27 Sunday - B
Readings: Genesis 2, 18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2, 9-11; St. Mark 10, 2-16
Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in today's Gospel is very clear and distinctive.
Once a couple is validly married, there is no way that the marriage can be dissolved except by death. In Christ’s eyes a validly contracted marriage can never be dissolved in a divorce.
However, what the church teaches, which is the same as what Christ teaches, and the teachings of the secular world are quite often not the same and in fact are quite often opposite.
It is a fact that there is only one kind of divorce and that is a civil divorce. There is no such thing as a Catholic divorce.
A civil divorce is a permanent separation of the married couple which is recognized by the state but not by the church for as Christ says there can be no dissolution of the permanent bond of a valid marriage.
Everyone here is aware of the alarming statistics on divorce.
- One third of all those who contract a marriage end it in divorce.
- More than 50% of all new weddings end in divorce within 2 years after the wedding.
These statistics are a bit old but the percentages, in any cases, gives us a bleak picture of the state of marriages in today’s world.
Most of us have family members who are divorced. The dreadful plague has hit even our own homes.
So how can it be then that people who are divorced by the state can have a wedding again in the church?
This is because after thorough investigation the church has recognized that the first union was not a valid marriage and so issues a decree of nullity commonly called an annulment.
Is an annulment just a Catholic divorce?
No, an annulment is a decree granted by the church which to state it simply tells us that after thorough investigation a wedding had taken place but for various reasons a marriage did not.
Once this investigation is complete and the decree issued, the person is free to marry – since he or she was never married in the first place, even if many years have passed and even if several children were the result of the first wedding.
They were not married in the eyes of God and His church, and so after the decree of nullity and after a civil divorce is completed - the person is now free to marry.
There are three ways in which church or Canon law recognizes that a true and valid marriage did not exist in a previous union.
1. Where there was a lack or defect of what is called canonical form. As one example, Canonical form means that the parties were married in the presence of a properly delegated priest or deacon and two witnesses, following the rites of the Catholic Church.
2. There were impediments to the marriage. Impediments are circumstances of a person or of the couple that mean that they are not free to enter certain marriages. For example, if either party is below the minimum age. There are many others all of which should be reviewed with a couple planning to marry.
3. Defect of Consent. To put it simply, were the parties willing to consent, able to consent and ready to consent? Is their consent an informed consent? Did both parties freely accept and clearly understand the life-long commitment they were making? And so on.
Are they able to give themselves freely and fully to one another?
You know, the best kinds of gifts in life are the gifts given out of total freedom — no strings attached. The freer persons are from their own selfishness and self-gratifying desires, the more they can give of their true selves.
The Church has always taught that the human person is most fully human when acting from an informed conscience and free choice and not by blind impulse. The human person either "governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy."
One must be quick to add, however, that to follow one's conscience requires that one has taken the time to properly form one's conscience. One must not follow a conscience that is in error.
Therefore anyone, whether that person be a deacon, priest or bishop or anyone else who gives advice to married couples, merely tells the couple to follow their conscience without giving them the teaching of the church is only copping out of the situation and in doing so commits a gravely sinful error.
Any person who simply follows their conscience without ensuring that it has been properly formed by the church’s teaching is also in danger of grave error.
To follow one’s conscience without knowing the teaching of the church is to do so in way that does not lead to freedom.
For example in the case of a sexually active couple living together before marriage, or a divorced Catholic couple proceeding to live together as man and wife or to marry without an annulment or church dispensation, those couples have become enslaved to sin rather than becoming free to the truth that Christ has taught us.
What is that truth? Jesus says “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her”.
And today marriage being so free and easy it is no wonder that so is divorce free and easy. Well, maybe not free but certainly easy. It often has a tremendous cost on human beings. The children are the ones who most often suffer grievously.
But it is not all bad news, there is some good news. Not everyone runs to the divorce court.
- Some serious studies show that only one out of fifty seven marriages ended in divorce among husbands and wives that worshipped at church in a consistent manner.
- Even more amazing was the finding that only one marriage in five hundred concluded in divorce in couples where there is regular praying of the Rosary.
These are the facts. What does that tell us?
Remember Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said the family that prays together – stays together.
Well, it’s a proven fact so we can say: the husband and wife who pray together have an above-average chance of staying together.
The couple who pray together before marriage have an excellent start on a true and faithful marriage.
Whether we agree with Him or not it is quite plain that Christ condemned divorce and the written records confirms that fact. And St Paul clearly understood that point, for he underlines that same prohibition in his own letters.
We may not agree with Him, but, for Christ, marriage means undivided loyalty.
One commentator has observed that our culture teaches husband and wife to ask, "What's in it for me?" But Jesus wants them to ask each other, "What's in it for us?"
Am I ready to give up my life for you as Christ did for His bride the Church?
Marriages will not succeed today without God. The truest test of love is giving – that is, sacrifice. Almost all marriages that fail, fail because they fail this test – that the spouses refuse to make sacrifices.
“Justice” “rights” and “freedom” are three words that true lovers never use. The wise words of the old marriage rite taught us to vow to love “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”
This is realism, for there will be worse as well as better; sickness as well as health and there will be death. Life cannot avoid the need for sacrifice, and love certainly does not avoid sacrifice. Love also forgives all things because it knows God’s forgiveness.
Like everything in our religion it is all there in the crucifix.
Thus the marriage bond which was established not by the church but by God Himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved.
No one should ever say “I disagree with the church about divorce” but rather they should truthfully say “I disagree with Christ about divorce.”
“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. So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.
And so I would like to conclude this homily with the blessing taken from the Catholic Marriage ceremony.
May God, the almighty Father, bless you with His joy.
May the only Son of God have mercy on you, and help you in good times and bad.
May the Holy Spirit of God always fill your hearts with His love.
Deacon Bernie Ouellette