Marriage is both a complex and very sensitive theme to preach on; more so when we have to deal with the thorny topic of “divorce”; and all these within a short homily. In any case, I will try to offer some of my personal reflection as pointers for us to ponder on.
The first objective point that we all need to face is the Truth of Jesus’ teaching about marriage, which still applies to us today. In today’s Gospel Jesus clearly asserts that marriage is indissoluble and is for life. In asserting His position, Jesus quoted Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 which holds the view that in the bond of marriage, “. . . man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.”
When the Pharisees tried to argue with Jesus that Moses allowed divorce, Jesus answered, “It was because you we so unteachable . . .” /In its essence, Jesus was teaching the Jews that marriage is a bond between man and woman that requires a lifetime commitment that is both responsible and mature. Sexual immorality and infidelity that leads to adultery destroys not only the unity between the spouses, but also the spiritual unity of their relationship as spouses with God.
Let us take a common hypothetical case of Jack and Jane who have marital problems; both of them are in their early forties and have been married for about 13 years, and have two children ages 10 and 8. Jack is a Catholic, while Jane calls herself a free thinker. Before marriage, Jane was open to going to Church. For many years Jane’s relationship with Jack’s mother who had been strained, but it got worse in the past two years.
Three months ago Jane said to Jack that she’s had enough of him taking the side of his family and gave him an ultimatum of either he chooses her or his family. Jack was in a dilemma; being stressed also at his work, Jack found himself in a daze both at work and in his home. Meanwhile; Jane had stopped coming to Church and have been making it difficult for the children to come for catechism classes; the children are torn between both parents and are going through a lot of pain and confusion.
To make matters worse, about a month ago, Jane found out through Jack’s hand phone messages that he had been having extramarital relationships with Susan for some years. Jane confronted Jack and wants to sue for divorce.
Jack begged for forgiveness and promised Jane that he would break ties with Susan. Jane however refused to believe him and regardless of what Jack says, Jane being devastated wants to end her marriage. Jane’s parents who themselves are divorced are urging her pursue the divorce. When Jane consults her friends, they too agreed with Jane’s parents that it is about time she gains her freedom and do her own thing, instead of living with a husband who cheats on her.
The Church does not for a moment think that Jack’s and Jane’s marital situation is easy to resolve. The Church feels sad and compassionate for both of them and especially their children.
In Jesus’ teachings, He wants all marriages to be faithful and fulfilling. We all know that, even as every person and family wants to live a fulfilling marriage, the ideal isoften very different from the actual. Complications in spousal relationships come in when both the spouses are just not able to get along with one another and more so, when there are complications of infidelity.
However, let us be clear that Jesus is not condemning a sinner like Jack; all our faults and sins are forgivable when we repent. Jesus is saying that the sin of infidelity, irresponsibility and immaturity of spouses like Jack will cause much pain and division that will harm everyone in the family, especially the children.
Thus, if such tragic situation were to arise, the basic approach of the Church is first and foremost to try to save the marriage and to try to restore peace and unity within the home and family. In our Archdiocese, we have the Retrouvaille services that precisely try to provide a lifeline for such troubled and hurting marriages. Thus, let us remember, that when the Church demands careful investigations and firmly abides by canonical rules and regulations, she is not being uncaring or cold towards the suffering of the spouses. Instead, the Church’s main goal is first, to try to preserve the sanctity of the marriage bond that the couple had vowed to each other and to God at the time of the marriage. Second, to keep the unity of the family in place, more so for the sake of the children, who needs both parent to grow up in a healthy and wholesome environment of the home.
The Church does not deny that while couples can fall in love, they can also fall out of love. Why does such a thing happen? It seems to me one of the biggest challenges of living as spouses, is to learn to live with differences. The basic truth of all relationships is that no one person is the same, everyone comes from a different family background and a perfect person does not exist. So, if our spouse is not perfect, so are we. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that, if we see a splinter in the other person’s eye, we are to remember that in all probability we have a plank in our own.
Thus, the first Gospel values in a marriage are repentance and forgiveness; that Jack repents and Jane forgives. Unless a grain of wheat dies; unless we die to our self and humbly admit that we have hurt another person, our marriages will not yield a rich harvest of happiness and fulfillment.
The marriage bond, Jesus says, is two separate bodies, while distinct are united into one reality. St Ignatius of Loyola tells us that “love” is shown in mutual sharing of what we have and possess with the person we love. In this mutual sharing, it is helpful if we give our spouse a lot of space to do what he or she is interested in and yet, at the same time find quality time together to do things that both like and can enjoy.
It is wise that spouses learn to make little and daily sacrifices for the sake of each other; this will go a long way into showing that neither is taking each other for granted.
One spouse told me that a golden rule that she follows and teaches her children is “never to say anything negative about your spouse in front of others”; you may disagree with our spouse in many things in the privacy of your room, but never wash dirty linens in public.
I would like to conclude by saying that in any committed relationships, we cannot speak of simplistic and straightforward solutions. While we believe that Jesus wants married couples to keep their married commitment for life, we cannot pretend that just because we believe in Christ, we will no longer have any problems and pains in our marriage. The spousal relationship and commitment can only be truly secure if it is built on our love for God. And when differences create anxieties, treat the root of the problems and not simply brush them aside as unimportant as suppressed and repressed emotions would one day explode. And when that happens, it is like trying to put off a huge fire that is beyond our control.
Regardless of how much I love or find it difficult to love my spouse, learn to look at the good qualities of your spouse and appreciate and affirm him or her as much as you can. It is when we develop such positive attitudes that we will gradually be able see the presence of Christ and love Christ in our spouse at all times.
Finally, trust that God will never want us to break up in our marriages as God created marriages to last for all eternity, for “what God has united, let no man divide.”
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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