Thursday, May 19, 2016


Homily for February May 20th, 2016: Mark 10:1-12.

          In today’s gospel reading Mark gives us Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce. The second creation tale in Genesis presents marriage as something established by God in creation. “A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife,” we read there, “and the two of them become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). Hence the teaching, that this one-flesh relationship once established, is permanent and can be dissolved only by death, comes from the Lord God. It is not some legal burden imposed on people by the nasty Catholic Church, to limit human freedom and make people miserable  -- as many people in today’s secular society believe.

          In today’s gospel Jesus’ critics ask him how this teaching about the indissolubility of marriage can be reconciled with the provision in Jewish law for the ending of marriage by divorce which we find in the 24th chapter of the book Deuteronomy. This says that a husband who finds what the text calls “something indecent” in his wife, can write and hand to her a bill of divorce and send her away. And that ends the marriage. The text makes no provision for a wife who wishes to divorce her husband. Divorce came about, Jesus tells his questioners “because of the hardness of your hearts,” in other words because of human sin.

          This leads to an almost classic dilemma. The Church has two duties which conflict with one another. There is first the prophetic duty, to proclaim in season and out that marriage is indissoluble and terminable only by death. The second duty is pastoral: reaching out in loving care to people whose marriages fail. These two duties often conflict with one another, which puts the Church in a bind.

          The problem has become so urgent that the Church right now, under the leadership of Pope Francis, is engaged in a profound study of the whole question. Two synods of bishops from the whole world in Rome discussed how the Church can best fulfill its two duties: to preach the truth about marriage; and to care for people whose marriages fail. In March of this year Francis issued the apostolic letter The Joy of Love reaffirming the truth that marriage is lifelong and indissoluble; but also telling the Church’s pastors to treat those whose marriages fail with compassion and love. To do that we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What better could we pray for in this mass than precisely this divine guidance?