The Elephant in Church
How many of you have been to a wedding where this reading from Genesis is the First Reading? With joy, we hear Adam exclaim, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
How about this Gospel reading about the permanence and beauty of marriage? As a minister at many weddings, if I had tell you the most popular readings – at least in my experience – it would be this reading from Genesis, St. Paul’s “Love is patient; love is kind...” spiel, and this reading about a man “clinging to his wife.”
Is that interesting? In a world where divorce is so common – where it is seen as normal (even inevitable?) – where so much is stacked against a traditional, permanent marriage – young people still express their hopes and dreams for their married life with these words from Sacred Scripture. Isn’t that odd? Shall we just chalk that up to their being young, naïve, and in love?
Now, how many of us here have been touched by the reality and pain of divorce – either in our own life or in those around us? Most of us. Do these words that Jesus speaks today make us nervous? Are they hard to hear? Should we cut them out? Is Jesus being naïve? Is the Word of God somehow out of touch here? Has it stopped being valid?
Well, His words made the disciples nervous even as He said them! When they get Jesus alone and apart from the crowd, they try and give Him an out. “Help us explain this one, Jesus. How do we soften this or make it ‘fluffier’ – ‘nicer’?” And rather than acquiesce to their questions, Jesus doubles down – again – and even speaks of adultery! Ouch!
Divorce is a reality in our world and in our Church. It is the elephant in the room today as we hear these words. We are keenly aware of the pain and brokenness that our families and marriages have experienced. However, these does not make Jesus’ words obsolete!
As the Pharisees question Jesus, they know the Law; they know all the “loopholes” and the fine points. It was their livelihood. But Jesus points out that those loopholes and laws were given “to you” by Moses “because of the hardness of your hearts” – not because God’s plan was flawed. Divorce is our problem – not God’s. In fact, Jesus calls us back to that plan when He says, “from the beginning of creation…” He is reminding us of God’s plan for us.
When we teach on the dignity of marriage, when we teach on the intrinsic value of “traditional marriage,” when we uphold the family, we can often be seen as bashing those who are not in such situations. However, this is not the Church’s intent (nor is it mine for saying this). Just because we have fallen short of the mark, that does not invalidate the beauty of the plan. Just because our marriages break, that does not mean that marriage and family are not good. Just because I fall into sin, that does not mean that God doesn’t still call me to holiness.
Yes, divorce is real and it is bad. No one who has suffered the pain of betrayal, separation, and divorce will say that it is a good thing. Yes, there are very good reasons to separate and even divorce – abuse, self-destructive behavior, etc. But that does not mean that the dream for that marriage was wrong or misguided.
How many of you have heard that if you are divorced, then you are excommunicated? WRONG! How many of you have heard that a single-parent home is not a family? WRONG! I want you to hear this from me, in Church. You are still good; you are still called to be holy, because God believes that you can be!
We live in a world between the ideal and the lived reality. Often, we fall short – believe me, I know this in just my own life! The space between this ideal and our lives is filled by grace – it is filled by Jesus! God sent Him to call us to that ideal and to make it possible by the grace He shares.
As the Synod for the Family starts this week in Rome, let us pray for our bishops – that they learn from the Holy Spirit and their married (and even divorced) brothers and sisters about the goodness of the family. Let us pray for those in our lives who may suffer the pain and brokenness that life can bring. And let us pray for our young people – who will still choose these readings because they believe that life holds these blessings for them, and they dare to dream that those blessings are on their way.