Sacred and Serious
by Msgr. Stanley Krempa
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" They were testing him. He said to them in reply, "What did Moses command you?" They replied, "Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery."
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
"You are about to enter a union which is most sacred and most serious."
These words were read by the priest years ago before a couple pronounced their marriage vows. The Anglican Book of Prayer states in beautiful Elizabethan prose that marriage "is not to be entered unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God."
Our readings today are about marriage, a much-discussed topic today in ways we would not have expected years ago. The Book of Genesis shows us marriage as it came from the hand of God while the Gospel reading shows marriage as it can be distorted. There are three points for our reflection about marriage.
First, marriage is unique. We are involved in many kinds of relationships in our life, some temporary, others longer lasting. Scripture speaks of many relationships: teacher and pupil, seller and buyer, master and slave, landlord and tenant and many more. Yet, out of this vast array of human relationships, Genesis singles out one, only one, that it traces back to the very start of creation and that is the relationship of husband and wife. It is the only relationship that Scripture teaches was created uniquely by God. It is older than the church and more ancient than Israel.
Marriage is not the result of human convention, social arrangement or legislation. Marriage is inscribed deeply in the very nature of human beings and is the only relationship intended by God to be superior to all others, “for this reason a man leaves father and mother ...”
Other relationships come and go, marriage is the only one where people promise to be faithful until death to share life and to give life. At the heart of marriage is not romance, emotion or feeling. At its center is a promise of lifelong fidelity. Such a promise is the greatest gift one person can give another.
Secondly, marriage is not only unique it is also a vocation in the church. It is not a private relationship but a public one in which two people promise before the church to be Christ to each other and to raise children in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. What makes their love like Christ's is that they are not promising fidelity to someone who is perfect (there is the old adage that love is blind but marriage restores your sight). In marriage a man and a woman promise fidelity to a person who is vulnerable, limited and imperfect. That is how Christ loves us, in our imperfection. What makes marriage a vocation is that they are promising to be public examples of Christ's self-sacrificing love and to raise a family in the Lord.
Lastly, marriage is a work of grace. Marriage is not like an energizer bunny that keeps going on its own. It needs the renewal and recharging that come from the Mass and sacraments. We need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit before entering marriage and we need the help of the Holy Spirit to keep a marriage strong. A marriage is like a plant that needs constant attention. If neglected, it withers and dies. The prevalence of divorce today shows how easily marriage can deteriorate.
A broken marriage is a symptom of our wounded world and a reminder that we need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit before entering marriage and during a marriage.
As Jesus says in today's Gospel, we need to hold up the truth that marriage as God intended is possible. In a marriage of many years, each day may not be the Fourth of July, but every day can be a day of fidelity with God's help.
As the letter to the Hebrews says, fidelity in marriage and in the priesthood, especially difficult fidelity, is how we will be most like Christ and be a light to others. Marriage is indeed a union that is "most sacred and serious."