This Sunday’s Gospel is a testimony of the sanctity of marriage. Our own vocation as Cistercian monks means that we cannot marry, but we are surrounded by a great many married couples in our wider community who live their vocations with great integrity, strength and Christian communion. These couples have a blessed vocation to be the best people that they can be in the eyes of God through the married life. They are inspirations to us, who have chosen a life of searching for God in the monastic community, as we strive to live our vocation with integrity and in communal peace.
Everybody knows that no relationship is plain sailing. Whether in married life or monastic life, relationships are what bind us to our particular vocation. And they are also difficult to sustain. They require maintenance and emotional and spiritual housekeeping. They demand that we look at ourselves from other angles, not just from our own, and practice that most difficult and challenging human virtue: humility. The ancient and sacred vocation of married life is something that we as Christians can aspire to; in this relationship which is bound by vows at the Altar of God, couples can live in the image of Christ who humbled himself, who washed the feet of his disciples, who was unfailingly empathetic to the needs of others, who laughed and cried with his loved ones, and who listened with great skill and patience.
Something else Christ did in today’s Gospel is welcome the little children. And he had these words for the disciples who at first turned them away: ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’
We are asked, in whatever vocation to which we are called, to approach God as little children. That is not to say that Christ wishes us to be childish. No, he is giving us a much more powerful message than that. Children have an extraordinary capacity to wonder at what they cannot understand, to keep alive a faith, and to retain aggressively enquiring minds and hearts. Their ability to revise their perspectives on themselves and others is great. This is what Jesus wants of us. Just as rules and regulations of marriage can begin to rule our lives more than the love that we should inject into a marriage relationship, so we are at risk of destroying our faith by clinging too heavily to our own views and not remaining open to the light of truth.
We strive to welcome and ingest the Holy Spirit as our guide. But He – the light of truth – is seldom understandable. Truth is a mystery and very often a shocking or elusive thing, a thing that surprises us. When God comes to us we do not always recognize him because, instead, we are waiting, not for him, but for our own narrow, straight-jacketted image of God. And so, we miss him.
Christ is asking for us to come to God in a way that is open and prepared to be challenged. This, too, is how we approach our vocation. Marriage, priesthood and the religious life is one of mystery, of unknowing and of surprises. How can we truly follow Christ when all we are doing is following our construct of him? Instead, let us live our vocations with the openness and the wonder of children, taking on the mantle of Christ at his most humble, and listening for the ever-surprising mystery of God to flood our hearts.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 10:2-16
Glory to you, O Lord.
Theme: What God has united, man must not divide.
Some Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him.
He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?‘‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’
Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’
Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’ People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them,
‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’
Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessings.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.