On this last Sunday in the Season of Creation, the Word tells us how God completed creation: by creating marriage. It is he who joins man and woman together as one, in flesh and in spirit. Marriage is God’s masterpiece of creation. He alone designed it; he alone defines what it is. There is no other.
The “one flesh” of each husband and wife is not just a way of speaking, nor a social convention, nor a mere ideal, but an objective reality as willed by God. Jesus himself says “they are no longer two, but one, and that no-one can put them asunder because it is God who has joined them together. As one, they bring joy and help to one another; as one, they are blessed and commanded by God to go forth and multiply and fill the earth. God’s gift of children adds strength to their joy and unity and they now in turn bring joy and help to their offspring.
Everything in the environment is connected. In the same way, everyone in human society is connected. The health of society depends primarily on the health of marriage and the family; but the health of these depends on obedience to the will of the Creator for them. We know that human freedom damages the environment by failing to respect God’s laws of nature. In the same way, untold damage is done to human society if we fail to respect God’s law for marriage and the family. God’s magnificent and expansive will for marriage, family and society is even more breath-taking than his expansive will for the material universe. In fact, the healing of the universe hinges on the healing of marriage and the family. The salvation of man will be the salvation of the cosmos. Doing the will of God is our salvation.
Moses provided divorce as a remedy for the hardness of heart of the Israelites when it came to marriage. Hardness of heart means a deeply-rooted disobedience to God’s will. Moses effectively tried to shift the goal posts on marriage but Jesus puts them firmly back in their place. For Jesus, the real solution is not to give in to hardness of heart and let it have its way. Rather, the remedy he provides is far more radical. It is the destruction of hard-heartedness, of disobedience, of sin itself by his death on the Cross. God could have divorced himself from humanity due to our sin. But he did not. As the Spouse of sinful humanity, He died for our sakes rather than lose us; he died to break the hardness of our hearts. He poured into us the Holy Spirit to give us new hearts of flesh to obey the will of God.
But this will only work on two conditions. First, we have to want the Spirit, that new heart. We must want marriage as God intended it. Second, sometimes even if we do want it, the damage done to us in life, by others or by ourselves, can make it impossible to live up to what we want. In my nearly ten gruelling years of work with people who sought a marriage nullity from the Church, there was not one man or woman who would not have preferred their marriage to have worked out. This proves that people instinctively know that marriage should not be torn asunder. People know deep down that the will of God is not some arbitrary disposition, but speaks to the deepest human truth of marriage.
In today’s world, Jesus’ words about divorce, remarriage and adultery are as difficult to hear as they are clear. They, too, are often met with hardness of heart. Yet they are simply the consequence of the truth that what God has joined together no man or woman can put asunder. They are tough love. His aim is not to condemn; he came to save, not to condemn. His aim is to defend marriage as willed by the Father and, yes, it is to call to repentance. It may seem an impossible call, yet the Lord never asks the impossible of us. If we are willing and work humbly with his grace, what once seemed impossible can happen.
Many are forced into divorce because their physical or mental health, or that of their children, are in danger, or simply because their spouse abandons them. Anyone who is divorced and remains alone should freely come forward to receive the sacraments. In fact, anyone who is suffering and alone in this way needs the sacraments all the more.
In the very painful matter of marriage breakdown and in marriage issues in general, the Gospel asks us to hold two things together that can often appear to be in tension. The first is the will of God for marriage and the family as we heard it proclaimed in the Word just now. The other is Christ’s own compassion for those who are weak, fail or sin in these matters. It is Christ’s compassion we need, mind, and not a false do-as-you-please compassion. Christ’s compassion walks and suffers with the brother or sister in pain or sin in order to bring them gradually to the peace and joy of obeying God’s will. That is precisely why he suffered and died for all of us.
We all stand in need of the will of God and of the compassion of God, one way or the other. So, let us stand together under his will for the glorious reality of marriage and family, and also stand together at the foot of his Cross where we will receive the strength and the mercy we need. God alone knows what is best for us and for his creation. Let us trust his wisdom, his love, and embrace his Cross.