FAITH AND MARRIAGE – October 7, 2012 – Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
FAITH AND MARRIAGE
October 7, 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
The Pharisees want to win the debate. During this week, two presidential contenders endeavored not only to explain their ideas to the TV audience and thereby to win votes, but each schemed and practiced to overwhelm the opponent, to best the other. These adversaries put forth their thought, not really to explain the factual situation, but importantly to win votes and to overwhelm the adversary.
The Pharisees come to Jesus with a similar intent. They pose an issue which they have often debated. The grounds for divorce is a controversial topic among the Pharisaic sages. The Pharisees knew beforehand that Jesus’ position on this matter was in conflict with common opinion and with Deuteronomy (24:1-4), so these Pharisees design their question to show to the wider public Jesus’ lack of orthodoxy. Thus they test Jesus.
And Jesus asks His testers, “What did Moses command you?” Oh, there Jesus turns the tables. In fact Moses gives no “command” about divorce. The possibility of divorce is taken for granted in Deuteronomy. The laws of divorce are clear. Moses allows divorce, but Moses makes no “command” that a man divorce his wife. So these testers must more decently use the established term “allow.” Thus the Pharisees now respond: “Moses allowed the man to write a certificate of divorce and thus divorce [the woman].” So Moses allows divorce, yet Moses did not command divorce. These Pharisees know the law allowing divorce; these Pharisees want to preserve the law; they do not seek to achieve God’s will.
Jesus opposes substituting human traditions for the commandment of God (Mark 7:9-13). Without mentioning specific verses, Jesus affirms that “from the beginning of creation, ‘Male and female he made them. Because of this a man will leave his father and mother, and he will be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’ (Cf. Genesis 1:27; 5:2; 2:24.) The fall of Adam and Eve come later, in Chapter 3 of Genesis. The “new creation” inaugurated in Jesus’ ministry can now restore God’s original plan for humans.
Now Jesus sets forth the ideal. “‘And the two will be one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” This unification forbids separation, for separation would divide one person into two.
Vatican II presents a marriage ideal. During the Year of Faith proclaimed by our Pope, we commemorate fifty years since the opening of Vatican Council II. At this gathering of the world’s bishops fifty years ago, the Church’s perspective on marriage adopts a personalistic outlook. Thus Canon Law no longer, as in the past, describes marriage as a “contract,” but, instead, the council speaks of the “marriage covenant,” and the two spouses seal this covenant with an “irrevocable personal consent” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n. 48).
Vatican II further encourages marriage as an ideal union. God encounters his people with a covenant, saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” In a similar way, our Savior encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of marriage. By their mutual self-giving, spouses will love each other with enduring fidelity, as Christ loved the Church and delivers Himself for the Church (#48). As husband and wife are called to be faithful, generous, and gracious to each other in fulfillment of their marriage covenant, so is the whole Church called to be faithful to its covenant with God in Christ. St. Paul draws this parallel of man and woman loving each other in marriage while Christ loves and delivers Himself for the Church.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she [i.e. the church] might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are member of his body….This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband (Ephesians 5:25-33).
Again Vatican II emphasizes that the ideal marriage is a sacrament (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. #59). In marriage, a man and woman are legally bound together. In the sacrament of matrimony, a baptized couple expresses faith, worshiping together, vowing in God’s presence, and symbolizing by their union the union of Christ with His church. Man and woman confer a sacrament on each other, and their sacramental marriage evidences a union between faithful Christians.
John Cheever’s short story “Pot of Gold” characterizes Ralph and Laura Whittemore; they seem to be without any religion. Living in New York, they are caught up during the late 1940s in an abiding pursuit of several get-rich schemes. He is promised a well-paying job in Texas, then an important position in Wisconsin, and later a start-up seems to beckon him to California. Laura brings forth a child, and these three struggle financially, but together. Yet nothing comes of these schemes. At the end of their pursuit, writes Cheever, they have each other. No religion exists.
Christians recognize that the pot of gold lies in realizing their status together before God. In their “intimate partnership of married life” (#48), Christian spouses, married sacramentally, partake of the union and love which exists between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:32; Dogmatic Constitution on the Church #11). Amen.