Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Like other teachers (Rabbis) in his day, he comments on the Law of Moses, the heart of which we know as “The Ten Commandments.” Moses had received the Law from God and no part of it was to be changed. Jesus teaches with the authority of God himself: “But I say to you…” His comments on what we know as the fifth, sixth and eighth commandments take us beyond the mere letter of the law to the values each one enshrines: human life and dignity, sexual purity in thought and action and the indissolubility of marriage, honesty and the integrity of one’s word.
Today is World Marriage Day. This observance is meant to highlight the fundamental importance of marriage in the life of the Church and society in general. The Church defines marriage as a “covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life…which is ordered by its very nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” (Cf. Canon 1055, §1) Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Lætitia, states: “With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer. For they bear witness, in a credible way, to the beauty of marriage as indissoluble and perpetually faithful.” (n. 89)
Although the secular culture seems to have abandoned this marriage ideal, Pope Francis goes on to say: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.” (n. 307) If the Church were to abandon this ideal, knowledge of God’s plan for marriage would soon be forgotten.
Probably no marriage is ideal. This is because human beings are not perfect. Nevertheless we are bound by the law of Christ. Pope Francis says: ““For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace.” (n. 295) Grace is the key, which is why Christ raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament.
Sometimes, however, marriages fail. This is always sad and affects every member of the family. When a husband and wife can no longer live together, the Church even permits divorce in order to protect the civil rights and obligations of family members. Nevertheless, in keeping with Christ’s teaching in today’s Gospel, divorce does not dissolve a valid marriage bond and the parties are not free to enter another marriage. However if the marriage is found to be “unlawful”—to use Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel—or “invalid” according to the Church’s criteria today, the parties can be free to enter another marriage. The process for making this determination is the responsibility of a diocese’s matrimonial tribunal and the result may be a declaration of nullity.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a website called, “For Your Marriage.” You can find it at http://www.foryourmarriage.org. I invite you to check it out. A page that is helpful regarding the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, separation, divorce and declarations of nullity is at http://www.foryourmarriage.org/divorce-and-healing-ministry.
Of course the reason the second Sunday of February is World Marriage Day is because it is close to St. Valentine’s Day this Tuesday. You may celebrate marriage and get a head start on Valentine’s Day with the Sweetheart Pancake Breakfast at St. Peter’s this Sunday morning, serving from 8:30 to 11:30.
Pray the Rosary this week for the families of our parishes, especially those who are experiencing any kind of turmoil. Pray for all participating in our Alpha series. As always pray for peace and the safety of military personnel serving abroad.
May God bless his people with peace.