In Thanksgiving to God
On this Thanksgiving weekend, we are encouraged to take a few moments to consider how blessed we are to have family and friends, gifts and talents, and most especially, a God who loves us unconditionally and showers us with so many good things. We would do well to take the advice of the saints:
“Thank our Lord as often as you remember to, and tell him that you would like to do it continually. We will never be able to thank God enough for all the benefits we receive, and that should move us to live in permanent thanksgiving.”
Delicate Readings on Marriage
When I first read the readings for the Mass today, I must confess that my initial reaction was not positive. I sighed to myself, “Lord, don’t you know it’s Thanksgiving?” At the same time, I suppose, His ways are not our ways. In Jesus’ time, when he spoke about marriage, he did so with great delicacy and care and we need nothing less in our own time. In His words, I believe there is strength, hope, and Good News for all of us.
The Attempt to Trap Jesus
The account begins with the Pharisees laying a trap for Jesus, “Is it lawful to divorce a spouse?” If Jesus says yes, then he denies the indissolubility of marriage outlined in Genesis: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh. However, if he says no, then he denies the authority of Moses who relaxed the laws on marriage and allowed for divorce under certain conditions. The response of Jesus is nothing less than astounding!
Marriage as a Contract
“Because of the hardness of your hearts, [Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce.]” It’s important to understand that at the time of Moses the Israelites were drifting away from God and their marriages were beginning to suffer. Many became loveless and infidelity and abuse were common. In this disastrous time, Moses made a concession, for the sake of a nation that was in shambles, he permitted divorce in certain cases. He had hoped that this act of mercy would help by giving a second chance and that it would save their nation from falling into chaos. But in opening up this door Moses opened up another that would attack the very root of Marriage by turning it into something like a business contract, which could be made and destroyed. Marriage became merely a piece of paper.
Marriage as a Sacrament Fully Restored by Christ
But from the beginning it was not so! God’s original intention was not that marriage be a business transaction, but the holy exchange of persons. In lifting the concessions introduced by Moses, Jesus raises marriage back to its original dignity. From the very beginning God created man and woman equal, but different. They are to be complementary, they fit together perfectly when they make the promise of forever and give of themselves to each other in Marriage. When they exchange their vows, the invisible God acts in such a powerful way that the two are glued together forever, bound by the glue of the Sacrament: what God has joined together let no man separate. Jesus restored Marriage to God’s original plan.
The Remaining Humanity of Marriage
The principles of marriage have been restored: a free, total, faithful and fruitful gift of self to another. The principles are perfect, but the one’s who make the promises are not. This is why, after Jesus, separation and the breakdown of the family still exists. The effects of original sin still linger and we remain weak, limited, sinful, and prone to mistakes that really hurt people. Life is messy and sometimes we can’t regain trust after it’s lost. For this reason, we should never use the words of Jesus as a hammer to attack and condemn those who have failed in their marriages. They have suffered enough. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Further, I believe that God has a special love for those who have been through the terrible, awful and intense pain of separation. After all, we say that it takes three to get married husband, wife, and God and whenever that breaks apart all three suffer.
The Distinction Between Separation/Divorce/Annulment
As a bit of a side note, I would like to make a brief comment about language. As Catholics we speak about separation and never divorce, which is a civil legal term. For us, spouses that are no longer together are still bound by their marriage vows which they made before God, unless they come to the Church and are granted an annulment. Divorce and annulment are fundamentally different things. Divorce says that there is a marriage present and we break it apart. This is impossible, “What God has joined, man must not separate.” Annulment means that right from the beginning there was a flaw, something that wasn’t right, and that it was such an important thing that was lacking that the marriage actually didn’t happen in the first place.
I hope that this homily isn’t too discouraging or depressing. I think that it’s important to talk about things that might be messy and difficult. I hope that today all married couples are strengthened and grateful for the words of Jesus about the “two becoming one flesh,” for that is indeed what you live out everyday. And I also hope that those who have experienced the breakdown of a family will be consoled by the love of Jesus. Please know that God will not leave you and that he still desires you to be holy. I encourage you to be persistent in following his commandments, seeking him in the Mass, asking for his mercy in confession, and growing each day in prayer.