Dear Friends, My Homily for Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
Today Jesus gives us one of his less popular teachings. He tells us that if a couple is truly married, that marriage cannot be dissolved except by the death of one of the spouses. He tells us that because of this, divorce and remarriage is not an option for his followers – it is the same thing as committing adultery. Jesus taught this in the Gospels, and so his Church continues to teach it today. This is why divorced and remarried Catholics should not present themselves to receive communion – because they are in a state of opposition to God’s plan for their lives; they are not in “communion” with his will. But why does Jesus teach such a hard doctrine? Isn’t he being excessively harsh? Is this a contradiction of his compassion?To answer those questions, we have to take some time to reflect on the meaning of marriage from God’s perspective. After all, he was the one who invented it, so he is the one who understands it fully. So, what is the sacrament of marriage, from God’s perspective? Let’s take a brief look.
THE MARRIAGE BOND
Every once in a while, we read news stories about spouses who shared long and loving marriages and then died almost simultaneously, not for medical reasons, but for spiritual ones.
It’s called “the marriage bond.” Understanding what it is and where it comes from is the only way to understand Catholic teaching about divorce, remarriage, and annulment. When two people go into business together, they form a partnership. They agree to work together on a project that will benefit each of them. The bond they form is entirely practical, exterior, contractual.
When two people get married, they do much, much more. They pledge their whole selves to one another, unconditionally, out of love. And in so doing they become, as it were, one person. They are bonded together not by an external contract or agreement, like business partners, but by the mutual commitment to be one another’s spouse. Not just friends, not just companions, but spouses. A new physical-spiritual reality has come into existence: a marriage, a unique, exclusive, permanent bond between husband and wife. That’s what marriage is; that’s how God designed it: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh…” (Matthew 19:4-6).
THE REASON BEHIND ANNULMENTS
When a normal couple gets married, it’s because they want to spend the rest of their lives together and they want to build a family. But if that’s not their answer, if their answer is something like, “we’re looking for financial security” or “I need a spouse in order to advance in my career” or “she’s pregnant and she doesn’t want to get an abortion but we don’t want to embarrass her”… if those or other external, practical goals are the only real reasons for either one of the spouses, then they may go through with a some kind of a marriage ceremony, and they may have a wedding, but they will not really be consenting to marriage. They will be entering into a glorified business partnership, but not into the marriage bond. Likewise, if one or both of the would-be spouses puts unnatural conditions on the marriage – for example, that they will purposely avoid having children so they can be free to travel, or that if they get a divorce they will divide their property in such-and-such a way, or if the groom is consciously intending to continue having extramarital affairs… in cases like these, the formation of a true marriage bond is blocked. The couple may be forming a legal, contractual relationship, but not the full, interpersonal communion of spouses. In other cases, even when the couple enters marriage in good faith and does everything they believe is necessary for marriage, there may be an unconscious defect in their capacity to make the full consent necessary to form the marriage bond: a temporary or permanent psychological condition, for instance. In this case too, no real marriage would be entered into. Because human nature is fallen, wounded by original sin, cases like these happen And that’s why the Church has what’s called the process of marriage annulment. Unlike divorce, which claims to undo a marriage bond that really existed, an annulment states that an apparent marriage never really did exist, because a flaw in the consent of one or both parties blocked the formation of the marriage bond. In that case, the parties involved are not really married, and so they are still free to get married. Sometimes the cause of “failed” marriages can be traced back to these kinds of conscious or unconscious flaws in the original consent. Each Catholic diocese assigns the difficult and delicate task of discerning these cases to a marriage tribunal, which operates according to carefully prescribed procedures. Sometimes serious difficulties in a marriage may require, for the good of the spouses or of the children, separation, or even civil divorce (for example, in the case of physical abuse), and Catholics in these situations can still be in full communion with the Church.
PREPARATION FOR MARRIAGE, SOCIAL DEVIATIONS AND THE SACRAMENTS
Annulments and separations are always painful, which is one of the reasons why the Church encourages her children to prepare well for marriage. Not only by attending marriage preparation classes – which are important – but most importantly by living a life of virtue, prayer, and faith, and by ridding themselves of the widespread “divorce mentality.” There are times in every marriage when love is sorely tested, and it will emerge stronger and deeper if the test is met and overcome with fortitude, self-sacrifice, and maturity. Virtues like these need to be developed before the moment of crisis in order to be activated during the crisis. The same fallen human nature – what Christ called “hard-heartedness” – that causes crises in individual marriages, also gives rise to the various social corruptions of the institution of marriage, such as polygamy (in which one man has many wives simultaneously) or legalized divorce and remarriage, or so-called same-sex marriage. Certain societies admit these and other deviations, but that doesn’t alter – it can’t alter – the true nature of marriage.
Jesus explained it like this to the Pharisees: “…Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so…. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife and marries another (unless the marriage is unlawful [in other words, if there was no real marriage bond in the first place]) commits adultery…” (Matthew 19:8-9). Jesus thinks so highly of this natural institution of marriage, in fact, that he elevated it to the level of a sacrament. For baptized Christians, therefore, the natural bond of marriage is reinforced with the strength of God’s grace, and transformed into a supernatural reality, a way for the spouses to love not only each other and their children, but also God and the Church. (Cf. Ephesians 5)
FIDELITY IN TRUE LOVE
I would like to finish with a short but true story about a married couple – Tola and Uche.
They were popular, wealthy, and well-traveled. After they had been married for only one year, Uche was in a horrible car accident. When they got him to the hospital and stabilized his condition, they discovered that he was paralyzed from the neck down. When the doctors told Tola, she was devastated. All their wonderful plans were shattered in an instant. When Uche regained consciousness and the doctors told him what had happened, he asked to see his wife.They each tried to smile through their tears. He told her that he knew she didn’t marry him in order to stay home and take care of a cripple, in order to spend her life celibate and childless. He told her that he knew she would be happier if she left him and found someone else. He told her he would understand. Tola went out of the hospital room, sat down, and cried. A few minutes later, she came back in, knelt beside Uche’s bed, took his hand, and through her tear-stained faced she said: “I will never, never, leave your side.” As we continue with this Mass, in which Jesus renews his untiring, unconditional commitment to each one of us, let’s renew our commitments to him, and to following his plan for our lives. And let’s pray for all married couples, that they would turn to Christ in good times and bad, trusting in his grace and wisdom to strengthen their marriage bond and lead them to the happiness that only he can give.
@izebuno from WordPress for Android