27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Gospel of Mark 10:2-16
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 7 October 2018
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you would agree with me that this topic of “divorce in a marriage is very complex, sensitive and can very easily be misunderstood by people, regardless of how careful we wish to approach the topic. And so, it would be an easier option for me not to preach about the topic. But then, that would be failing in my responsibility as a homilist to preach on the Word of God. And so, I hope the reflections on this homily will give us some insights and even inspirations on the Word of God that Jesus proclaimed to us today.
In today’s Gospel, that we just heard proclaimed, the Pharisees were not only “testing”, but they were trying to trap Jesus on the issue of divorce in marriage. The Pharisees knew that Jesus is opposed to divorce, and if He were to state this openly, He would be opposing the Law of Moses and will get into trouble with the Jewish authorities. In reply, Jesus asked them a counter question, “What did Moses command you?” “Moses allowed us to draw a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.” Jesus then replied, “It was because you were so unteachable.”
In other words, Jesus was exposing the Pharisees; that it was because of their “hardness of heart” that Moses allowed divorce; more so as an exception, to protect the Jewish women from the “heartless customary practices that were slanted entirely toward the will and pleasures of Jewish husbands; and where Jewish wives would be wrongly accused or suspected of infidelity.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus in today’s Gospel clearly reinstated the sanctity of marriage as a permanent and lifetime commitment. Quoting Genesis, Jesus proclaimed, “From the beginning of Creation, God made them male and female. This is why a man must have to 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.”
There is a true story of David and Daisy (not their real names). They were married for some 12 years and they have two sons and a daughter. After some years of marriage, their relationship became very tense and was increasingly getting worse. Daisy was also increasingly frustrated. She shared with me, “David and I come home from work every day exhausted. While David plonks himself in front of the Television, I have to take care of the children’s needs and even do all the housework. He says he is tired, but what about me?!
As our marriage continued, we were talking less and less, and even when we talk, we would be shouting at each other. There was hardly any love life and intimacy between us, and pressures and anxieties at work made everything worse. I felt unloved, unappreciated and lonely. This led me to confide my marriage problems with a friend whom I knew as schoolmates. He was very understandable and compassionate, and I found him to be a source of consolation and strength . . . we began to meet more often and this developed into intimacy.
David began to suspect that I was not the same person that he knew and married and began to question me whether I was seeing someone. I denied and we even quarrelled about it. One day, I had forgotten to take my mobile phone and left it behind as I was rushing for work. That day, David happened to stay back, and when he looked at my phone messages, he found the truth about my intimate relationship. When he confronted me after I returned that evening, I immediately told him, I wanted a divorce.
David was broken, depressed and was even suicidal. To make a long story short, David’s friends saw the drastic change in him and were deeply concerned for him. Being Catholics, they advised him to “forgive his wife”, but this was impossible for David. He wanted vengeance on his wife and her boyfriend before breaking up the marriage. As David was planning this, and driving around aimlessly, he suddenly felt very strongly drawn to drive to a Church, that he had never entered before. When he went in, there was a group, chanting the Divine Mercy chaplet . . . David knelt down and the chant make him weep profusely . . . For the first time, in his life, he felt the deep peace of God within his heart. Two days later, at Mass, David heard Jesus saying to him, “David, forgive your wife and I will build on your marriage . . . I will be there for you.”
David was deeply touched by the consolation, that he without a doubt knew came from Jesus Himself. To make the long story short . . . David asked Daisy to forgive him for all the wrongs that he had done and how he had over the years of their marriage taken her for granted and failed to love her because he was too self-absorbed and lived for himself, and not for her and his family; Daisy accepted, and broke-up her relationship with her boyfriend and promised David that she would not meet him again. Both of them are reconciled with one another and with God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s Mercy and Love is real, and this true story testifies to the Truth that when we find our challenges in our lives to be overwhelming and beyond us, we must not forget that God’s Mercy will be there to forgive us. What is humanly impossible, God in His Mercy can make possible, as in the case of David and Daisy.
In the play, “The Skin of Our Teeth,” When Mrs Antrobus’ husband told her that he was leaving her for another woman she responded, “I didn’t marry you because you were perfect . . . I married you because you gave me a promise. And, that promise made up for all your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine.” [adapted-added] “Could we give ourselves more time to work at our imperfections?”
When David in our true story also wanted a divorce, his friends similarly advised him, “David, you are not perfect yourself, and you did not marry a perfect wife. You have to choose either to walk with her or walk away from her. You have to forgive her again, and if needed Jesus says, 70 times 7 times! To this advice, David, upon further reflection was suddenly touched by the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and felt strongly Jesus saying to him, “David, forgive . . . as you are not perfect, and your wife too is not perfect.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ Message is clear . . . Commitment to one’s marriage vows in the Sacrament of Marriage is a permanent and unbreakable bond. And such vows are exchanged publicly when the couple says to God and to each other, “I take you to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.” Such a commitment when professed seriously will inspire the couple to love each other deeply, to face their difficulties as they emerge, and to do all that is necessary to preserve their marriage, with dignity and fidelity, relying on God’s Mercy and strength as David and Daisy did.
Divorce on the other hand is always a tragedy . . . the negative and destructive effects divorce has on the young and vulnerable children are traumatic. Many college students today are, “Walking over the broken glass of their parents’ marriages.” The couple who divorce too go through emotional upheavals that often lead to depression and even suicidal tendencies. Regardless of how much a couple justifies that the marriage that they have invested in for the past 10, 20,30, 50 years must come to an end, because of the pain and suffering they are going through, experts and specialists tell us that, one can hardly throw in the towel without a wrenching sense of failure.
Nevertheless, understandably so, many would still say that in some situations, staying in a relationship will only make things worse. The Church has admitted the eventuality of such failed marriagefollowed by separation. True, in extreme cases, the apostle Paul accepts the idea of separation (1 Cor 7:11), but even then in such situations, no divorce is contemplated. And the separated spouses must remain single. But such failures must be avoided at all costs.
Total commitment in marriage is not something added or imposed upon a couple. On the contrary, it is the nature of love to bind itself . . . as G.K. Chesterton once said, “Human love has so much of the infinite in it that the great drive of love is toward the forever, the inexhaustible, and the limitless.” For this, I am sure you and I have come across many couples who want their niches to be placed side by side, as a symbol of their desires that their love remain forever, even when they are in heaven?
And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, as I sum up and conclude let us remind ourselves that the Sacrament of Marriage in the Church is a sacred vow that a married couple freely makes, with God as a covenant, in public and with formal witnesses. And through this covenant with God, they proclaim their fidelity and their inseparable, total and unconditional commitment to each other as husband and wife for life. Jesus proclaimed this Truth in today’s Gospel, by drawing upon God’s Revelation in the Book of Genesis that proclaims that, “What God has united, man must not divide.”
And so, for those of you who are married, I urge you to renew your married vows in your hearts and at home today.
And as for the separated or divorced, I urge you to entrust yourselves to Our God of Mercy and Compassion and pray for the Healing Grace you need for the Peace of God to return to your hearts and home. Our God of Mercy and the Church do not judge you but, will continue to pray with you.
And as for those of you who are facing much pain, suffering and challenges in your present marriage, like David and Daisy, pray for the wisdom to seek God’s Merciful Love, Healing Grace and Reconciling Peace . . . Remember, you did not marry a perfect spouse; you are not perfect yourself, and nobody and none of us here are perfect; we are all sinners in need of God’s Forgiveness and Mercy.
Commitment to your covenant to God and your fidelity to one another in your marriage vows, relying on God’s Mercy and Healing grace, as in the case of David and Daisy, is the only path of Wisdom that will bring the true HOPE of reconciliation and peace you long so much to have in your heart and home . . . instead of fighting a losing battle, let God’s Will be done . . . Let Go, and pray that God’s Mystery and the Divine Mercy will take care of you and your loved ones.
- Adapted from: A Costly Freedom, A theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel, Brendan Byrne; Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minnesota: 2008: pp. 157-158.
- Adapted from: Hearts Burning; Homilies for Sundays of the Year: cycle A,B and C: Nil Guillemette, S.J.; St Paul’s Pub.; 2006: pp.279-280.
- Adapted from: The Word Explained, A Homily for Every Sunday of the Year, Year B; William J.Byron,S.J.; Paulist Press; Pub.; 2014; pp. 221-225.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.