Sunday, October 08, 2006

What God has joined together...

Today's gospel reading at Masses around the world is one of the most controversial in the entire Bible. It isn't controversial because it teaches hatred, but it is so because it teaches the truth (unpleasant as it is) in love.

Mark 10:2-16:

And the Pharisees coming to him asked him: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. But he answering, saith to them: What did Moses command you? Who said: Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce, and to put her away. To whom Jesus answering, said: Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you that precept.

But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house again his disciples asked him concerning the same thing.

And he saith to them: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased, and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it. And embracing them, and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them.

It is quite uncomfortable for many Christians to hear this passage of Scripture in this day and age. Divorce and remarriage to another is so common in the time in which we are living in that it is rare indeed to find a minister who will follow the biblical precept and refuse to preside at the marriage of a previously divorced person or persons. I have known a few to follow Our Lord's teaching, but they are rare as chicken teeth.

Often, Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic faith will ask me why I insist (when pressed on the matter) of the absolute truth of the Catholic Church and the not-quite-all-the-way true status of other Christian ecclesial communities. The refusal of many Protestant sects to accept the notion of an interpretive teaching authority (an attitude which ultimately leads to greater division since individuals are prone to take the "my interpretation of the Bible is right and yours is wrong because the Holy Spirit told me this" approach-even though the Holy Spirit has apparently given 30,000 different messages-the rough number of Protestant denominations) is one reason. The refusal of nearly all Protestant communions to embrace and enforce Christ's teaching on the indissoluble nature of Holy Matrimony is the other big reason. The Catholic Church not only accepts that teaching, it embraces it and enforces it fully.

The Church recognizes that there may be a valid reason to obtain a civil divorce-but that doesn't necessarily give the civilly divorced person the right to remarry, because in God's eyes you remain married. I once knew a man who was a very observant Catholic whose wife had walked out on him many years prior. In order to protect his legal interests, he asked for and was granted a civil divorce, but he not only didn't remarry, he continued to wear his wedding ring. He also did not date, court, or otherwise pursue other women. It is also probably no coincidence that he received Holy Communion every day for as long as I knew him.

While many may see this kind of life as unrealistic, we need to remember that nothing is impossible with God. The Lord calls those of us who are married to a life of sacrificial love. The problem is that we oversexualize marriage like we oversexualize everything else in today's world. Men want the "hot" wife and women want Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome for a husband. The reality is that when you are married, you must learn to tolerate things that you otherwise wouldn't with any other person, and you must learn to love in a way that can be so deep that it can often hurt. Marriage is not easy, and I can now speak from experience-it is the most difficult thing I have ever done, yet I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Some may ask: "But David, aren't there people who have divorced and remarried in the Catholic Church?" These are people who the Church has determined never had a valid marriage to begin with-literally, the Church has declared that they were not married in the first place by Christian standards and hence are free to marry validly-a "shotgun wedding" or a "courthouse wedding" is usually declared invalid, for example, because of the lack appropriate clergy or the possibility of the parties acting under duress. However, it is nearly impossible for two people who are married in a Christian fashion in the eyes of God and in the presence of appropriate witnesses to have that marriage declared invalid-there have to be some extenuating circumstances.

The Church has upheld the truth about the indissoluability of marriage for 2,000 years. Indeed, people have died for the sake of upholding that truth. Should not all Christians be so bold as to uphold the teachings of Christ, who we claim to serve?

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