Homily for 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Dt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
Theme: Singleness as Gods plan and purpose
Dearly beloved, we thank God for bring us together into his presence. I wish to concentrate more on our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. This was a young church founded at the Center of commerce in the Mediterranean. It had so many problems concerning morality. All kinds of promiscuity could be found in this small church. To the extent that some young men were even living with their fathers’ wives. So you can just imagine, St Paul spent the whole of chapter 7 answering questions on marriage that he had received. That is how he introduced this chapter:
7 1Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
We rarely have such opportunities to talk about the gift of being single. Do permit me there to make a case for the single life without in anyway watering down the importance of marriage as our Lord himself taught .
Being single is not a new phenomenon. At the time of our Lord, he had reasons to explain to his disciples why some people do not marry (Mt 19). As I started putting these reflections together, I came across documents from the 17th century, where a whole group of single people who got together for the Ladies Home Journal wrote poems expressing their distress.
Quite interestingly, let me share two with you. Here's one from a gentleman. He writes, "Of all the girls that ever I knew, I never saw one I thought would do. I wanted a wife that was nice and neat, that up-to-date and had small feet. I wanted a wife that was loving and kind, and that hadn't too much an independent mind. I wanted a wife that could cook and sew and wasn't eternally on the go. I wanted a wife that was strikingly beautiful, intelligent, rich, and exceedingly dutiful. That isn't so much to demand in a wife, but she's still not found though I've looked all my life."
And then one from a young lady. "The only reason why I've never wed is as clear as the day and as easily said. Two lovers I had who'd have made me a bride, but the trouble was just that I couldn't decide. Whenever John came, I was sure it was he that I cared for the most, but with Charlie by me, my hands clasped in his and his eyes fixed on mine, it twas as easy as could be to say I'll be thine. Now tell me, what was a poor maiden to do who couldn't make her choice between these two? I delayed and delayed and couldn't decide till Johnny got married to another lady and Charlie, he died. And that is the reason why I've never wed for how could I help it, as everyone said, when Johnny was married and Charlie was dead?"
We all are aware of the fact that God has designed the relationship of marriage to be the most common expression of human life in an intimate social way. However, being single and unmarried equally fits the divine plan and purpose of God. And we see that clearly presented in the second reading this morning. St. Paul uses the whole of chapter 7 to discuss not only marriage but most importantly, the virtues, blessings and the importance of singleness as it pleases God.
Who is said to be single? This is my own definition and as such can be freely contested. “Anyone above the legal age of adulthood and not in any married or in any serious romantic relationship”.
A young college student who is not in a romantic relationship
If you were married but now divorced.
If you were married but lost your partner.
If your earlier relationship did not work, so you decided to forget about marriage.
As we reflect on our second reading, allow me to draw further lessons from this same chapter on the blessings of being single.
1. 25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who [n]by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the [o]present distress, that it is good for a man [p]to remain as he is.
Paul bases his preference on being single on “present distress”. What is this distress about? Well scholars believed, a kind of violent persecution of the Christians at the time. You know how the pains of the people we love, hurts us. For some partners today who are fighting all kinds of terminal diseases, their major pain and worry is not so much of what is happening to them but rather the uncertainties of what will befall the other partner or even children in such relationship. It was from such distress which came from violent persecution that Paul encouraged singleness.
2. 28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
Here, Paul makes it clear that he is not against marriage but alludes to the troubles and challenges of the married life. For those who cannot cope with such challenges, they leave worsening their situation. There are many who have not formally nullified their sacramental marriages but circumstance has made them be in romantic relationships with other partners. Paul says, being single in the first place will spare you all that. Out of human weakness, there is an occasional anger, selfishness, childishness, stupidity, dishonesty, deception, pride, thoughtlessness, over-indulgence, self-centeredness and that horrible sin that husbands commit, forgetfulness. It’s worse when one partner is overly jealous.
3. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none;30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.
I remember last week as he reflected on this passage, Rev. Jose made the point referring to scholarship that St. Paul saw the imminence of the second coming of Christ. Beyond that we know that no one marries in heaven. The fact that this world and all that is in it should make people think and differentiate between what is necessary and what is important. Especially if you lose out as a result of a bad relationship, think again about single life.
4. 32 But I want you to be free from anxieties. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided.
This point falls directly under our passage today. Sometimes I think Catholics in our contemporary life spend an undue amount of time working on their marriage instead of a healthy amount of time working on their spiritual life, which should take care of their marriage. That seems to be the point he’s making in this verse. In this, our very small parish, there are a number of single people doing great and wonderful things in service to God. How many times do you hear people giving excuses why they can’t do this or that in church because of family commitments?
5. 39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband [v]is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is;
There are some who tend to pity those who are single and imagine how difficult and unhappy they may be. Paul is saying there can be more fulfillment in singleness than being married.
Please, if you're single and have troubles, do not look at marriage as the solution to your trouble. It will probably multiply it. Marriage intensifies human weakness because it puts you under such intimate scrutiny. Sometimes young people say, "You know, I have strong desires sexually and if I can just get married….." That is not in itself a sufficient reason to get married. Even after marriage there is no guarantee that your elicit temptation will go away.
Some people say, "Well I'm lonely, I need to get married." And they get married and often are far more lonely after married than before because somebody so close becomes so indifferent, and that's crushing.
Marriage, you see, is the solution to only one thing, just one, and that is this, the will of God. Do not marry for the wrong reasons. Better to stay single than marry for the wrong reasons. You will be very,very miserable.
As Catholics there are so many opportunities to commit your singleness to a deeper relationship with God. You have the religious life, the priesthood, sisterhood etc. In this our small community, there are equally many opportunities to spend time supporting one ministry or another. Learn to live your single life to its fullest, as a gift of God for your life.