Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
February 24, 2014
James 5:9-12, Ps 103, Mk 10:1-12
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel Jesus speaks about the meaning of marriage, but in so doing he describes not just what marriage is God’s plans but opens a window into who God is, who the human person is, and how he’s called to love.
- When the Pharisees come to Jesus to try to trip him up with a question about whether it is licit for a man to divorce his wife, Jesus said that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of hearts, but that divorce and remarriage is not part of God’s plans. Jesus begins at the beginning, with the creation of the human person: “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.””God created man male and female,” as we read in the Book of Genesis; “in the image of God he made them.” That’s why Blessed John Paul II in his beautiful catechizes on Human Love in the Divine Plan (popularly called the Theology of the Body) said that the greatest expression of the imago Dei is the family: God is a unitary Deity but a loving communion of persons and therefore, the image of God is more than just man’s rational nature, but his capacity to live in a communion of love. And the greatest human example of that loving communion of persons is marriage, where analogously to the way that the Father’s and Son’s love spirated the Holy Spirit the love of a man and a woman can beget a child, who is a fruit of their love and a source for that love to grow. That’s what marriage was in the beginning, the primordial sacrament, the external sign in the visible world pointing to the interpersonal communion who is God. All of nature, from the beginning, is communal, and the human person was created with a nuptial nature meant to bring him into communion with others and with God.
- When Jesus came he sought to elevate marriage from this primordial sacrament to one of the seven sacraments, a sign and means of intimate communion with God. It was meant to point to, and be inserted within, the nuptial dimension of the Covenant God makes with us his people. After quoting the words Jesus cited in today’s Gospel from the Book of Genesis, that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh, St. Paul says, “This is a great mystery and I’m speaking of Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). Human marriage now is meant to be a sacrament not just of God’s interpersonal loving communion but also a Sacrament pointing to the spousal convent God makes with his redeemed people. Since Christ’s love for the Church is faithful, indissoluble and fruitful, human marriage is meant to be the same. If someone wants to get a glimpse of Christ’s love for us, we should be able to point to the way a Catholic husband loves his wife, laying down his life to make her and their children holy. If someone wants to see how the Church is supposed to respond in love to the love of God, we should be able to indicate a Christian wife’s fidelity to her husband.
- Because marriage is connected to the reality of the inner life of God and the whole structure of the redemption, we can now see very easily why the devil who wants to destroy God’s plans would attack the family. He attacked the first family of Adam and Eve, getting them to distrust God, turn on and blame each other, cover their vulnerable parts from each other lest the other take advantage of them or they should their lust in return, and ultimately, in the next generation, to kill each other. The devil always attacks the family because of its centrality in God’s plans.
- One of the ways he seeks to attack the family is through the hardening of hearts that can lead couples to divorce. If no man can rend asunder what God has joined then that means that no amount of Family Court judges can divide but God has united, and that even the husband or the wife don’t have the power to nullify the interpersonal communion God has brought about. And yet so many do and every divorce is a tragedy, a contradiction of the communion and covenant God had intended. It only takes one to bring about this rupture of communion. In Biblical times, all it took was for a man to write a decree of divorce and give it to his wife. It didn’t have to be for anything serious at all. Many women, no doubt, were victimized by this. But in our own day, especially in places where there’s no fault divorce, any party can do so. Sometimes it can happen because of the hardness of heart that flows from the adultery of the heart we call lust. Sometimes it can happen because of the hardness of heart that flows from lack of forgiveness. But divorce is not part of God’s plan. In fact there is no divorce in God’s plans. If he’s actually joined a man and a woman — if they freely gave valid consent with openness to life, with a desire to love and honor each other with fidelity, conscious of what marriage is — then divorce is just a piece of paper. That’s why Jesus says at the end of this passage, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another [in order to survive, because in Jewish culture a woman was taken care of by a man (a husband, a father, a son, an older brother)], she commits adultery.” Even if there’s been a divorce civilly for whatever reason, there’s still a marriage joined by God and people need to remain faithful to it. In many cases it’s hard, even heroic, but it’s key for us to remember Jesus has been heroic in his fidelity to us, no matter how many times we’ve been unfaithful to him, and he promises us the grace of his presence to help us through those difficult times. But we need to believe in him and in his words even when they’re challenging.
- This is one of the reasons why the subject of divorced-and-remarried Catholics is so vexing. Sometimes spouses have been abandoned with several kids and felt that the best thing for the kids was to remarry without even seeing whether their first marriage was valid in a Church tribunal. We absolutely don’t judge their souls, but, out of compassion for them and for others, we need to be clear about Jesus’ words with regard to divorce-and-remarriage. Presuming that the couple isn’t living as brother and sister, we need to say, in fidelity to Jesus, that they are in a state of adultery as long as their first, validly married spouse is alive.
- In the media during the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of buzz with regard to the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family that Pope Francis has convened for this Fall and whether the Church will change her discipline with regard to admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. The Church very much desires to accompany people in this circumstance, to help heal their wounds, to help them grow in love for God and others and progress in the saving way of truth. One cardinal has recently tried to chart out a path for them to be able to receive Holy Communion, proposing that if they undergo a period of penance and receive forgiveness for however they contributed to the failure of their “first” marriage, they could be readmitted. But the problem is not the “first” marriage. The problem is the “second” marriage. They may have not done anything at all to lead to the failure of the first marriage; they may be totally a victim. But they have made a choice with regard to the “second” marriage, which according to Jesus’ words, is a situation of adultery. The question about readmitting divorced-and-remarriage Catholics to Holy Communion is the question about whether we should be admit adulterers to Holy Communion, those who are persevering in the state of adultery. If we believe that adultery is a sin — and we do because God clearly teaches that it is — then to admit divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Holy Communion would be a failure for us to live the truth with regard to the proper dispositions necessary to receive God’s forgiveness (which involves a firm purpose to eliminate the causes and near occasions of sin), the proper dispositions necessary to receive Holy Communion (which requires moral certainty that we’re in the state of grace, a state of holy Communion with God), and the reality of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage in God’s plans. Some say that those who are divorced-and-remarried really need the power of Christ received in Holy Communion, and that’s doubtless true, because we all need that grace, but to give Holy Communion to someone who is not going to address the issue of adultery would be analogous to giving chemotherapy to a lung cancer patient in one arm while the person has a lit cigarette in the other. We need to address the underlying issue of the spiritual cancer.
- So that’s why I can’t believe that the Church is ever going to change her teaching and discipline here with being unfaithful to God. There may be ways — and we want to find them! — to help couples in this circumstance by helping them to obtain declarations of nullity or at least to remain faithful to the Lord in prayer and charity when they can’t obtain them, but we can’t minimize or avoid the objective state of adultery in which they’re living, because not only would we not be loving to the Lord, but we would not be loving to them, since adultery is a serious sin, which unrepented and unforgiven, could lead someone to eternal separation from God. We would be guilty of spiritual malpractice just as much as an oncologist would be guilty of medical malpractice if he didn’t really seek to help his patient give up the cigarettes that are causing the cancer.
- How do we build marriages that don’t end up in divorce? St. James in today’s first reading gives us some very important principles, basing himself once again on what Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. These are principles that apply to all our relations, but they’re important, too, with regard to marriage.
- “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another.” Marriages start to go south once the spouses begin to complain rather than compliment each other. It’s one of the reasons why the Church has spouses commit to “love and honor each other as husband and wife for the rest of your lives.” To honor each other each day for the rest of one’s life means, basically, to praise and revere each other, to say, “You did this. You didn’t have to. And I’m grateful.” Many times in marriage people can lose that reverence, that daily gratitude. They can start focusing on the 10% in each other that irritates them more than the 90% they love. Rather than thanking a wife for spending 90 minutes preparing dinner, the husband can complain that the asparagus is too soggy. Rather than thanking her husband for taking overtime to provide for the family, the wife can nag him repeatedly, “When are you finally going to take out the trash?” Couples need to praise more than criticize.
- The second tip St. James gives is to stop judging each other’s motives. Basing himself on Jesus’ injunction in the Sermon on the Mount “Don’t judge lest you be judged,” St. James tells them to remember that “The Judge is standing before the gates” and not to judge so that “you may not be judged.” If we’re going to judge others at all, we should choose to judge them favorably rather than negatively, to give them the benefit of the doubt rather than treat them with a hermeneutic of suspicion.
- The third tip is to persevere. St. James said, “Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered” and then invoked the famous perseverance of Job. Marriage is hard. It requires patience. Just like a prophet is least accepted in his native place, so often husbands and wives are least appreciated in their home. That’s why St. James reminds us to follow the sacrifice and patience of the prophets. There will be rough times, just like there were for the prophets, but in the end things turned out forever well. Marriage is a sanctifying institution, a bridge to heaven, and sometimes the way its seeks to make us saints is through persevering forgiveness.
- The last tip is about reiterating one’s consent. Repeating Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, St. James says, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.'” For married couples, this means not only that they should be truthful to teach other, but that they continue to reiterate their “Yes,” their “I do!,” to each other each of the days of their marriage. They said “yes” when they pledged to love each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and prosperity, all the days of their life. It’s obviously a huge challenge when they enter a time they’d consider “bad” or “worse” to remember and reiterate one’s commitment. But that’s precisely what Jesus always does to us, renewing his commitment to us every time we fall. He’ll give us the strength we need to love each other as he has loved us by being as merciful with each other as he is with us.
- The place where we get that strength is here at Mass. The Mass is the consummation of the spousal union between Christ and his Bride the Church, when we, the Bride, take within ourselves the body and blood or the Bridegroom and become one flesh with him. What God has joined, and he has joined us with his Son through the Sacraments, no one can separate. The more we come here faithfully to love the Lord and receive his merciful love, the more we can share that with each other, so that our love for each other can be an echo of Christ’s love for us and we can say to our spouses and others, “This is my body, this is my blood, given out of love for you!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
that you may not be judged.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.
You have heard of the perseverance of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear,
either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath,
but let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,”
that you may not incur condemnation.
PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 11-12
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom,
he again taught them.
The Pharisees approached him and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
“Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her.”
But Jesus told them,
“Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
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.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.”
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery.”