Man is a great mystery to himself. Human beings ask themselves basic questions such as: how did I come to exist? Where am I going? What is the point of my life? Why am I here? Questions like these are elementary and must be answered if humans are to understand themselves. The Bible, the Word of God, gives us answers to the fundamental questions that we raise about ourselves.
Through the Scriptures, which are inspired by the Holy Spirit, God reveals to man the mystery of himself. This is particularly true of the book of Genesis, where the truth about man is made clear. Here, in deceptively simple language, we hear the truth about why we are created and what God has in mind for us. The truth surrounding the creation of man that the Bible reveals to us can be trusted because it is God’s word, God reveals it and He is the very source of all truth. The truths of Genesis do not try to establish the scientific truth about man and creation, but rather a higher truth – what might be called theological truth.
Not all truth is scientific truth. Some truths are philosophical. For instance, if I know that all men are mortal, and I also know that Socrates is a man, I can conclude that Socrates is mortal. Some truths are commonsensical – two plus two equals four. If there are two chairs in the room and someone goes to get two more chairs, I know that there will be four chairs in the room. I don’t have to wait until the person arrives so that I can count four chairs. I know there will be four chairs. So there are all kinds of truths that we trust and deal with every day that are not scientific truths. Theological truth is known only to faith, it is the final and highest level of all truths, it is believed in by faith, because of the One who revealed it – and the One who reveals the truth about man in Genesis is God. What Genesis says about human persons is fundamental to our understanding of who we are and why we are here.
The first thing that the Scriptures tell us about the mystery of ourselves is that the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. God creates us. He breathes his very breath into us and fills us with his Spirit. Man, then, is not just the material product of a long line of evolution. Every person is created by God with an immortal soul. Without the care and love of God, people would never have come into being. We are created by God himself, which means that God desires us and cares for us. Our dignity comes from the fact that we are created in God’s image and every one of us was willed by God. No person or group can ever strip another person of that dignity.
What is the next thing we find out about man? Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” It turns out that God has created man with a need to be in relationship with others.
So God creates all the living creatures of the heavens, the earth, and the sea, but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. The need for man to be in relationship cannot be truly satisfied by just any relationship. God has a special relationship in mind for man. This is one in which all of his desires and aspirations can be realized, and in which he will be truly happy. God wants to give man the gift of a partner that is suitable for him; in other words, God has a plan for man.
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man … then He took one of his ribs … And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. God gives to man the gift of woman. They become a gift one for the other. Of all the partners that God could have created for man, of all the gifts He could have given, He chose to give man the gift of woman.
Then the man said, “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. Man and woman have meaning in each other. They are made one for the other, and so they show that they are meant to be together through marriage, a sacred bond in which a man and woman commit themselves to one another for life. They do this for their mutual benefit, and as we read elsewhere in Genesis, for the creation of new life in children, the creative fruit of their love.
Marriage, then, is not just something that people have made up, but rather, it is sanctified by God as part of his plan for human beings. In marriage, a man and woman become united and inseparable; they become one flesh, so that what God has united men must not divide. This is what Jesus says in the Gospel: marriage is between a man and a woman and it is meant to be for life.
How different, then, is God’s vision of marriage from the extremely recent vision that has been advocated by some people. God’s vision of marriage means that it is entered into by a man and a woman, it is designed for the mutual benefit of the spouses and for bringing children into the world through their natural creative powers. This is a view of marriage that has been shared by the world’s great religions for about the last 2,000 or 3,000 years.
Some, however, have lobbied for another view, one that would elevate same-sex unions to the level of marriage. This view has received support from some recent court decisions and not a few members of Parliament. Placing same-sex unions on a level with heterosexual marriage ignores common sense, natural law and God’s divine purpose for marriage, which is for the mutual good of the spouses and the bringing forth of children. Recognizing same-sex unions as marriage also undervalues heterosexual marriage, because it suggests that it is not a unique relationship that sets a couple apart with distinct and important responsibilities to each other and to their children.
The church has been strongly criticized by some groups and individuals within our society for maintaining that marriage can only be seen as the relationship of a man and a woman. Yet, she has no choice but to speak this truth. The church must be faithful to her spouse, Jesus Christ. In her life and teaching, she can only say and do what Jesus would.
The church does not pull her teachings out of thin air and then put them on the backs of others as heavy burdens to make their lives miserable. Rather, in faithfulness to Christ, the church is concerned with the essential truth about man as revealed by Jesus himself. With her emphasis on marriage as being the relationship between a man and a woman, the church is putting into practice the words the Apostle Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy: Proclaim the Word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient … for the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine. Unfortunately, don’t these words of the apostle seem to characterize the situation today?
Man is a mystery to himself. It is only under the light of truth, who is Jesus Christ, that we are able to understand ourselves and our true relationship to God and others. Just as Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so his truths, the truth of God himself, do not change. They are as necessary and relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.
The church, as an advocate of the truth of Jesus Christ, can expect to encounter the same hostility and misunderstanding that her spouse did. St. Paul’s description of Christ could be just as much a description of her: a sign to be contradicted. In our age of relativism, she is mocked and treated with zero tolerance for many things, but especially for saying something as outlandish as the following: “Marriage is the union of a man and a woman designed by God for their mutual good and the bringing forth and nurturing of children.”
When did the truth of God suddenly become the enemy of men?
Fr. Seamus Hogan is associate pastor of Blessed Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, where he delivered this sermon on Oct. 5.