6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 13, 2011 – World Marriage Sunday
Sirach 15:15-20, Psalm 119:1-5, 17-18, 33-34, 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, Matthew 5:17-37
Before the common era the Romans celebrated a spring festival called Lupercalia. One custom of this fertility and purification ritual was a lottery where adolescent men would choose young women for their pleasure. Centuries later Christian leaders countered this unjust and abusive practice with a feast in honor of Saint Valentine. 
World Marriage Day today and Valentine’s Day tomorrow provide a time for us to consider the freedoms we have, or do not have, in developing and maintaining relationships. Here’s an example.
Catherine Burgess, one of our younger parishioners, a student at the College of the Holy Cross, was in Kenya recently. There she worked with the Bride’s Research Project  that helps young Kenyan women, who are forced into arranged marriages, get back on their feet with schooling and jobs. Catherine’s mother Kate told me, in so many words, those marriages are based on the laws of the tribe. They are not based on freedom neither in the intent that they were entered into, nor perhaps in the respect the spouses have for each other’s continued growth as a person in the eyes of God.
As we listened to the Word of God this morning what crossed our minds about our own free will and the will of God? Are we free to do what is pleasing to us alone? How do the choices I make affect the lives of others? How do civic and religious customs and laws help or hinder those choices?
On my blog I asked parishioners to offer their insights on marriage. One man replied, “perhaps the dramatic rise in divorce rates in recent decades is a sign that we have become a more selfish people — less willing to let go of our own wants and beliefs even if refusing to do so destroys something precious.” A woman wrote, “Painful decisions, immature coupling, alcoholism, abuse, infidelity … [there are] so many human experiences [that] affect the “unhappily ever after” of so many of us.”
How do we know what God’s will is in such situations? Where does freedom exist in a community like this one where, as another parishioner wrote: we have cheered each other on and consoled one another at the most difficult crossroads of our frail lives?
This raises some questions. What are we to do with civic laws that prevent people from using their free will? What about church laws that make it difficult to end a marriage that is not working no matter how hard the couple tries? What about gay and lesbian people who want the same civil rights in their partnerships as others have in marriage?
The bible tells us God created us and left us the power of our own free choice. (Sirach 15:14) The grace of Christ does not rival our free will when we collaborate with Christ in making the world free.  The commandments and civil laws that guide us and protect our freedoms are based on human rights. We question them when they are not. The principles of free will that govern our choices about human relations are compromised whenever someone is held captive — physically or emotionally — whether in our own homes or in other countries. By working for the freedom of others we safeguard our own free will, a gift from God.
That’s what Jesus was talking about in his Sermon on the Mount, about proper and honorable relationships with others.  He said, you know the laws; now listen to what I have to say about them. Jesus is interested in the fulfillment of the laws and prophecies. Some scholars say his sermon is bad news because it just cannot be done; it is too unrealistic. 
World Marriage Day, Valentine’s Day and the Word of God remind you and me to strive for relationships based on freedom. They urge us to work for civil and religious laws that honor every person’s free will to grow in the relationships of their choosing.
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Allen, TX: Tabor Publishing) 1994. No. 174, page 432
4 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 1995, 34-36.
5 Fuller, Reginald and Westberg Daniel. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 2006 (Third Edition) pp. 128-130.