loving service to Him and to each other.
Keeping a marriage together for life these days often seems improbable, if not impossible. We are a nation of great wealth, but too many of our homes are lacking in warmth. We are a people with many pleasures, but not enough love. We have many liberties, but little freedom. How is it that the most advanced societies in the world are the ones with the highest rates of divorce, depression and suicide? The more treasure we hoard, the more selfish we live, the more unhappy we become. The more isolated and lonely we feel.
The reality is that some marriages fail. Some years ago, I was in a courtroom and heard a judge counseling a young couple that was getting a divorce. The wise judge told them, After hearing your testimony, it is clear to me that there is no possibility of reconciliation, but let me make one thing very clear. The divorce I am about to give you will alter the legal relationship between you and husband and wife. But the divorce will not change the fact that you are still a family with young children to raise. God made you a family and there is nothing this Court can do to change that.
Some marriages that were never meant to be can be annulled. Contrary to popular belief, annulment is not a Catholic divorce. An annulment means that, after a careful evaluation of all the evidence, a church tribunal has determined that a sacramental marriage never existed according to God’s design and plan.
My parents divorced when I was six years old. My poor mother mistakenly believed that she was automatically excommunicated and unable to participate in Holy Communion. She would still bring us to Mass, but for many years, she would refrain from Communion.
There are too many Catholics who are hurting and feeling isolated. Many who are confused and feel the Church has closed her doors to them. Pope Francis is showing the world that the Church is far more than a set of rules, more than a hierarchy that tells people what they can and cannot do, more than an authority that shames the sinner.
In a recent Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis reminded all the bishops that the Church is called to carry out her mission in charity…not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but faithful to her nature as a mother and conscious of her duty to love and care for her children. The door of our Church must be wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support. Pope Francis said that Our parishes must serve as emergency rooms for healing and mercy, instead of courtrooms where people are judged. We must be more attentive to those who feel excluded, welcome them and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission. And instead of being a bridge to Heaven, the Church becomes a roadblock.
In this spirit, let us pray that the Church will always b that faithful voice crying out in the desert, encouraging families, defending the sanctity of life, and defending the marital bond as a powerful sign of God’s grace and mercy.