Jesus addresses the challenge of divorce in today’s Gospel as some Pharisees approach him about the issue. Jesus acknowledges the stance of Moses in that he did allow for “the husband to write a bill of divorce” because the people were not able to live up to the prescriptions of the Torah. Jesus then sites Genesis, stating that, “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 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. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mk 10:6-9).
Jesus, in quoting from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, reaffirmed God’s intent, that marriage is to be a union that is to be indissoluble. The reason for this is that God intended marriage to be a covenant, not a contract. Contracts can be signed or broken. Covenants are sacred bonds for life. Marriage is also a natural ordering that mirrors on earth the reality of God who is a communion of Three Persons in heaven. Jesus building on this natural order bestowed his grace upon marriage thus elevating it to a sacrament in which there is a sacred bond between the husband, the wife and Jesus himself: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” is interpreted by the Church to mean that a valid, sacramental marriage cannot be undone.
The unfortunate reality is that many who marry within the Church have not been sufficiently catechized to understand the reality of the sacrament of marriage, and Pope Francis acknowledged this in June of 2016 when he stated that, “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null”. The Pope referred to those who have entered into and have celebrated the Sacrament of Matrimony did so invalidly, meaning that the marriage certainly did happen, but it has not been elevated to the sacramental bond of a covenant.
Pope Francis recognized two things with this statement, that those who seek to marry in the Church do so with a good intent, but are grounded in a culture that is more provisional than seeking permanence. We are losing our sense of indissolubility. We live in a culture in which the acquisition of material goods that are produced and purchased are done so with the understanding that our economy has been built to thrive, not on what will last, but that which will be quickly replaced through innovation, updates, and newer models. Our consumer culture is being translated to the person and to our relationships with horrific consequences.
Jesus has set the bar and ideal for marriage high for the reason that marriage and the family is the closest mirroring on earth to the divine communion in heaven of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The infinite outpouring of love, of sacrifice and willing the good of the other, is the foundation for any relationship, but even more so for marriage. For this union is meant to be open to a third, the child. For the family to be stable, they must be present to one another, to sacrifice, to give of themselves to each other, and to encourage and support one another on their mutual path to heaven.
Sadly, there are those who enter marriage with good intentions, but not fully aware of what they are getting into, not fully aware of the truth of love being more of a sacrifice and less of a feeling, and not fully comprehending that marriage is not a trial process but a sacred bond. In addition there are many factors that work against the couple such as, the relationship meets a crossroad, a better model comes along, there is a lack of the proper social and conflict resolution skills, the realization of a false premise unknown before the marriage surfaces, domestic abuse, self centeredness of one or both, and then the choice for separation, and regrettably a dissolution.
From this choice, whether made by one or both, there is deep pain, trauma and wounds that need to be healed. Jesus does not seek disunity but unity. He does not lessen the bar as did Moses, but is present to those affected by the wounds of the separation and dissolution of the union. He is and calls us to be willing to accompany our brothers and sisters who are in need of healing from the trauma of the ending of a relationship for those involved.
Marriage is a wonderful gift, and as with anything that is going to last, those seeking to be married need to be prepared and committed to one another. Certainly, no one can prepare for everything, nor can we foresee the unannounced surprises that life can bring, but there must be at the beginning a willingness to commit to putting in the effort, the sacrifice, the support, and the love, not the lust for each other. There needs to be an openness to the possibility of children, a genuine caring and commitment to willing each other’s good through the ups and downs of life’s journey together, for better and for worse, as well as a willingness to seek Jesus for help when life gets bumpy.
I would also like to offer six suggestions from Pope Francis regarding marriage advice: the first is to end every day with forgiveness, the second is to ask permission, the third is to show gratitude, the forth is to help your spouse reach his or her highest potential, the fifth is to keep alive the romance, and the sixth is to refuse to give up so easily.
Please, please, please, remember that we are not commodities, we are created in the image and likeness of God. We are not to use one another for our own gain or just as a means of pleasure. Each of us are sacred, human beings endowed with dignity, value, and worth. We are loved more than we can ever imagine by God and we are to mirror that same love on earth as it is in heaven.