The scriptures give us the heart of what Christian marriage is meant to be for Catholics. Genesis, the first book in the bible begins the lesson.
For this reason, love and companionship, a man leaves father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.
In the Gospel of Mark (10:2-16), Jesus speaks against divorce and underscores God’s intention for this Holy Sacrament. He quotes Genesis, and, in the telling, lets us know that God’s plan for Christian marriage is not new, but very old. So Jesus repeats the teaching when He says “But 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. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
The interesting phrase in Genesis and in the words of Jesus Himself in the Gospel of Mark are the words “for this reason”. What is the ‘reason’ for this Sacrament? When I was ordained 47 years ago, every Catholic Church, indeed every Christian Church would have expressed the same two reasons in God’s plan for marriage. The first was a couples right, a man and a woman, to give each other mutual love and affection. The second was the ability of that same couple to join with God’s plan in the procreation of children. That was not the current theology of the day. That was the consistent teaching of the Church from the time of Jesus Himself going back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In our society, and for some years, marriage has become a battered institution. Politicians, courts, and even some churches have made a concerted effort to redefine marriage and family life. When confronted with these scriptures, I really do not understand how that can happen. The fact is that marriage and family life should be reinforced in our society, not redefined.
Just as Jesus confronted divorce in the same Gospel of Mark we should do so as well. As I see it, divorce is prevalent because individuals do not take enough time in choosing a partner for life. Hasidic Jews have always taught that if a man or woman is meant to be married, then God has a person chosen for that man or that woman who is destined from birth to be a partner for life. When I meet with engaged couples, I often ask each one of them if he or she believes that the person they are about to marry is their destiny. The real question I want them to confront is whether or not they believe that God Himself has brought them together. If they truly believe that God is in the center of their love, then I believe they will be together in a loving relationship for the rest of their lives.
That does not mean that a loving couple will not have challenges in their marriage. Life teaches us that marital intimacy is a terrible risk. In the same way, love showered on children is a terrible risk. For such intimacy and love to be successful, one must be so vulnerable that one risks the breaking of one’s heart.
The promise of the Gospel today is that even if that happens, even if one’s heart is broken by a partner or a child, God will always be present to the individual who tries. The promise is that will help put the pieces back together when things do not work out.
We pray today that marriage as an institution will become in our future what God has always intended it to be, an intimate relationship between husband and wife, parents and children, family and God.
We have the power. The question is ‘Do we have the will?’
May God give us the Grace.