By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Members of the Serra Club of Southeast Kansas City gathered in Orscheln Memorial Chapel at Avila University Feb. 13 for a Mass honoring the Sacrament of Marriage. Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., was the celebrant, with Father Stephen Hansen, pastor of Coronation of Our Lady Parish in Grandview, concelebrating, and assisted by retired Deacon Justin McMenamy.
After thanking the Serrans for their “great, valuable and important work” in fostering vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated religious life, in his homily Bishop Johnston recounted celebrating Mass at Holy Cross that morning for the school children. The first reading for the day was from Genesis, the story of Cain and Able, which he described as “the story of the first murder, the first fratricide.” The brothers both made sacrifices to God, Cain from the field, Able from the flock. Able’s offering found favor with God, while Cain’s didn’t, which made Cain envious of his younger brother. He suggested they go to the field, where Cain killed Able. To punish him, God banned him from success in farming and condemned him to be a wanderer on the earth.
Able points to Christ, Bishop Johnston said, along with several other Old Testament figures — Abraham, our father in faith, and the high priest, Melchizedek who both point to Christ. Able was killed out of envy, much as Christ was killed in part due to envy. The high priests and the scribes were envious of Jesus and so they had him killed. Like Able, Jesus’ life was taken out of envy.
“Envy is an especially diabolical sin,” the bishop continued. St. Augustine said envy is one of the reasons for the devil’s hatred, he saw the dignity and honor God gave to the human race, and because he didn’t have those he hates mankind, he added. “Envy is hating the good in another person because it is not ours.” Envy is different from jealousy. “Jealousy is wanting to keep what’s rightfully yours, while envy is wanting to have what is another’s.”
Bishop Johnston urged the congregation to pay attention to the story of Cain and Able. “God tells Cain, which is true for all of us, that sin is a demon lurking at the door. But you can master it. It’s not overwhelming, you have a choice. You can either let the demon in, or you can turn it away.”
In the Gospel the Pharisees wanted Jesus to give them a sign as a test. But Jesus refused and left them. “But we know that Jesus does give everyone a sign for all of us, the sign of Jonah, the sign of signs, the sign of the Cross.
“The Cross is a beautiful sign of Christ’s love for the Church,” he said, and the sign of Christ offering himself on the Cross is also a beautiful sign of married love. He said, “It is free, total, faithful and fruitful: free – Jesus gave his life freely; total — as St. Paul says, he emptied himself on the Cross, ‘it is finished,’ down to the last drop of blood; faithful — Jesus is faithful to his father and faithful to us, to the end, and fruitful — through the act of self-giving, children of God are born.”
He reminded those present of a common Valentine’s Day symbol, the heart pierced by an arrow. He suggested it was likely a representation of Christ’s heart, pierced by the soldier’s lance, love gushing out for all of us.
The induction of a new Serran and dinner followed the Mass. After the dinner, Bishop Johnston again spoke.
He recalled three experiences of the past week that made powerful impressions on him: a grassroots gathering at St. Mark’s Parish, coordinated by two young women who had attended a conference in Washington, D. C., titled, “Given,” and wanted to have a similar event locally. The bishop estimated 200 -400 young women in attendance and several speakers. The first speaker was a Sister of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George who spoke of the innate roles in a woman’s life, “the givens” the bishop called them. Her life begins as a daughter, expands to sister, whether biological or through friendship, matures to bride, whether married or as bride of Christ in religious life, and culminates as mother, with or without children; women are drawn to the nurturing, teaching role of mother, she said. Similarly, for boys: the roles of son, brother, groom and father.
Bishop Johnston recounted her reflection on the painting, The First Steps, by Jean Francois Millet, showing a mother helping her child take the first steps toward the father who waits with open arms a few feet away. Bishop Johnston added that he saw the mother pointing the child toward the father, as our mothers prepare us to step out and journey to the Father.
He then recounted attending a bi-annual Knights of Columbus and National Catholic Bio-Ethics Council-sponsored bishops’ symposium, titled “Healing Persons in a Wounded Culture.” One of the topics discussed was the prevalent confusion and denial of the Creator, and the givens, in gender identity. If we deny the Creator, then we create ourselves, in a way. A portion of society is trying to find itself by creating itself.
The third experience was an anointing of a dying man, surrounded by the love of his wife of many years and his children. “We are called to communion,” Bishop Johnston said, “this basic communion of married love. It’s in our nature. We can’t take that for granted. One of the things we can do to promote marriage is to pray for families and encourage those who are doing their best in difficult situations … One of the best things we can do for our Church and our world is to promote marriage and the family, to work to safeguard and uphold that is something extremely important for the future, not only of America, but of our Church.“