Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for the closing Mass of the Oct. 1 “To the End of Love” Marriage Conference:
October 1, 2016
“After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; and he saw his children, his grandchildren, and even his great grandchildren.” Job 42:17
The Funeral Mass of Dad and the First Reading today from the Book of Job remind us that, with the grace of the Lord, God’s plan for marriage is beautiful, and it can withstand manifold difficulties and terrible suffering. In fact, any suffering that comes because of fidelity in marriage leads to a far deeper understanding of love. Fidelity’s way of deepening love is a blessing that many of our contemporaries do not understand. In fact, widespread misunderstanding of both suffering and marriage are so prevalent today that, two weeks ago, Bishop Allen Vigneron and Bishop Richard Malone, on behalf of all of us American Bishops, felt compelled to issue a statement reaffirming the truth that God’s Plan for marriage doesn’t change. Quoting the Catechism (#1603, #1608), they stated, “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by Him with its own proper laws… God Himself is the author of marriage. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator.”
What a blessing it is to know God’s plan for marriage and to know, through faith, that God provides everything we need to live that plan, even when great tragedy and sorrow comes our way. This is the faith of Job; it is the faith of my Mom and Dad. This is the faith of the Church.
The First Reading of Mass today comes from the 42nd and final chapter of the Book of Job. This book recounts the story of how Job endured terrible suffering: first, there was the loss of all his vast livestock and property, but far more painful was the loss of all his children — 7 sons and 3 daughters — all crushed in a house that was destroyed in a windstorm. His wife was so embittered by this great sorrow that, like his false friends, she blamed the disasters on her husband. She said to Job (2:9-10), “Are you still holding to your innocence? Curse God and die.”
God allowed Job’s faith to be put to the test, not to break his spirit but to bring it to an even deeper level. And so, Job’s faith was tested by the tragic deaths of all his children and then the bitter anguish and crisis of faith of his own wife.
In the final chapter of the Book of Job, we see how God rewarded Job’s steadfast faith. After many months of terrible suffering and after turbulent arguments with God, Job eventually arrived at a far more mature faith than he had at the beginning. He was blessed, not with a clear understanding of why God allowed so much suffering to come his way but with a renewed trust that God could work in the darkness, that He could and in fact was accomplishing good things far beyond what Job could imagine. In the end, Job arrived at a peaceful acceptance of God’s plan for his life and his family.
God’s plan for marriage is beautiful; at the same time, it is built on the mystery of the Cross of Christ. For good reason, the Fathers of the Church called Jesus’ Cross His marriage bed. At the Last Supper, He offered His Body and Blood to the Father as a perfect Sacrifice of Praise; and then, on the Cross, He made the total gift of His life to His Bride the Church; and so it was that, from His pierced side, blood and water flowed, and the Church received the gift of His life and love.
In our Gospel passage today from the account of St. Luke (10:17-24), Jesus gives us a glimpse of the intimacy that exists between Him and the Father. Jesus allows us to listen as He speaks to the Father in prayer. He rejoices in the Holy Spirit and gives His Father praise.
And for what does He praise the Father? For something similar to what Job, in the end, gave praise to God for: a wisdom and light that the world cannot give. Jesus says, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will…” and then He adds, “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him.”
There is a knowledge that comes to the childlike, to those who become one with Jesus through faith and Baptism, to those who trust God’s plan for love and life, even when it passes through the valley of tears. It is a knowledge that comes from the Father through His Beloved Son; a knowledge that far surpasses all that human intelligence and years of study could achieve.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, who are called at this time in history to bear witness to God by living your vocation to marriage with fidelity, even in the midst of suffering, listen again to what Jesus tells the first 72 disciples that He sent forth to proclaim the Good News of His Kingdom: “…do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
In sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, trust that God is with you, trust that His plan for marriage is good and that His grace is always sufficient. Trust that the Lord is near to the broken-hearted; trust that your names are written in heaven; trust that His final promise to the Apostles is still true today (Mt 28:20): “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”