Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for the 2017 Region XIII Deacon’s Conference.
August 18, 2017
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” Mt 19:9
Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage was as revolutionary 2000 years ago as it is today. In those days, the legality of divorce was a fact of life that no one questioned. It was accepted by all. Moses himself approved of it (Deut 24:1f), so how could Jesus blatantly contradict the Mosaic law concerning divorce? Why would He? Known as He was for His compassion and mercy, why teach so unequivocally that remarriage after divorce amounts to adultery? The answer lies in Who He is.
Everything Jesus did and said derived from His identity as the Beloved Son of God who came into the world to lead us to the Father.
To teach about marriage and about the harm caused by divorce, Jesus moved the conversation back to the plan of the Father from the beginning. He said, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”
God designed the marriage covenant to be a mirror image of His own covenant with Israel. Since God’s covenantal love is always faithful, so He designed the marriage covenant between husband and wife to be faithful until death.
It is true that Moses permitted divorce but, Jesus explained, “that was because of your hardness of heart;” it was not part of God’s plan. Moreover, Jesus not only came to teach about marriage but also to do much more: namely to raise marriage to a sacrament, to soften hearts of stone and create hearts of flesh enlivened by the Holy Spirit, making them capable of faithful love beyond what they could do before.
Jesus’ teaching about divorce, as we see, is only a fraction of what He did to redeem His Father’s plan for marriage. His words were followed with actions. Actions that redeemed the world and transfigured the institution of marriage. Actions such as His first miracle at the Wedding Feast of Cana. By changing water into wine, He prepared for the day when He would change wine into His own Precious Blood. Then, when He multiplied bread and fish to provide abundant food for an immense crowd, He provided another sign of a much greater miracle that happened with bread at the Last Supper and happens again at every Sacrifice of the Mass.
Jesus’ teaching about the natural good of marriage and the suffering caused by divorce was bolstered even more when He made a total gift of Himself on the marriage bed that is the Cross.
Jesus’ teaching about divorce, then, cannot be understood apart from His wondrous love poured out as blood on the altar of the Cross. He brought into the human family a love that is stronger than sin and more powerful than death.
Walter Lipton said of the sexual revolution in the ’60s, “They promised us a paradise but led us into a wasteland.” Jesus did exactly the opposite. He led us out of a wasteland where sin and shame prevailed and brought us into the Kingdom of God where the King lays down His life for the Church, His Bride. Then, He told us we could not belong to His Kingdom unless we become one with Him; that is, unless we take up our Cross each day and follow in His footsteps.
Jesus revealed God’s plan for marriage far more eloquently through His Paschal Mystery than through His response to the Pharisees’ question about divorce. His teaching on divorce makes no sense, in fact it cannot be understood, apart from His total gift of self on the Cross.
The marriage vows of two Christians are simple and straightforward. Remaining faithful to marriage vows, however, is difficult. Loving one’s spouse in hard times is a burden. To love and honor another until death is exhausting and demanding. Sometimes, the burden and the demands seem impossible.
But every Christian vocation is burdensome in a world broken by sin. Each of us can be demanding. The weaknesses we see in a loved one remind us of the weaknesses we see in ourselves but that we try to hide. Giving up on lifelong commitments such as marriage allows us to pretend that we know better than God what is good for us and others. Such infidelity hinders our learning the value of suffering and the necessity of the Cross to belong to Christ.
The dire consequences of rejecting Jesus’ teaching about marriage are manifested in the moral chaos of our nation, the tragic breakdown of the family and the terrible suffering of children of divorce. A country that enshrines in law the falsehood called “no-fault divorce” soon enshrines in law far greater falsehoods about the identity of men and women, and allows, indeed causes, a heavy burden of suffering to fall on children.
Still, God did not call His disciples to curse the darkness. He called us to be the Light of the world.
When God’s plan for marriage is embraced, when husband and wife intentionally decide, each morning, to make a total gift of self to their spouse, and to be faithful in marriage until death, they become an uncomfortable sign of contradiction that God uses to wake up the world.
When married couples simply live their vocation, generously and responsibly, this is itself a form of evangelization, a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that our world desperately needs!