This past October was the Synod of Bishops on the family. Before the synod a survey was conducted of Catholics which told us that many catholics do not follow the Church’s teaching on Divorce and remmariage, gay marriage, abortion or contraception. Some anticipated a change in Church teaching. to update the Church’s teaching in accordance with the modern world. While Bishops may have appeared divided in their discussions of what to do about certain issues, all were unified in the fact that they did not intend to change church teaching.
Instead, they spoke of how important it is to present in a positive way the message of Christian marriage – why is it worth getting married? What is it worth starting a family?
I think our readings today offer us a excellent chance to do so! Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. The Church teaches us that marriage is a sacrament of service – it is a sacrament that helps to build up the kingdom of God. As a sacrament, marriage is also a path to salvation – a way to get to heaven. Not the only way, but a way.
Our gospel today makes crsytal clear the criteria for entering the kingdom of heaven. That criteria is to care for the needy – to feed those who are hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, give clothing to the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. We do this because in serving them we serve Christ himself.
While it may not be obvious at first, this is what marriage is. When two people promise to be together for “richer or poorer” they are promising – “ if you are hungry I will give you food, if you are thirsty I will give you something to drink, if you are naked I will cloth you even if I have next to nothing to eat myself, the little I have I will share with you.” The promise “in sickness and in health” – if you are sick I will care for you. They promise “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” – if you go to prison I will still be your husband or wife, I will visit you, if we become strangers to each other, you will always be welcome, you will always be my husband, my wife.
“Whatever you did to the least of these my brothers you did to me” This is especially true in marriage – marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament, a sign of the love of Christ and his church. When you love your husband or wife you really are loving Christ – because they are baptized – they are united to Christ, they are part of Christ and by loving this person, you very literally show love for Christ.
The natural fruit of Marriage is children. To welcome children is a real opportunity to live out this Gospel. Everyone who has children practices this Gospel every single day – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty. You will miss work in order to care for the sick. You can ground your children in their room and “visit the imprisoned” Parents live out the Gospel of charity each day. Children are for their parents a path to heaven because they are an opportunity to live out the Gospel – to be generous and not selfish. Every new child welcomed into this world is a new opportunity to practice charity and overcome selfishness. The church thus sees a large family as a particular blessing – a new opportunity to love.
Now some may cynically say: “If you want to feed the hungry you do not need to make new babies – there are lots of hungry babies in the world today.” This is true. As Christians we believe that children are not just mouths to feed, but hand to help. Yes, they start out as takers – but formed in a Christian family to serve, to be generous, to think of others – in the end they will be givers. We are convinced that every person has so much more to give than what they take. They are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution.
Today we celebrate the Kingdom of Christ – the family is a real place where the Kingdom is realized and also spread, shared in our world.
Our Gospel speaks of the final judgement. On that day we hear from Christ the fateful words “You did this – you did not do this” Now is the time of mercy – “I did not give you to eat. I did not give you to drink” For any failures to live the demands of marriage – now is a time for mercy and new beginning. Do not be afraid. It may not be easy or simple, but make the first step!