Intimacy and Submission

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

I have been a priest for almost thirty-two years, but I remember well my ordination day. At one point I knelt before Bishop Hickey, placed my hands in his and he asked, “Do you promise obedience and respect to your bishop?” I responded, “I do.” Then he said, “May the Lord who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion.”

This promise of obedience is not simply juridical – like joining the army or signing a contract to get a job. For sure, it involves an agreement to follow instructions and to work together with others, but also something much more profound: a comunio between the priest and his bishop, an effort to strive for a common purpose in Christ, a unity of mind and heart.

It does not mean a priest will always agree with his bishop. For example, last Spring when Archbishop Brunett instituted a series of corrections and changes in the liturgy, while I was enthusiastic about most of them, a few I had a hard time with. But comunio means not just a grudging acceptance, but an effort to interiorize, to understand the bishop’s purpose.

Something similar has to happen in marriage. St. Paul says that husband and wife are to be submissive (“subordinate”) to one another. He then outlines the submission proper to the wife and that of the husband. Spouses must submit to each other if marriage is to achieve it purpose.

At a wedding reception last week, they asked which couple had been married the longest. Two couples from Holy Family had been married for fifty-eight years. We all felt a deep emotion as they came forward to give a testimony. Afterwards, one of the husbands joked, “Father, do you think I should receive a medal?” I looked at them and said, “I have good idea which of you most deserves a medal.” However it may be, marriage requires a great sacrifice from both wife and husband.

That sacrifice is worthwhile because marriage has such an exalted purpose. Not merely the procreation of children – although that God allows the couple to share in the creation of eternal souls is staggering to think about. Nevertheless, marriage has an even greater purpose.

Have you ever wondered why God made us male and female? It is far and away the most interesting aspect of our existence, but why did God do it? St. Paul gives us the answer. He says, “For that reason a man leaves his father and mother, joins himself to his wife and the two become one flesh.” Then he adds, “This is a great mystery.” A Latin word for mystery is sacramentum, from which we get our word sacrament. Marriage is a sacrament, a sign, a mysterious foreshadowing of a great reality – Christ and his Church.

Last year I had visitors from Peru. I wanted to show them some of the beauty of the Puget Sound area and of course that included Mt. Rainier. However, the day we went there it was clouded over. You could only see the outline of the mountain through the mist. But for about thirty seconds, the mist cleared and you could see Mt. Rainier in its majesty.

Marriage is like that ouline or shadow Christ is the reality. Man and woman in marriage are called to be a sign, a sacrament of the eternal union of Christ and his bride the Church.

The last five Sundays we have heard Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. He gives us his own flesh because he wants to become one flesh with us. The most apt comparison we have for this is the nuptial embrace. St. Therese wrote about that two becoming one when she described the day of her First Communion:

That day, it was no longer simply a look, it was a fusion; they were no longer two, Thèrése had vanished as a drop of water is lost in the immensity of the ocean. Jesus alone remained; He was the Master, the King.

Now Therese was far from being a pantheist. She knew that union with Christ would not bring extinction of self, but the realization of her true self. Still, in relation to Christ we are like a drop of water in comparison with Elliot Bay, in fact, the entire endless sea.

For his first hearers this was a hard saying. Many disciples turned away, went back to their former way of life. To be united with Jesus requires a total submission, a comunio we can only dimly imagine.

Being joined with Jesus we are profoundly united with each other. It is something like what Joshua did in renewing the covenant at Shechem. Some of the people there had parents who were in Egypt, others joined along the way. But at that moment they all became members of Israel.

Here at our parish we have families who have been here for decades. But most have come fairly recently. In the Eucharist we not only become one with Christ, but one with each other. And we receive a foretaste of the eternal union of Christ with his bride the Church – which is you and I.


(Final version - here is first draft)

Versión Castellana

From Archives (21st Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 5: Freedom
2012: The Supper of the Lamb
2009: Crossing The Line
2006: A Defining Moment
2003: Intimacy and Submission
2000: Decide Today!
1997: Drawing a Line in the Sand

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This is a hard saying. Who can accept it? (Homily by Fr. Kurt Nagel)



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