Scripture Readings: Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16
One of the saddest realities of modern society is the high rate of divorce. We hear about it frequently and often it is even glamorized with fascination by how often some of the rich and famous are married and re-married. Divorce is nothing new, of course, and clearly an area of concern in the time of Jesus or he would not have bothered to talk about it.
While it is a sad enough occurrence for couples who end up divorced, we know that when there are children, the results can be harmful for the well-being of the offspring. Confusion, tension, depression, hatred, anti-social behavior are some of the side-effects often found when divorce occurs.
The modern emphasis on extreme individualism, material pursuits and lack of commitment, are some of the reasons given for the rise of divorce today. Immaturity on the part of those entering into the sacrament can also be cited, as well as confusion about many aspects of the human personality.
A reflection on the reality of marriage is useful and a biblical understanding of marriage is what the Gospel text addresses this Sunday.
Some Pharisees pose Jesus with a question about the legitimacy of divorce. Jesus responds by speaking of the design of God from the beginning, of the union of a man and a woman and the ideal of permanence in marriage. It is a sacred bond between the couple, and not an experiment or a temporary thing.
The union of spouses, especially in the Sacrament of Matrimony, is to be understood as a covenant. God made a covenant with his people Israel, often described in the Bible with marital imagery and spousal love. God does not break his side of the covenant, even if beloved Israel does. The covenant between God and humanity is supremely sealed at the Incarnation, with the coming of Jesus and the establishment of a new covenant in the blood of Christ.
Marriage calls for sacrifice, dying to self and living for the other. The gift of a man and woman for each other demands time, patience, prayer and perseverance, but is a beautiful reality of the human race and obviously Jesus wishes to uphold its sacred bond.
To end a genuine union of marriage is a mistake for a husband and wife. The union, though, needs to be entered into with preparation, fully weighed and thought out before it takes place in the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is crucial to know what one is entering upon, to the best of one’s ability, relying on the help of God with the grace of that sacrament and the grace offered in all the other sacraments of the Church. Even if a marriage fails, though, we are not free to condemn anyone, for neither does Jesus.
Whether or not people accept what Jesus teaches depends on one thing: faith in God, “for whom and through whom everything exists,” as the Letter to the Hebrews, the second reading at Mass this Sunday, expresses it. As Creator of everything in the world, especially humankind, God has the right to decide how His creation will work.
Without a faith and trust in God, the Creator, there will be no clear understanding of “what God has united no human being must separate,” as Jesus says in the Gospel today.
When we think of the description of the creation of the world as recounted in the Book of Genesis, we recall that God is described there as first creating the land, water, light, plants and animals, then human beings as the “crown of creation.” God says to the first couple, “be fruitful and multiply.”
The form for that to happen is to be in the union of man and woman, and not in some other way. Man and woman become one in such a union and what God has joined is not to be altered in some other fashion. Married couples cannot multiply alone, but in communion with each other, under the care of God. To give and take is built into the relationship of love and self-sacrifice and the biblical authors always extol this kind of mutuality, which has come to be called Holy Matrimony.
“Let us make man in our image and likeness,” said the Creator-God. This means that humans are to reflect the self-sacrificing love of God, albeit in a manner that cannot match what God does, but always striving to be like God nonetheless, in whose image and likeness humans are created.
United eternally in love and understanding, the Holy Trinity is the model that humans look to in the ongoing struggle to be for others and not lost in their own private world. Here we might think of the old saying: success or genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Put another way: it takes work to make a marriage work.
Sadly, human beings often fall short of the Biblical ideal, but that is no reason to toss out the ideal or change it to fit an easier way. The countless examples of perseverance in marriage unto death need to be called to mind, and are an encouragement to those who may waver in their trust in the institution of marriage or who fear making a commitment.
Jesus speaks of hardness of heart or stubbornness as leading to the altering of earlier biblical notions of permanence in marriage. There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged along the way for the married. In every way of life, though, the challenge remains to go through the times of crises with the sure hope that God does not abandon his own, but pours forth grace on those in need. Everyone needs the help of God in our commitments. God always and everywhere assists us to live out the challenges of our respective vocations. We must be ready and willing to turn to the Lord and ask for help.
In Scriptures we are presented with the reality of matrimony as a challenge and the extension of married love radiating out too many others, including children, friends, and other relatives, be they married or single. As a sacrament of the Catholic Church, marriage is treasured in our faith tradition, making spouses signs of unity before a society that so often replaces love with exploitation.
Not surprising, that right after words about marriage Jesus, moves on to speak about children. In a society and time when children accounted for almost nothing, Jesus is clear that everyone, the young and old, deserve respect and care by the human family. All persons are the fruit of love, deserving of love from womb to tomb, as it is sometimes put.
For Jesus, children were important and lovable, and he not only gave them time and affection, but saw a beauty and purity in them that is the essence of the kingdom of heaven. Ideally this is nurtured in a stable and loving family.
On the other hand, for various reasons, many single parents are not so by choice, and they need to have a compassionate hand extended to them by all. The importance of extended family and parish community should be kept in mind here. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends of families often play a great part in the raising of healthy children.
The Eucharist, Holy Mass, is likewise a sign of the unity of God with us. Though many, we form one body as believers in God and as committed followers of Jesus Christ. We ask God to increase our desire for unity, to give us the energy to be promoters of unity by our words and deeds. May our experience of the love of God in our daily lives encourage us on our journey to the house of God.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB