Friday, September 25, 2009
“Jesus said, ‘What God has joined together, let no one separate.’” (Mark 10:9)
“SOUL-SURFING” – October 4, 2009
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“An old legend relates that long ago God had a great many burdens which he wished to have carried from one place to another on earth, so he asked the animals to lend a hand. But all of them began to make excuses for not helping: the elephant was too dignified; the lion, too proud, and so on. Finally the birds came to God and said, ‘If you will tie the burdens into small bundles, we’ll be glad to carry them for you. We are small but we would like to help.’
“So God fastened upon the back of each one a small bundle, and they all set out walking across the plain to their destination. They sang as they went, and did not seem to feel the weight of their burdens at all. Every day the burdens seemed lighter and lighter, until the loads seemed to be lifting the birds, instead of the birds carrying the burdens.
“When they arrived at their destination, they discovered that when they removed their loads, there were wings in their place, wings which enabled them to fly to the sky and the tree tops. They had learned how to carry their burdens, and their loads had become wings to carry them nearer to God.” (Original Source Unknown)
A simplistic story for sure, but offering a lesson few of us want to learn but most of us need to: bearing heavy burdens can teach us to fly. Sometimes right into the arms of God.
In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus reminds us of a truth most of us learned long ago: negotiating human relationships can be quite a challenge. And marriage, of course, is the primary human relationship. While I can only speak of marriage as an outsider, I know from the experience of my parents, brothers and sisters that there have been frequent moments when what began as marital bliss became a heavy burden. And like the small birds in the story, sometimes one learns to fly under such a challenge, becoming airborne no easy feat.
Today’s gospel passage specifically addresses the sacred marital relationship, with Jesus addressing the question of divorce: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:9) Yet we live in a culture where half of all marriages end in divorce. How does one make sense of this in light of the words of Jesus?
While I can’t speak for those who have spoken marriage vows, I can speak personally as one who has pronounced religious vows. Both categories of vow are made “until death do us part,” and both involve a commitment of faithfulness to another, either a spouse or a religious community. In my 43 years as a vowed member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, numerous times have I felt like one of those small birds walking across the hot desert with a heavy burden strapped to my back. And a few times I was sure I’d be crushed by the weight. I guess I learned to fly because I’m still alive, still a vowed member of my religious community.
But my story is surely not everyone’s story. In my 43 years in Holy Cross, many members have left, having discerned that this life was not for them. Quite a few subsequently married, trading one set of vows for another. Did these former Brothers and priests who’d pronounced lifelong vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience act in defiance of the gospel mandate we hear today, “What God has joined together, let no one separate?” (Mark 10:9) I don’t know the answer to that. I only know that I choose to remain within my religious community and prayerfully engage the challenges because mostly this life is a very happy one for me. For sure there are potholes along the road, and though I have skinned knees testifying to having fallen along the way, I’m confident that this is the road for me, the best road by which to arrive home.
The journey home, though, is often a long one for all of us no matter which road we’re on. So how does one bear the burden along the way? The opening story relates that the birds sang as they trudged along, and the more they sang the lighter did their burdens seem. For us, the answer is to pray. Half a century ago, Fr. Patrick Peyton, CSC, great apostle of the family rosary and presently being considered for beatification by the church, plastered billboards across the country with the message, “The family that prays together stays together.” Indeed, this holy man spent a lifetime preaching the message that God must be the glue in every human relationship, especially in marriage and in the family.
If ever glue were needed to cement relationships, it’s now! None of us, I imagine, has to look very far to see the devastation left in the wake of a relationship gone awry. None of us has to look far to see those small birds panting and sweating as they trudge across the barren desert under the weight of heavy burdens strapped to their backs. “Come on, you guys!” we call to them. “You can do it! Sing! It’ll help,” we shout, cheerleader-fashion. And the burdened lift their eyes toward the horizon, the faintest glimpse of home but a hint, and they begin to sing. Louder the song becomes as the first tentative notes fill the air and rise skyward. Song becomes prayer becomes hope assured. Wings sprout, burdens fall away, billowy clouds above are pierced by arms reaching out inviting embrace. They had learned how to carry their burdens, and their loads had become wings to carry them nearer to God.
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