The Church is often perceived (unfairly) by what we are against, more so than what we are for. But saying to “No” to one thing is usually just another way of saying “Yes” to another. Sadly, most miss the important point and get stuck on what is denied, rather than consider what is affirmed. It is this way with the divorce question. Today, let’s look at what is affirmed.
We pondered yesterday how Jesus sets forth Divine Law and forbids divorce and remarriage. That much is rather clear. But what is Jesus setting forth more positively? Is it enough simply to say Jesus that forbids divorce and therefore so does the Church? It is not. Jesus actually paints a powerful portrait of love, fidelity, and the capacity of the human heart for tender, forgiving love. In this positive light, let us consider the teaching of Jesus, using Matthew 19 as our source.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Have you not read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)
I do not intend here to provide a line-by-line commentary of this passage, but rather to draw from it some fundamental gifts that the Lord highlights. For, more than forbidding divorce, the Lord is painting a picture of the human person, transformed by His grace, loving his wife tenderly and preserving union with her. Divorce is from the reign of sin; faithful, loving marriage is the fruit of the new life of grace fully embraced. These are not abstract gifts the Lord offers; they are real and true gifts that He died to give us. Let us consider the “positive” teachings that are set forth in the forbidding of divorce and remarriage.
1. A New Heart – Note that the Lord teaches these men of old that Moses permitted them to divorce their wives because their hearts were hard. Here Jesus taps into an old Rabbinic interpretation wherein Moses reasoned that if he were to require that marriage were “until death do them part,” the men of his time might well arrange the death of their wives in order to be free. Thus he reluctantly permitted the lesser evil of divorce to prevent the great evil of uxoricide (the killing of one’s wife).
Now this bespeaks a very hard heart. Jesus traces the problem of divorce to hard, mean, and unforgiving hearts, and these come from sin.
Jesus also says that at the beginning it was not this way. The “beginning” refers to God’s original plan for marriage in the Garden before Adam and Eve sinned (Gen 1 & 2). Prior to sin, their marriage was described poetically but idyllically. Adam speaks tenderly of Eve as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” and also thereby expresses his unity with her. That they are naked but do not know it speaks to a relationship devoid of lust and exploitation. It also speaks to a marriage wherein nothing is hidden; there are no coverups, no masks, and no fear of ridicule; there is openness, communication, trust, assurance, and comfort in the presence of each other.
This was marriage “in the beginning” before the long reign of sin. It is a portrait of tender love, and a relaxed, joyful, and grateful acceptance of the other as from the hand of God. Here are two hearts, alive and open, tender and accepting.
But no sooner do they sin than their marriage is affected. The coverup begins as fig leaves are sewn together. The trust gives way to fear as important aspects of the other are covered, hidden from ridicule, exploitation, and abuse. There are now things with which they will not trust each other. Adam now speaks to God of Eve as “that woman you put here with me.” Here is distance, anger, and bitterness. Eve is told by God that though she will depend on and desire her husband, he will lord it over her and she will suffer the abuse of power.
Here is a sad portrait of how marriage suffered in the reign of sin.
But Jesus announces a great return! Now, on account of the healing He effects by dying and rising for us to new life, God’s original plan for marriage is again available. We can return to the way things were “in the beginning.” Our hearts, hardened by sin, can be healed by His grace. It is now possible for spouses to love each other with tender hearts freed from the hardness of sin. Through grace, the Lord Jesus can make it for couples more and more the way it was for Adam and Eve before the Fall. With new minds and hearts, husband and wife are now equipped to forgive, to trust, to cherish, and to love with great tenderness. Why would such spouses want to divorce at all?
Thus in forbidding divorce, the Lord Jesus paints a picture of transformed human beings and summons us to the new life he died to give us. It is a magnificent pictures of hearts set free to love and to abide in that love with tenderness and deep affection.
2. The Capacity to Cling – In quoting Genesis, the Lord says that a man “clings to his wife.” The Greek word used is κολληθήσεται (kollēthēsetai) which means (more literally) “to stick like glue,” to bond, cleave, adhere, be joined or connected, etc. This is strong language in the Greek. It bespeaks a man who works hard to preserve love with his wife, who says to her in effect, “Honey, if you ever leave me, I’m going with you!” And while the text speaks to the man as head of the home, it surely also refers to a wife who does the same.
And why do they do this? Because they want to! They love each other and cannot dream of being apart. Here too are tender hearts full of love, and love seeks union with the beloved. Here too is a work of God available to us on account of the new life Jesus died to give us. Here is the positive picture of hearts no longer hardened by sin, but set free to love and to seek union joyfully.
3. Become what you are! Jesus says they are no longer two, but one flesh. They are this because God has made them so, and what God has joined no one can separate.
We are never more content than when we are what we have been made to be. And here Jesus says to every truly married husband and wife, “I joined you. I have made you one. You are no longer two; you are one. Now allow me to deepen your experience of this as the years go by. Become what you are by my grace! You will never be more happy than when you become what you are. There will be growing pains, but never forget who you are, and allow me to accomplish this miracle of unity for you. It will complete you and sanctify you.”
4. The Fruit of Love – Elsewhere the Lord also commands the fruit of love when He says, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22) And thus husbands and wives are called to celebrate and rejoice in their mutual love with great intimacy and joy, and in the context of that marital joy, rejoice to see their love bear fruit in their children. They can say to each other, “See how we love each other. These children are the fruit of our love.”
And thus we see in the commands of marriage that the couple is to cling, to reject divorce, and to bear the fruit of children. These are the promises of God and the glorious vision of lives transformed by grace. For God does not command what he does not empower. In Jesus’ every command is presumed the grace to accomplish it abundantly.
In upholding the Divine Law of Jesus against divorce, the Church is not merely enforcing “rules,” she is pointing to the magnificent portrait of the human being transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. She is saying, “There is the life that Jesus died to give you. Now go lay hold of it!”
Here is a video I put together back in 2009 to commemorate my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. They had both passed away by that time, but it still had to be celebrated. I will not say that they had an easy marriage. There were struggles and tragedies. But through the years, my parents came to be what they always were: one. And when my mother died suddenly and tragically my Father wondered how he could go on living when half of him was gone. He died less than two years later. The two had become one flesh. This commemorates his sorrow at her passing.
23 Replies to “Saying No to Divorce is Just Another Way of Saying Yes to the Glory of True Marriage”
Very sweet video.
What is the Church’s advice to women (and men) in marriages where one uses violence and other forms of abuse against the other?
Sometimes medicinal separation is necessary. The fighters need to go to their corners and tend to their wounds. Some do heal up. Some must stay apart. But I know couples who have struggled in this way where tender love can be rediscovered.
During a marriage encounter, I was tasked to facilitate translating to an unlettered husband who had a slightest knowledge of English. He together with his wife, a college graduate, were attending the 2days-2nights ME weekend as a kind of last resort before signing their marriage annulment. At the third day, the HOLY SPIRIT worked. The man told me that he needed no interpreter because he understood every word of the sharers. He wrote his wife a letter. They ended up that weekend with their marriage intact. After, a couple of years, the man died. They had the best quality family time with their children during those last two years. Let GOD be in our lives for HIS Ways are not our ways. HIS Plans are far most better plan that we can imagine. May GOD Reign in our hearts, in our marriages and our families.
Msgr – What do you say to the couple who is unable to bear children. Is their marriage fruitless?
I wonder if you ask this rhetorically?
Not at all – it’s my cross that I carry – and it seems that the teaching can lead one to believe that a couple who has children is fruitful and blessed. Is there something else in the scripture that speaks to those of us who are married, and faithful to the teaching, but are unable to bear fruit in this way?
Msgr., what would you say to someone who is married, is trying to be faithful, but finds it a constant struggle, because in their heart there is not really that desire for their spouse. They are constantly unsatisfied, and so ‘looking around’. They do not experience that oneness and unity. The only reason they keep going is because they do not want to sin, do not want to go against the Lord’s Word and command. But that is essentially all.
Confused, that person is looking for God. No human can bring us what we lack, and to put that on one’s spouse is unfair. All our longing and desire is for Him alone. Look no further than the Blessed Sacrament for fulfillment. The marriage will be not be lost if God is found.
Though wanting to not sin is admirable, I beleive the Lord is calling that person to greater unity with Him. That person really needs to go “all in” with God. It’s easy to beleive that you have a great relationship with God, but it can always be greater. Remember “To the one who has, more will be given”. This is especially true of our union with God. Don’t give up on Him.
Thank you, C Beltz.
Ah, time to pray for a miracle! I once asked God to help really love my parishioners (not just tolerate them). He generously obliged.
Amen!!! What a beautiful tribute to your parents!
“Sadly, most miss the important point and get stuck on what is denied, rather than consider what is affirmed.”
It’s only natural that people “get stuck” on what is denied because when people DO what the Church denies, it may result in nothing less than their eternal damnation!
And, Monsignor, what response to a spouse who refuses more children (we are basically continent) and does not practice the Faith? Simply protect my only child’s faith and virtues and go from there? Please pray for us. (I pray for you.)
-And refuses counseling for our fighting, arguments-either together or even speaking to a priest by herself.
Well, I’ve seen couples go through worse and come out alright. Praying for a miracle. Yes of course the child comes first. My mother prayed almost 30 years for my Father’s return to the faith. He made it back and started going to daily Mass!
Thank you-for the inspiration and prayers. How awesome for your father. I offer my daily sufferings for you and your intentions.
Dear Msgr – you are a light in the darkness! You have great faith that God can and will heal hurting marriages! We need more priests like you to help us in our dark times. 🙂
Amen! Thank you, Monsignor Pope.
Thank you Msgr. Your words affirmed the comfort we share with each other the past 44 years. I am amazed at your insight with Scripture. “They were naked but did not know” could be expanded the show the true meaning of marriage, so beautiful. My take on marriage and parenthood; I love myself (God’s child ) and I love my spouse. These two loves are personified by our children. If I am absent from my spouse, my children are the closest I can be to her. I love my children because I love her and me. I thank God for them everyday, and especially for putting her in my life, for she is my helper to get to heaven just as I am her helper.
What a beautiful video. I remember one day at Mass last year, there was a blessing for a couple that had been married for 50 years. Oh my goodness, all of a sudden I just started bawling seeing them together and how he loved her. He was a real extrovert and she was shy and they were just adorable.
Today, I think we think that if people have managed to stay married for a long time, that it must have always sunshine and roses for them. But we don’t see that they had hard times too, but they stayed through it all.
You may say marriage is where a man and woman are joined together as one but only in Christ. We still struggle individually with each others mental, emotional and physical challenges and weaknesses. It takes two good dancers gliding around to seem as if their feet don’t hardly touch the ground.
Loving someone after many years is a grace and blessing that must be prayed for. Without God’s grace, and EVERYTHING is GRACE, it cannot be done, because love is a decision, not a feeling. Decide to cooperate with God’s grace and CHOOSE to let LOVE be victorious in your married life.
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