First Reading: Genesis 17:1, 9-10, 15-22
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. And God said to Abraham, "As for Sar'ai your wife, you shall not call her name Sar'ai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, "Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" And Abraham said to God, "O that Ish'mael might live in thy sight!" God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ish'mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year." When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-5
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
Gospel: Matthew 8:1-4
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."
Today's readings are an interesting reminder in the idea that marriage is a blessing, especially in the sight of the Bible and the Jewish tradition of the Old Testament. God is blessing Abram through his marriage to Sara and in a truly remarkable way.
I've always found the story of Abraham fascinating because it seems like a strange story that one of God's first ways of revealing Himself to man would take place within the context of a man's relationship with his wife. Not with a king or ruler deciding the fates of people or the building of temples, but God communicating with a man about the relationship he has with his wife and the building of a family.
This first intimacy with God blesses marriage. God is being very specific in recognizing the importance of this relationship on an individual level but also on a huge level because Abraham would become the father of a multitude. The father in faith to us today in fact, all began with God telling Abram he and his wife would be blessed with a child—which must have been completely unbelievable at the time.
This reflects back to our Catholic belief in the sacramentality of marriage—that in and of itself marriage gives the spouses grace directly from Christ. But isn't this hard to believe in times of marital strife? Even a small fight or disagreement can shake my belief in my own marriage. Are we really blessing each other when we're driving each other crazy or deliberately misinterpreting each other? Is our marriage a blessing a gift to our spouse when we or they are on the path of self-destruction or addiction or adultery or deceit?
I believe that in those difficult situations, and even in the small-by-comparison times of disagreement, that the grace and blessing in marriage is still present, that it is still there as invisible grace. And I mean invisible, like there is no positive spin to be found with a magnifying glass or even the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. The economy of grace is so rarely seen with our earthly eyes, but it exists and it works in our lives whether we feel it as happiness and romantic rainbows, or as a cross with constant difficulty. There is no easy answer to the times when blessing is difficult, but I think the clue may be in today's Gospel.
If we too could hang onto our faith like the leper, we too might be able to see the visible signs of Christ's healing power.
Let's pray that we can have faith and trust in time of difficulty in marriage, and know that marriage is meant to bless us.
Christy Isinger is the mom to five lovely, loud children living in the Canadian wilds. You can find out more about her here.