Friday, October 9, 2015

                                                          27th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B
                                                  Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11: Mk 10:2-16
                                                                The Two shall Become One
Questioning the children before Confirmation, the Bishop asked one nervous little girl, "What is matrimony?" She answered, "Matrimony is the place where souls suffer for a time for their sins" "No, no," said the parish priest, "that is purgatory". The Bishop said, "Please let her alone, what do you and I know about it? She might be right," he concluded.
The little girl's answer speaks volumes about the reality of marriages today.  You see, couples whose marriages have failed for some reason may look at young people preparing for marriage as if they are paving their way into a kind of purgatory. Despite what we make it to be, marriage is one of the most beautiful gifts to humanity. The problem is not with marriage per se, but with the people who enter into marriage. In fact, St Thomas Aquinas rightly calls marriage the "highest good". Though it is the seventh on the list of sacraments, marriage is not the least!  Through marriage, couples become co-creators (with God) in the procreative act. What a marvel! 
Our first reading from the book of Genesis presents the origin and the meaning of marriage. First, it is evident that marriage is God's idea.  After having created the heavens, the earth, and the animals, the creation story was far from complete until God created man in his own image and likeness; and blessed him with the gift of marriage and procreation. "God said it was not good for man to be alone. I will make him a suitable partner…when he brought a woman to the man, the man said, at last this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one flesh (Cf. Gen2:18ff).
Since God is the Author of marriage, the Bible is the only “user’s guide” for a successful marriage. Can we ever operate a gadget without the user’s guide? So how can we have a successful marriage without abiding by the Biblical precepts on marriage? The Church didn't invent marriage laws; but she has the mandate to safeguard such a divine treasure bestowed upon mere mortals, by proclaiming the truth about marriage at all times.
The definition of marriage as revealed in Scripture is an exclusive union between one man and one woman. This definition is not subject to revision or modification by humans because it is not within our competence.  When a man is attracted to another man, or a woman to another woman, to the extent of advocating a legal union, it can’t be of God; because God cannot contradict himself. Thus, homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law, and they are not open to the gift of life.
Divorce is not part of God's original plan for marriage. In today's gospel, the Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Jesus throws back the question at them, "what did Moses command you?" Indeed, Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce because of their hardness of heart.
By the way, according to Jewish customs, women were treated shabbily; husbands divorced their wives for flimsy reasons.  For example, a man could divorce his wife in the evening if he returns home and feels disgusted about dinner.  Sad to say if the divorced woman ever found another man, she was accused of adultery and, she was stoned to death. So Moses permitted a bill of divorce to free women from this kind of oppression.
Despite this uncouth practice, Christ reiterates the point on marriage when he says, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined, no human being must separate. He goes on to say," Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”(Cf Mk 10:2ff).
Therefore, marriage is the one and ONLY sacrament that is administered from above, by the power of the Holy Spirit- these words need no farther interpretation-"what God has joined together let no man separate." Whenever I officiate at marriage ceremonies, I am only playing the role of an official witness of the Church; I am not the Minister! The couples are! God binds!
Before getting into marriage, the couple must seriously consider what they are about to undertake. Someone has rightly said, "A wedding ring is the smallest handcuffs ever to have been made, so think deeply, choose your prison mate carefully and sentence yourself wisely to avoid a prison break."  With this in mind, we can meaningfully declare: "N, I take thee to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, in sickness and in the health, for richer, for poorer till death do us part."
As we can see, the rate of divorce is steadily on the rise. No matter how we look at it, divorce can be like an amputation-you survive, but there is less of you; it can also be like death without burial. There is the misleading perception that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But keep in mind that it has to be mowed!
What are the causes of divorce?  There are as many as we are in this church. However, I would like to highlight three: Intolerance or impatience, selfishness, and infidelity (adultery).
Patience is a necessary virtue for a lasting marriage. Let us be patient with each other because there is no perfect man or woman on earth. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”(1Cor 13:4-8).  I found this inscription meaningful in this regard: "I marry her because we have so many faults in common".
There is a story of a young lady who visited a computer dating service. She said,” I am looking for a spouse, can you help find me a suitable one?” The matchmaker said, “What exactly are you looking for?” She said, “he needs to be good looking, polite, humorous, and knowledgeable, willing to accompany me the whole day at home during my leisure, good at singing and dancing and so on.” The matchmaker entered the information and in a few moments, handed the result to the woman. It read, Buy a television!
Selfishness is about being egoistic. Selfish persons hardly ever make sacrifices for others.  When couples enter marriage with a 50-50 mentality, it is selfishness! We are couples, not business partners!  Marriage has to be 100-100. It isn't dividing everything that you have, but giving everything you have got.  You can only get back what you put in. If you put in ‘half-things,’ don't expect a multiplication miracle from your partner. Only Jesus did that. The measure you give is the measure you will receive. St Paul urges, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself ;…"(Eph 5:25,28).
 Lastly, adultery. This is a very grave sin against the marriage vows. It is a sin against the sixth commandment. When one commits   adultery, he/she breaks the marriage bond, de jure. It doesn't matter whether someone found out or not. This is a betrayal.  We can overcome the sin of adultery by daily renewing our marriage vows, keeping in mind that infidelity destroys family life.
Let no one incur the curse of having an affair with another man's wife or husband. Marriages are "No go zones."   If you marry a man who cheats on his wife, you will be married to a man who cheats on his wife! On the other hand, if another woman steals your man, there is no better revenge than letting her keep him. Real men can't be stolen.
My dear people, marriage doesn't guarantee you will be together forever, its only paper. It takes love, respect, trust, understanding, friendship and faith in your relationship to make it last. “A woman is like a rose; if you treat her well, she will bloom. If you don't, she will wilt.
Marriage is a lifelong journey where we learn about each other. If you wish to succeed on this journey, you must pray God every day to make you a good husband or a good wife. May God bless and keep you. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

              Response to the Nationwide Legalization of Gay Marriage

Where do we go from here?

The unsettling legalization of same-sex unions by the Supreme Court of the United States on June 26, 2015, marked a stormy turning point in the history of the American people, and for the Church, it was no less a thunderclap than the legalization of abortion in 1973. In the weekend following the declaration, clergy, lay preachers, and civil authorities of diverse faith communities spoke out loud and clear against the Court’s decision as a grave error of judgement. Since then, some Christians have asked me what my reaction would be if I were approached by a gay couple for marriage preparation in the Church—given that this has been established as a nationwide civil right. Though their inquiry seemed simple enough, it was a cause for deeper reflection on my part: first, because the law stipulates that homosexual and heterosexual couples have equal rights, and second, because my interaction with people of homosexual orientation is a pastoral reality.
To clear up this muddy question, I fell back on the faculties granted me by the local ordinary of the diocese where I am exercising my ministry. The faculty permits me to prepare couples for marriage and to officiate at marriages, as required by canon law. It does not allow the same from me for ceremonies that do not fit canonical requirements.
Marriage, as instituted by God, is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love. They commit themselves completely to each other and to the wondrous responsibility of bringing children into the world and caring for them. The call to marriage is woven deeply into the human spirit. Man and woman are equal. They are created different from each other for the good of the other. This complementarity, including sexual difference, draws them together in a mutually loving union that should be always open to the procreation of children (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1602–1605).
In accordance with the above definition of marriage, and in keeping with my religious beliefs, I am not obliged, de jure, to either prepare people for or officiate at any form of union that falls short of the Catholic meaning of marriage. As is admitted in the majority Supreme Court opinion, “the First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
As logical as my position may be, a bone of contention remains. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas remarked, “Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.” Consider Christian-owned businesses such as event venues, wedding photographers, bakeries, and florists; they are expected to render their services to both homosexual and heterosexual couples without discrimination—not just in day-to-day dealings, but also in marriage ceremonies. This was the case with the gentle-hearted Barronelle Stutzman, a seventy-year-old flower-shop owner who was sued by a regular customer on grounds of discrimination because she politely refused to provide flowers for his gay wedding due to her religious beliefs.1
The Supreme Court’s ruling hinges on an expansive redefinition of marriage, in an attempt to degrade it to a mere abstract political concept. Justice Thomas, again in his dissent, highlighted this conflict:
In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well.Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.…The majority appears unmoved by that inevitability. It makes only a weak gesture toward religious liberty in a single paragraph.…And even that gesture indicates a misunderstanding of religious liberty in our Nation’s tradition.
Given that this conflict is a reality now that can’t be ignored, another question that parishioners are asking is, “What do we do now?” My response is to stand up for your faith, to trust in God, to love one another, and above all, to fast and pray.

Stand Up for Your Faith
The solidarity expressed so far among Catholics, Evangelicals, and other faith communities in decrying the Supreme Court’s ruling is eloquent testimony of their witnessing for the sanctity of marriage. But this is just the beginning of a long and painful journey, which brings to mind one of the Church’s hymns that is popular in my homeland of Cameroon: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross. Lift high his royal banner. Ye must not suffer loss. From victory unto victory, his army ye shall be, till every foe is vanquished and Christ be Lord indeed.” There is good reason to begin a “March for Marriage” every June 26! There is an African proverb that says, “When you pray, move your feet.” This means we should combine prayer with action toward the cause of our demands.
Speaking at a worship service on Sunday, June 28, Chief Justice Roy Moore of Alabama’s Supreme Court announced, “Welcome to the new world. It’s just changed for you Christians. You are going to be persecuted according to the U.S. Supreme Court dissents.”2 The president of our own Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, released a statement that included a call to courage and perseverance:
I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.3
For their part, a joint statement organized by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention reads, “While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.”4

 In God We Trust
Paradoxically, this battle for same-sex marriage is a battle against God, to whom the founding Fathers entrusted this great nation and the succeeding generation with the motto: “In God We Trust.” And it is the same God whose blessings are implored again and again by political leaders when they say, “God bless America.” Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration, or any other issues, God remains sovereign. The numerous attempts so far to erase Him from the public square have been futile. It is therefore no coincidence that on the very Sunday following the legalization of gay unions, the opening prayer at Mass (as found in the Roman Missal) all over the world read: “O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error, but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.”
O yes! God is not dead, so there is no cause for alarm! His sovereignty is eminent:
Why do the nations conspire? Why do the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth brace themselves and the rulers together take their stand against the Lord and his anointed.…Now therefore, earn wisdom O kings; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Sere the Lord with fear and fall at his feet; lest he be angry and you perish when his anger suddenly fares. Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Psalm 2).

Love One Another
Though the initial reaction of outrage and panic were expressive of the gravity of the offence, we must transcend a hostile approach in order to maintain our Christian identity at this sobering time: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). To nurse thoughts of anger or hate against the government and people who disagree with our religious and moral precepts in general is evil. I have come across young people from African countries where the mere thought of gay rights is an abomination, yet they now identify as gay themselves. I equally encounter and serve the spiritual needs of American people who not only practice a homosexual lifestyle but also speak out in favor of gay-marriage rights. These too, are God’s creatures, and after the example of the Good Shepherd, they deserve God’s love and care. When I speak about the divine plan for men and women and other related issues with LGBT5 proponents, I also listen carefully to what they have to say. Love is our mission, and the truth must be spoken with charity.
For the purposes of a clean fight, we should not lose sight of our own sinfulness and our need for repentance. This is in fact the best time to address our own sins, as we mourn for the sins of the whole nation. American Baptist pastor Warren Wiersbe is quoted as saying, “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy,” and I agree. One without the other is detrimental to all.

Fast and Pray
Prayer is by no means the least weapon in this warfare. In fact, fasting and prayer are more important than speeches and protests. There is no better time than now to heed Saint Paul’s call: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), especially if we are to be engaging in discussions about gay marriage. It should be recalled that sodomy, sexual perversion, and immorality were the root cause of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the antidote to sin is prayer and the sacraments. The present suffering of the Church in the United States is a painful wound inflicted on the entire body of Christ, and prayers for healing are warranted. While this intention should be constantly a part of the faithful’s prayer in Churches across the globe, it should also become an integral part of family prayers.

Indeed, marriage is a basic human and social institution. Though it is regulated by civil laws and church laws, it did not originate from either the state or the church, but from God. Therefore, neither state nor church can alter the basic meaning and structure of marriage. Marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman and ought to remain defined as such in matters of law. In a manner unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children. The union of husband and wife becomes, over a lifetime, a great good for themselves, their family, their communities, and society. Marriage is a gift to be cherished and protected.

1. Kelsey Harkness, “State Says 70-year-old Flower Shop Owner Discriminated Against Gay Couple. Here’s How She Responded,” Daily Signal, February 20, 2015. See
2. Nick Gass, “Roy Moore: Gay Marriage Ruling Will Lead to Persecution of Christians,” Politico, June 29, 2015. See
3. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Supreme Court Decision on Marriage ‘A Tragic Error,’ Says President of Catholic Bishops’ Conference,” June 26, 2015. See
4. Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, “Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage.” See
5. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender