Sometimes the best way talk about the Catholic Churches’ teaching on annulment and the indissoluble of marriage is to draw from Jesus’ teaching on marriage. In my first four videos on the Theology of the Body I spend over an hour something I’m going to spend a few hundreds words on below.
What Jesus primarily does three things in His dialogue with the Pharisees in today’s Gospel Reading is: (1) Restore the true definition of marriage by reaching back to God’s original intent; (2) Restore the equality of spouses by raising the dignity of woman in marriage; and (3) By His word He promises to sustain and perfect marriage.
Jesus Restores the True Definition of Marriage
In the Gospel reading the Pharisees approach Jesus and ask, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” As He was accustomed to do, Jesus answers their question with a counter-question; “What did Moses command you?” If the Pharisees had known any better they would have figured out that Jesus was setting them up for a teachable moment here. Nonetheless, unwittingly they replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” To which Jesus replied, “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.”
What Jesus is teaching here is that because of the hardness of their hearts – because of their inability to forgive – because of their inability to love as marriage demands, Moses wrote a command that gave the people a license to divorce. Jesus then juxtaposes Moses’ command with the original will and design of God for spouses. He says, “God made them male and female.” There in an instant, Jesus not only defined marriage to be only between one man and one woman, but He also qualified them together, by pointing to their necessity of each other.
What I mean by necessity of each other is this: Jesus, still drawing from Genesis 2:18-24, says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Meaning that, man who is born of the flesh of woman and raised by his parents are parentally, biologically, and geographically joined to them, but when it becomes time for him to reach back and claim God’s original intent and design for him (that is, woman), he leaves his parental, biological, and geographic connection with his them and begins a new parental, biological, and geographic connection with his spouse. He leaves the process of becoming a man and enters into a new process of becoming a whole new person with spouse.
It is true, man and woman were created as equal opposite for each other to complete each other. Marriage is the only time in the visible realm where 1m+1f=1.
Jesus Restores the Equality of Man and Woman
“So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Something happened when Moses allowed for a man to so easily divorce his wife by writing her a bill of divorce, without allowing women the same license. It created a situation in which a divorced woman was without honor, without protection; she was situated on the margins of society. Divorce was sometimes used as a weapon against women, to place them in a powerless position. So when Jesus reached back to restore marriage to God’s original will and design of it, He simultaneously raised the dignity of woman in a greatly patriarchal society, by situating her as an opposite equal to her husband.
Again, man and woman find their opposite equality in each other. They become one flesh that is so uniquely sustained and empowered by the grace of God that no man can separate them completely. The process that conjoins husband and wife is so permanent and rich that their spiritual union transcend and perfects any parental, biological, and geographic connection they share. Inasmuch as they will be judged separately at the hour of their death, they have become so uniquely one that their salvation is necessarily helped or hindered by the relationship that each has with God.
Jesus Empowers the Sustainability and Perfection of Marriage
“. . . the two shall become one flesh.” Strange biological and intellectual connections emerge during marriage. We always talk about how spouses begin to resemble each other after a while. I remember after years of being married how I began to all of a sudden develop a widow’s peak in my hairline. Before that occurred I never had a widow’s peak, but my wife had a very dominate one. Sometimes we would find ourselves craving the same food; thinking the same thought; simultaneously chuckling at the same memories without prompt. These and many more biological connections I’m sure most married people can attest too; as well as the biological fruit of their nuptials that come in the form of children.
Yet, there is an even deeper grace of God at work through the Sacrament of Marriage. Indicative by the word ‘shall’ in “. . . the two shall become one flesh.”, 1m+1f=1 is a lifelong process. Because opposites are being made into one thing, and because sinners are just what they are, the process to becoming one is likely to be painful at times. It may call one or both to reach far beyond themselves to love and forgive the other. It will likely require divine patience and hope. For these reason is why spouses need to have Christ Jesus in every aspect of their marriage, because only He has the reservoir of grace that is able to sustain, protect, and persevere marriages through all circumstances and times.
For their part, together spouses must respond to their call to become one by tapping into that reservoir through prayer and unceasing trust.
As you reflect upon the readings at Mass today, here are some questions for you to consider:
- How does your understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage differ from the Church’s understanding?
- What can you do as a single or married person to help others better understand the true meaning of Holy Matrimony?
- How does the true meaning of marriage better prepare and excite you in regards to your covenant relationship with God?
Blessed are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home;
your children like olive plants around your table.
Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.