March 14, 2021 - Pastor Message05/18/2021
THE YEAR OF ST. JOSEPH CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY (cont.)
“The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He said to them in reply, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’ But Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses 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’” (Mark 10:29).
In the above reading, Jesus reaffirms and sanctifies what we refer to as the essential qualities or characteristics of marriage: exclusivity and permanence. While marriage has been understood differently in different cultures and different times throughout history, every society has recognized that men and women are meant to enter into a special relationship that in the English language we call marriage. In time, and by the light of God’s revelation, we in the Judeo-Christian tradition have come to recognize that the special relationship we call marriage is meant to be between only one man and only one woman, which is what we mean by exclusivity. Each person gives him or herself completely over to the other to form one new life, one new “flesh”, one new family, together. That leaves nothing on the side for other romantic or sexual relationships, something most people today still recognize.
In time, by the light of God’s revelation, we have also come to understand the special relationship of marriage to be permanent. It is meant to endure for life, “until death do us part”, and only the death of one of the spouses can end it. Many societies, including the United States, have largely lost a sense of the permanence of marriage, with widespread divorce, but that is contrary to God’s plan, as Jesus again teaches and affirms. Marriage is not meant to be until one or both parties decide it’s over; that’s called dating or courtship, which has gone out of style in the age of the “hookup” culture, the rush to sexual activity in relationships, and the widespread practice of cohabitation before and increasingly in place of marriage. The special relationship of marriage calls the couple to more, to a lifelong commitment to each other and to God that can only be dissolved by death.
I don’t say this to make anyone feel bad or guilty about their own relationships. In the Tribunal Office, I work with people every day who have gone through the pain of divorce, and I have no desire to pile more pain on top of that and neither does Jesus, who teaches us about marriage’s exclusivity and permanence. But the path to healing for divorced persons and to stronger and healthier marriages for others does not lead through the denial of the truth. I’ll talk more about the difficult situation of divorced persons in a future column, but please know my affirmation of Jesus’ teaching of the exclusivity and permanence of marriage in no way is meant as an affront to our fellow parishioners who are divorced or even divorced and remarried. Please stay tuned to learn of ways the Church wants to help you move forward with your lives if you are in that situation, and please don’t hesitate to call me for any help you may need.
Given the prevalence of divorce today, we may think the exclusivity and permanence of marriage are impossible to live out. I would contend, in the Year of St. Joseph, we can look to Joseph and his wife, Mary, as examples of both exclusivity and permanence. All the evidence we have points to the fact that Joseph and Mary were faithful to each other for life. We believe by faith that Mary was ever virgin, and we believe by extension that Joseph himself also observed perpetual sexual abstinence as Mary’s spouse as they each committed themselves fully to their divine mission of raising the Son of God by supporting one another. One strand of Christian thought speculates that Joseph may have had a prior spouse, thus explaining how Jesus had brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3), but the gospels do not say this, and there are several reasons to question it. Regardless, we have no evidence that Joseph had multiple wives or lovers and much evidence to the contrary that he was fully committed throughout his life to Mary and Jesus, the strongest being at the very beginning when he intended to divorce Mary, who was pregnant before they lived together, but changed his mind because of the message of the angel, and the numerous times God called Joseph to change the whole course of his life for Mary and Jesus, all of which he did faithfully without complaint. Joseph is the epitome of a faithful husband and father, despite the unique situation of the Holy Family, and all families, traditional or otherwise, can learn much from Joseph’s total, lifelong commitment to his spouse and family.
Fr. Marc Stockton