Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is not uncommon for me to receive calls about troubled domestic life. Sometimes these calls are about children, but most of the time, it is about a troubled marriage. I am not a professional counselor, hence, most of the time, after initial conversation, and some spiritual guidance, I point them out in the right direction for help. On the other hand, for every couple that encounters marital discontent, I know another family that is blissfully happy. I am sure you too know families that both have marital discontent and those that are content. In reality, there are no perfect families and there are no perfect marriages. Most of the time bliss is experienced amidst imperfections, and imperfections amidst bliss. What shall we say about families, since, the liturgy compels us to reflect on marriage and divorce?
In three points, allow me to reflect on today’s scriptures:
1. God and the Creation Story. More than anything else, today’s first reading and gospel reading tell us something about God. In the very moving story of creation we come to know about God’s very personal knowledge and care of the first man and woman. Because man was created in God’s own image and likeness, God knew the desires of the human heart. The care and concern with which God created the woman out of the man, the gentle breath, the creation of the most suitable and perfect companion, tell us about a God who is personable, caring, loving, and good. However, the story also tells us much about human persons. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are made to mirror the caring, respectful, loving, gentle, of God. No matter what the nature of our relationship, we are created to imitate the God who cares. When we do not do so, we deny God in whose image we are created. Hate, infidelity, disrespect, abuse, unforgiveness – these are contrary to the Creator who created us, to our marriages and families.
2. Respect and Fidelity. It is in the context of a caring and faithful God that we reflect on marriage and family in today’s gospel reading. In the Catholic context particularly, the sacramentality of marriage means, that in their marital relationship, couples reflect the same love, fidelity, respect and honor that Christ shows toward us. This is why when the Pharisees insisted on the legality of divorce according to the Mosaic Law, Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation….” Jesus stresses that, in reality, the marital covenant is meant to reflect God’s love for God’s people. This precisely is the reason that the Catholic Church does not consider divorce as a theological possibility – because if we say that divorce is a possibility, then we also say that God can divorce God’s people.
3. Divorce and Annulment. Having said all this, for many couples, reality turn out to be different than God originally intended or they themselves imagined. Marriages and relationships break up over infidelity, disrespect, abuse, addictions, financial stress, mental health issues or sometimes, simply out our boredom. Strangely, the possibility of divorce in the Old Testament was not meant to be a power tool in a patriarchal and sometimes a polygamous society. Some men did abuse the law, but that’s a different issue. In reality, it was meant to give people, especially women, the possibility of moving on after a failed marriage. This is the case with the Catholic understanding of annulments as well. Since theologically it is not possible to accommodate divorce in Catholic marriage, annulments become a way for couples to move on in life after a divorce. Both divorces and annulments are imperfect realities. Nobody wishes them on themselves or anyone else.
I want to save a word for those of us who are single either by choice or not. If there is anybody who is hurting here today, please know, that God holds you very close to God’s heart. Because God cares for you in the same way God cared for the first human persons.
May Christ who comes to us and our homes in this Eucharist, help us to make homes and families that reflect the care and the love of God.
- Fr Satish Joseph