Nuptial Meaning of Human Body

(Homily for Twenty-Seventh Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

I am sure you have all read articles and seen programs on TV which use evolution to explain human behavior – and misbehavior. If a guy is unfaithful to his wife, it is not really his fault. “Evolution made me do it. It is just the way I am hardwired.”

A number of years ago a man named Richard Dawkins wrote a popular book called The Selfish Gene. He said that we humans are “survival machines – robot vehicles programmed to preserve selfish molechules known as genes.” There might be some truth in that, but it is very limited. It reduces human beings to chemical reactions.

The Bible takes a more complex view. It begins on the first day with the creation of light. It is interesting how this corresponds to a current theory called the Big Bang. Physicists speculate that the universe began with something as small as an apple or a fist - an incredible concentration of energy. All the galaxies, stars and planets came from this explosion of energy.

Our particular planet God made fruitful in plants and animals. The capstone of God’s creation – on the sixth day – was man whom he made in his own image and likeness. All of us have seen an image. In the morning, after splashing some water on the face, we looked in the mirror. We saw an image. Maybe we didn’t like it – but it was our own image. The Bible says man is an image, a reflection of God. It further tells how God used the moist earth – like a potter molds clay to form the first man. Then he breathed into him. We are part material, part earth, but we also have a divine spark, what is sometimes called the soul.

God then put the man in a beautiful garden called Eden. As a sign of dominion – of responsibility – the man gave names to all the animals. A year and a half ago I got a puppy. One of the first things I did was give him a name, Samwise. It indicated I am responsible for him. I love Samwise, but even tho I gave him a name, I never told him mine. I never said, “Samwise, I want you to know my name - Fr. Bloom. You can call me Phillip.” Sam looks to me for many things – affection, food, security, walks – but he can’t receive my name. We cannot have that kind of relationship.

The man in the garden was in a similar position. He had the care of all the animals – but he was alone. So, as we heard in the first reading, God cast a deep sleep on the man, took out a rib and formed it into a woman. When the man awoke, he said, “Wow! This one, at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” He then gave her a name very close to his own, “woman.” (In Hebrew woman is ishah and man ish.)

What follows is extremely important: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” The phrase “one flesh” refers to the marital embrace. It signifies an indissoluble bond.

Early in his papacy, Pope John Paul II reflected on this verse and spoke about the “nuptial meaning of the human body.” In creating us male and female God intended the life-long, exclusive union of marriage.

The pope says that our bodies have a language – self-donation. Everyone knows that, at least every young person does. No guy says to his girl, “I will love you all winter long, but in the spring I might look for someone else.” Or, “I love you. You are so beautiful. But I might not love you if you get wrinkles.” No, the language of our bodies is complete, total self-giving.

Last Friday at our Catholic Educators Conference Mary Beth Bonacci gave wonderful talk on how to teach chastity to young people. For sixteen years, she has spoken to groups of teens and young adults, explaining to them Jesus’ teaching. They have given a great response. Young people want a beautiful love, a love which waits till marriage. One of the most encouraging things today is that a higher percentage are waiting till they get married.

We adults need to encourage, sometimes even challenge our young people. In that light and in the light of today’s Gospel, I want to say a word of thanks to the couples who have given a witness to married love and fidelity. In doing this, I in no way want to put down those who have suffered the pain of a marriage breakup. I have sometimes counseled separation in extreme situations. But every couple faces good days and bad – and moments when they want to throw in the towel. I want to thank those who have given that example in good times and bad, sickness and health, for better or worse. And the beautiful widows and widows who gave that testimony – till death do us part. You have lived what Jesus taught:

“For that reason a man leaves his father and mother, joins himself to his wife and the two become one flesh.”

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From Archives (Homily for 27th Sunday, Year B, 2000): The Holiness of Sex

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