27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Thoughts on Marriage

October 3, 2021

“Of all the important places in life to find God and to walk with God, certainly, marriage life would be the place.”

So let us talk about marriage and divorce, in a very frank and honest way.  That is what Jesus begins to do today.

We know that all first marriages do not necessarily succeed.  We know that there is a stigma that many people have felt from our official church and from fellow Catholics when they divorce.  We know also that the Catholic Church grants annulments to former marriages.  We also know that couples do not seek an annulment sometimes because they think that it bastardizes their children, which it does not.

There was time 50 years ago that the Church encouraged Catholics to stay in marriages that were dead.  But, what can a spouse do with infidelity, violence, alcoholism, or with anything that indicates neither spouse is on the same page of life?  When a marriage is dead, the marriage is dead!  I am talking about a personal, emotional and relationship death.  It is more-than-apparent when a marriage is over, and it’s not healthy, sane, or wise to try to continue or to function in what is not possible.  (I believe the Church should treat the emotional death of marriage like a physical death.  It is over, so let the other person get on with life.)

Years ago, Catholics had to have permission from a priest to divorce.  My basic principle is that a Catholic should not have to keep hitting their head against a brick wall for the rest of their life.

How can a couple know if they are suitable partners?  How many couples ask the question that is the criterion that the Jewish scriptures, and Jesus asserts again in the Gospel, is the necessary condition set down by God in the Book of Genesis?

Does God really join the man and woman?  To be joined together, to become one flesh is a hope for a lifetime, and it is also a process that begins with vows and hopes.  It either grows or it fails.  Its success depends on maturity, mutual love, a desire to serve each other and a family, to include God in the relationship, to put a personal inter-relationship first before material goals and work.  God really wants the best for each couple, but it takes more than pulling a rabbit out of a bag to make it work.

Marriage is certainly more than living together, and sexually enjoying each other, and buying a home and filling it with furniture.  The goal as God sees it is to become one flesh!  Is that possible?

That is the vision that God intended.  How well the vision is understood, pursued, talked about, worked on is another question.  The practicalities of marriage and the rearing and educating of children, the having to make a living, unrealistic expectations of life styles– all these things place pressures and often break the marriage.

In the argument that Jesus was having today with the Pharisees who were trying to justify many kinds of reasons for divorce, Jesus was asking them to look at their hardened hearts and to see if they were the ones causing the divorces.

Jesus was encouraging young couples to ask God to join their hearts together.  So, I would ask all married couples here today to ask themselves whether they have any sense that God is joining you together or trying to inspire them to be working together?  Where is the spirituality or is there nothing more than to keeping up with the tasks of life?

There are a number of insights that Jesus is trying to share and to enlighten us about.  One insight is a reverse of what we think.  Marriage is a gift to us from God and God knows how it is supposed to work.  When couples are “falling in love” with each other, do they have any sense that God is drawing them together or is it just their hormones?

Another insight and correction that Jesus was inaugurating was for parents of his day to stop choosing a mate for their children or bringing families together by marriage of children that brought an economic advantage to the families’ joining each other.  Young couples had no say in when they were to marry in Jesus’ day.

That is why Jesus enunciates once again the plan always intended that the purpose of marriage was that “the two become one flesh.”

That is still the purpose of a marriage and a divorce recognizes what was supposed to be has not happened.  Perhaps it could never have happened and went downhill from the beginning.

For centuries throughout history, there have been arranged marriages, arranged for economic benefit.  For centuries, couples got into marriage and stayed in them even though they were unhealthy and miserable and demeaning.  I do not believe that God ever wanted people to suffer through such situations.  Nor does God want that today.

Today, there are marriage preparation retreats, the Marriage Encounter retreats, Retrouvaille for failing marriages that help sustain, and revive or work through failing marriage.  There is absolutely no magic fix for marriages that never meant to be.

In the end, they are no longer two but one flesh or they are not.

Referring to Jesus, the author of the letter to the Hebrews, our second reading talks about Jesus as “He who consecrates and all those who are being consecrated all have one origin,” and he calls us “brothers.”

I believe that many who have been reared in the Catholic tradition have no idea of what it means to be consecrated to Jesus and he to us.  Many people just see marriage as a social habit, and if it works, well, okay, and if not, there is always divorce, and another opportunity for marriage.

As last week, so again this week: Jesus invites us to accept the kingdom of God like a child.  To enter that frame of mind that desires to know God and his plan for our life and to let God accompany us in our living life — especially in a marriage relationship.  Of all the important places in life to find God and to walk with God, certainly, marriage life would be the place.

A last comment on Jesus’ use of the word adultery.  It is a Latin word that means to defile a sacred promise.  We all know the suffering that unhealthy marriages and divorce can cause to children involved.  Divorce and infidelity create a mess for everyone involved.  Many times, it is just better and more healthy to just start over, but to know what you are starting.

Certainly, the time of Jesus is different from our own.  Younger couples now live together before marriage and the Church is adjusting to that reality– a kind of growing into marriage.  My approach is – do you condemn or do you work with the change?

Today’s scriptures have opened up a serious life topic. If anyone might wish to discuss any of this and it is affecting your life, I would be happy to help.

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