The emptiness we sometimes feel inside is a thirst for intimacy … that can only be realized by self-sacrifice
Often, homilies for today’s readings focus on the importance of sticking together in marriage. It is more helpful, perhaps, to focus on the incompleteness of each individual human being.
Fr Richard Rohr OFM, talks about the beneficial effects of war – not as a promotion of war – but as one positive outcome, amongst the over-whelming majority of negatives caused by war: he says, in a talk on Transformation (27 Sept, 2005), that war causes us to pull together, and causes great acts of selfless sacrifice for others. It pulls us back towards community, because we suddenly realise how much we need each other.
I’m sorry to mention “war” when the topic is marriage. Unhappy marriages result from so many factors that it’s not possible to talk about it in particular cases here. The teaching of God in the First Reading reveals that man is missing something: symbolised by the missing RIB taken from Adam, and used to create Eve.
Ever-after, “man” has been chasing “woman” trying to get back his RIB! And when the “man” catches the “woman” he’s often confused about how to get it. The natural sexual desires of men and women are nature’s way (created by God), to push men and women to seek outside of themselves to the other: for intimacy =deep love.
This is why, when we feel lonely or cut time with good friends, our sexual desires can become very “strong”, “unruly” and get out of hand. What we are usually not taught is that sexual activity is only a short term solution to the, deeper, need for true intimate relationships with people who love us as we are, rather than for what they can get out of us.
The obvious question in many people’s minds is this: if God created sex and said it is not good for a man to be alone, why are Religious and priests not allowed to marry? Part of the answer could be about practicality and availability for others. However, at a more profound level, celibate (and hopefully!) happy Religious and priests, offer the world pause for thought.
It is not good for a man to be alone, does not mean sex – although most people think it does. Religious and priests should not be alone either: they are meant to be in meaningful relationships with their parishioners, and deep non-sexual friendship among themselves.
Fr Rohr, in talks on Spirituality and Sexuality, identified that sex between loving people can leads us to the Gate of the Temple (read: Heaven), but it’s up to us to open the door.
This statement reminds us of the power and goodness of sex, but also it’s incompleteness. Good, loving sex brings people close to God, but each individual must choose to open the Gate of Heaven by themselves.
Married life is meant to help each partner reach the Gate of Heaven. The problem comes, however, when one or both refuses to open the Gate of Heaven.
What is this gate of “Heaven” alluded to? We only have to look at the Cross and see what it is: sacrifice for the other. Unfortunately, our whole culture has changed over the last 50 years: from community oriented, to individually focused. Slowly, but slowly, we have been excusing ourselves from sacrifices to help people in need, by saying it’s the Government job.
Sadly, resistance to sacrificing ourselves for the other, leads us to less of the intimacy we need in order to feel close to God – or in secular language: to feel joyful, to feel I am a beloved. The more we search for love alone, the less we feel intimacy, and the greater our desire for sex. So, sex becomes a temporary substitute for the deep intimate love achieved by self-sacrifice.
The desire of God that a man and a woman, once united, are not divided, is designed to help the man and woman persevere until they discover the power of self-sacrifice for the other, and so open the Gate of the Temple and enter into Heaven on earth. Children are very helpful in speeding up this transformation from self-to-other to intimacy.
The final part of the Gospel is not just an add-on by Jesus. It’s linked to the previous teaching. The childlike TRUST of a child in their parents, is a model for man and woman to trust God – to trust the process of moving from self-to-other. This is usually much easier for the woman, because she bonds with the child for 9 months before they are born, and then breast-feeding.
Men must work harder to happily sacrifice themselves and give up absolute control. But the sacrifice is worth it. Man can then recover his lost RIB and become complete.
May God give us the courage to imitate the humility of Christ as explained in the 2nd Reading: not by lowering our dignity, but lowering our desire for power through intimate friendships.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI