The issue of divorce is one of the thorniest controversies facing society since the time of Jesus. Today, there is a bill on divorce pending in Congress. In the gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Their intention is actually to test Jesus and snare him into an insidious trap of either contradicting Moses, who sanctioned divorce, or opposing God, who instituted marriage.
Jesus responds by saying that Moses allowed divorce as a concession because of man’s “hardness of heart.” But, he insists that “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. So, they are no longer two but one flesh.”
Beyond the malicious intent of the Pharisees, the controversy effectually points to an underlying issue which concerns the tension between the divine plan and human legalism. In the face of such conflict, Jesus upholds the primacy of God’s law. “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Thus, Jesus restores marriage and the family according to God’s original plan.
I love the address delivered by Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia where he says that the most beautiful thing God has created in the world is the family. As cited in the story of creation, God would gaze at this work at the end of each day and see that it was good. On the sixth day, he looked at his work one last time and saw that it was VERY good. Why? What did he make on the last day? He made man and woman, whom he joined together and commissioned to increase and multiply. He created the family.
What is God’s plan for the family? God’s wonderful plan is for the family to become the visible face of an invisible God who is love. When we read in the scriptures that man is created in the image and likeness of God, we are to understand man as referring to the human (“man and woman he created them”), and more appropriately to the family.
God indeed is the primordial family, a community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whose love for one another is so perfect that they constitute one perfect Being. And God calls the family to live his Trinitarian life which is a life of intimate relationship and love.
“The Triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection… Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he is within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of family, which is love. That love in the divine family is the Holy Spirit.” (Amoris Laetitia, 10)
For all its beauty and goodness, we know that marriage and family life is not always easy. That is why it is imperative that the Church provides families accompaniment and help at every step of the way.
The importance of preparing couples for marriage can never be overemphasized. I sit at our diocesan matrimonial tribunal every other month, and I am amazed to see how many requests for a declaration of nullity of marriage are brought in and found to have merit. Many marriages were entered into for the wrong reasons, like unwanted pregnancy, parental pressure, coercion, deception, extreme co-dependency, etc. Many of the dysfunctions and aberrations in families today could have been avoided if there was serious preparation for marriage.
We need not only to prepare couples for marriage but also to accompany those who are already married. Answering the call to reflect the Trinitarian life in today’s hedonistic and materialistic society is a tall order for families. The values of the gospel are constantly at odds with those of the world.
I once read a posting on Facebook about a couple, who are married for 65 years, being asked how they manage to stay together that long. Their reply was: “We were born in a time where if something was broken, we fixed it… rather than throw it away.”
Pope Francis often speaks of the present-day throw-away culture which readily disposes of anything deemed inconvenient or no longer useful, including persons and relationships. The family is the most beautiful and precious gift we have. Hence, no effort should be spared to repair and save it, and to make it work.
While the human effort may not suffice, I still believe that the grace of God who unites man and woman in the sacrament of matrimony will ensure that such divinely ordained union will endure until death.