Twenty Seventh Sunday October 4, 2009

Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

Christianity is related to the world of persons. It is the religion of the Incarnation. Christ, the Word made flesh, stands at the centre of our Christian faith andantes peoples and families.  For the Church is more than an earthly society, more than a mere product of history; It is an extension of this same Incarnation. For us, the life in the Spirit can never be disembodied. Redeemed believers are to live in newness of life, in a world of persons. We are called to be in the world, though not of it. Thy will be done on earth” is the prayer characteristic of all true Christians. The Church as the body of Christ must always identify herself with the whole of humanity.  Jesus said that the world would know that we were His disciples by the love that we have for one another.  St Paul says that love is the perfect bond of unity. The New Testament speaks about us being unified in Christ .  Paul says that Christ is not divided and Jesus is the one who unites us all. Hence Jesus says where two or three gather in his name he is present there among them.

What unites us today is primarily  the saving work of Christ.  Secondly, it is the essential doctrines that define our faith. We have, as a common heritage, the blood of Christ that has been shed for the forgiveness of our sins.  All Christians serve the true and living God and in our service we know Jesus in a personal and intimate way.  We have been redeemed by God himself.  Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble. Between the baptized, “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.” The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery.

Divorce was permitted by Jewish law and it could be had simply by a husband delivering a certificate declaring his intention to divorce his wife, giving freedom to both to remarry.  Among Catholics, one of the most sensitive and often-avoided topics is the stinging reality of divorce and its consequences. While there must be a pastoral response to assist those parties who seek counseling when their failed marriage ends in divorce, one must never compromise the truth of Christ’s teachings for the sake of the pastoral response. The words and teachings of Jesus Christ on divorce are clear, and it is the responsibility of the Church and its pastors to safeguard, proclaim, and defend them. We therefore, turn our attention to the words of Christ Himself recorded in the Gospel of Matthew when the Pharisees ask him the question: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He tells them that He who made them from the beginning 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”.  So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ This is how Jesus speaks of the unity in the family as it is the creative plan of God and no one can break this plan of his.

Jesus then was equally strong in his teaching on divorce. He tells the Pharisees that whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery. These strong words of Jesus sound like a great judgment upon a civilization such as ours, where there is one divorce for every two marriages and many consequent re-marriages after such divorces. It is extremely important that the strength of the family unity is maintained. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen says that divorces  go against everything, the purpose for which man and woman were created to be.  He adds saying the Natural Law of God is for everyone, and the Original Sin and the Deluge did not block out the divinely established order of man and woman.

Our Christian doctrine tells us that because marriage is a union made by God, it is unbreakable. The Church teaches that the man and woman, who commit the rest of their lives to each other, truly become one. This is the way God intended marriage, and it is important to remember that marriage was instituted by God, not by man. When reflecting on divorce, you must ask yourself whose rules you are playing by when you agree to marry.   One of the great tragedies in our modern culture is that the family is under attack from all sides. Countless movies, television shows and song lyrics depict single-parent families or do not include the parents at all. Commitment is replaced by a distorted notion of love. After all, they say, you only live once and you deserve to be happy. Despite the reason for any divorce, the impact is almost always traumatic on all parties involved, especially children.

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other until death. Sacramental marriage is the sign of the covenant of salvation, to which divorce does incredible injury. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery. The Gospel today sees marriage not being lived in isolation but in the context of a loving and supportive community. The sacrament of marriage, usually takes place among relatives and friends. They not only are there to witness the marriage, to respect a now exclusive relationship but also to help foster it, protect it, nurture it. Unfortunately that does not always happen.

Today’s Gospel, quoting from the Creation story in Genesis, says that a married couple are no longer two persons but “one body”. To develop that kind of two-becomes-one relationship requires a lot of work. It also require a lot of guidance from experienced people… other married couples and counselors. Probably a major cause of breakdown today is that so many so-called ‘nuclear’ families live without any real outside support from the wider family or community. When things get rough, there can be a terrible loneliness with no one to turn to. In our Christian parish communities we could do a lot to be sensitive to strains in families we know and see that such families do have sympathetic and understanding people to turn to.

In the beginning, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. So the Lord took one of the ribs of Adam and he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.”  In marriage, the man and the woman become one. They belong to each other. The union between a man and a woman in the Sacrament of Marriage is compared to the union between Christ and the Church.  

In today’s Second Reading, we heard that the Lord Jesus was made lower than the angels so He may be crowned with glory and honour.  He also suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Christ died for us! He suffered for us! He did all this to bring us to glory, so we may obtain our salvation through Him. In Christ, we are sanctified by the grace of the heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. Our sanctification unites us with our Sanctifier, the Lord Jesus. Our sanctification entitles us to be called brothers and sisters of Christ.  But this is only possible if we live by the Law, the Divine Law of love and holiness so the grace of God may continuously shine on us as we persevere in our pilgrimage on earth towards the eternal Kingdom that awaits those who will qualify to be adopted as the children of God.

Jesus stresses the importance of marriage because in marriage, man and woman become one. They belong to each other. The union between a man and a woman in the Sacrament of Marriage is compared to the union between Christ and the Church.  “Husbands must love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of the body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Today Jesus presents man and woman as having equal rights. He also presents marriage as essentially a permanent relationship: “The two shall become one body… What God has united, man must not divide.” This implies total unity, equality and a permanent mutuality of giving.

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