Those people who take the time to read the daily readings may know that in the daily Gospels in recent weeks we have heard quite a few things from Jesus, either in the form of Parables or in the form of direct words, that we might call “hard sayings,” or those things which are a part of our faith which are, and always have been, totally contrary to the ways of the unbelieving world. Jesus gets to the very meaning of the creation of humanity and the human family in the Gospel today, and declared that from the beginning God made mankind male and female, and that Marriage-Holy Matrimony-is between one man and one woman for the rest of their natural life.
Holy Mother Church teaches us that it was Our Lord who raised Matrimony to the dignity of a Sacrament-an outward and visible sign instituted by Christ to confer Grace on those who receive it. In restoring the dignity of Marriage to the state that God intended for it at creation, Jesus recognizes the human dignity of both man and woman. After all, under the Mosaic law, once a man divorced a woman, she was on her own and usually left with nothing, often with no means of self-support. Jesus says that both parties can’t do that to one another, that entry into lawful marriage means permanence in this life for both parties, for the mutual good and protection of both spouses. That is a standard that runs utterly contrary to modern American society, which largely views marriage as a mere contract, and the vows we make as mere words.
A couple of weekends ago I was listening to the Tennessee football game on the radio, and I happened to hear a very interesting commercial. It was for a prominent Knoxville law firm, and it was advertising representation in divorce cases, specifically for men. It began with the words “after being married for years, your wife has decided that she wants out, now she could take your house, your car, your pension, even your kids, everything you’ve worked for.” The first thing that came to my mind was the reality that if it is simply about my possessions and my earnings, and my pension, and my children, then what we are talking about isn’t being Christ for one another in self-sacrificial love, but a relationship of “what’s in it for me.” I could not help but thinking “so that’s the only reason you work hard to have earnings, and a home, and a car, a pension, and children… you have all of that for yourself?” No wonder so many marriages in this country are in such dire straits, and so many young people would rather live in a state of sin (whether they understand that or not) than to marry the person they claim to love.
The Catholic divorce rate is far too high, but Catholics still boast the lowest recorded rate of divorce of any active religious group (around 28%). I would humbly propose that the sacramental understanding of the Church plays a major role in why that is. As Catholics, we understand that Matrimony is a Sacrament, and if you learned your Catechism well enough you know that the Church teaches that the Sacraments are the ordinary means that God uses to confer Grace upon humanity. Jesus, through His Church, is calling us to something more than a relationship based upon what each party can get out of it for themselves.
Holy Matrimony is so important in the Divine Plan of Salvation that both St. Paul and St. John describe the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church in marital or nuptial terms. The Church is the Bride who is awaiting the return of the Bridegroom, who will one day return to take her to the Father’s house. St. Paul tells us that marriage is a living example to the world of the relationship between Christ and his Church, and the Douay New Testament renders that passage from Ephesians as Paul telling the people of God “this is a great Sacrament, but I speak concerning Christ and His Church.” (cf. Ephesians 5:25-32 DR)
The Church teaches us that there are seven Sacraments, but there are three different kinds of Sacraments. The Sacraments of initiation-Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist-are all tied together in a special way because these three sacraments initiate people into the Christian Life and the mystery of Salvation itself, of which the Eucharist is the Source and Summit. There are two sacraments of healing, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which restores us to a State of Grace in Christ when we have sinned, and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which brings us Graces to bear our sufferings when we are sick or dying, and sometimes may even bring us physical healing from the Lord. The remaining two sacraments are the Sacraments of Service, and like the others they are tied together-Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders.
There seem to be many in today’s world, and certainly within our country, who believe that the standard put forth by Jesus Christ in the Gospel today is too harsh and uncaring. Even some theologians, not a few of whom claim to be Catholic (and prominent Catholics in many cases) have said let the words of Jesus in The Gospel of Mark which we have heard a few minutes ago are an ideal, and one that is impossible to live out in our society today. Apparently some of these people seem to think that Almighty God it’s so cruel that he would give us the moral law for our own good and benefit, but then that he would make that law impossible to carry out. That kind of a God would not be the loving and merciful God that some of these same theologians claim to represent. God loves His children more than that, and it isn’t Him that is making it impossible in today’s society to properly live out married life, collectively it is our society.
Because Christ’s relationship to the Church is one of the Bridegroom to his Bride, the model that he gives Humanity under which to live is that nuptial model. Just as the children of God are spiritually nurtured and mature within the Church, the Family of God, so God designed humanity to be nurtured within the family, an institution that is to be reflective of God’s very relationship with Humanity. The family is not a human institution to be defined as we see fit, as something that is fatherless or motherless by choice, rather than unfortunate circumstance, or as something that involves what St. Paul charitably referred to as “that which is against nature.” (cf. Romans 1:26-28 DR) Rather, the family is an institution that was put in place from the creation of the world by Almighty God, wherein a man and a woman join together and become one flesh and raise children. As Jesus shows us in the gospel by blessing children after he preaches this difficult Passage, just as God’s children are nurtured within His family, our children are to be nurtured within the family, an institution that God created for our benefit, and which no man has the authority to redefine.