Gospel for October 4th, 2015: “Marriage and Divorce” and “Blessing of the Children”
Mark 10: 2-16
He set out from there and went into the district of Judea [and] across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom, he again taught them. The Pharisees approached 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 permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote out 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 him 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.”
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
In this gospel Jesus teaches clearly that divorce is hateful to God. In a culture such as ours where divorce is so common, this is a hard pill to swallow. Like so many, I have family members and friends who have gone through divorces and for whom this is a deeply emotional issue. Furthermore, some of them have left the Catholic Church with hard feelings when confronted with the Church’s strong position against dissolving a Catholic marriage even when there appears to be good reasons to do so. In my own Catholic journey, I don’t feel comfortable at this point to write extensively or persuasively on this difficult issue. Rather than attempt to either defend or criticize the Church’s position, I prefer to repeat advice I have heard before that I think makes a lot of sense when grappling with a challenging Church position: Research carefully and try to understand the Church’s position first. I think this allows one to hold in check an emotional reaction that closes one’s heart to guidance of the Holy Spirit. In that same spirit of objectivity and openness, I would like to make three fairly rational observations about this passage.
First, the Church’s position on this issue seems to proceed logically from Jesus’s teaching in scriptures. Given that, it is hard to imagine the Church taking any other position in good faith. The Church’s position is, therefore, not uncompassionate any more than is Jesus’s position, which our faith tells us is marked by perfect love for us.
Second, for those of us who are married, the reminder that marriage joins husband and wife so that “two shall become one flesh” speaks to the need for spouses to communicate and compromise. Consider this analogy: For the sake of mental health, no person can tolerate widely disparate conflicts of beliefs or values psychologically for long without trying to resolve them in some way. Otherwise, crippling mental health issues will likely follow. Likewise in marriage then, it stands to reason that if husband and wife are one, they too must also deal with such divisive conflicts between them for the sake of their marital health. Following this advice is both a practical and spiritual necessity.
Last, the inclusion of the “Blessing of the Children” part, the second paragraph in this passage, suggests an interrelated-ness between the vocation of marriage and the vocation of parenthood. Married couples with children must strive for oneness in their calling to raise their children as sons and daughters of Christ. It is easy for one parent to fall into the trap of leaving the spiritual growth of their children to the other spouse, while seeing their role only in terms of their support for financial and physical needs. The vocation of parenthood calls us to guide our children in their faith in partnership with our spouse as well.
As I read back over my three observations, I am struck by how challenging the vocations of both marriage and parenthood are. Often I fail to communicate with both my spouse and my children on spiritual matters. It is just easier to give priority to material concerns and avoid bringing up new issues that may invite conflict. However, giving up is simply not the answer. Like all challenges in my life, I can only ask for Christ’s perfect forgiveness for my failings and His guidance and strength to confront these challenges according to His will.