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Marriage In The Lord

December 16, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DONALD FIER

Two weeks ago, we established that “the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], n. 1603). Created “male and female” (Gen. 2:17; Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6) and in the “image and likeness of God” (cf. Gen. 1:26, 27), they were enabled to “become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Eph. 5:31) in a complete union of self-giving love.
Moreover, this “marital union of man and woman…is by its very nature ordered to the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 338). Such was the original plan of our Creator.
As we saw last week, however, the original condition of our first parents suffered a major blow as a direct consequence of their sin of disobedience:
“Adam and Eve disrupted the natural unity that existed between themselves and God, and between each other. Rather than a selfless love, which gave itself entirely for the other, they began to look inward, toward themselves and their own desires” (The Didache Series: The Sacraments [DS-S], p. 183).
With sin came a natural tendency to “discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation” (CCC, n. 1606). But God, in His infinite goodness and mercy, did not abandon His original plan: “As part of his redemptive mission, Jesus re-established the permanence of marriage to the original state…by making it a sacrament” (DS-S, p. 183).
“The Fathers of the Church,” states Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, “commonly recognize that by his participation in the [wedding] feast at Cana, the Savior sanctified Christian marriage among the faithful” (The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism, Q. 1427).
So, as was also affirmed last week, it is generally held that this joyous event marks when Jesus raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament; it was “thenceforth marriage [would] be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence” (CCC, n. 1613).
In performing His first public sign at a wedding feast, says Fr. Paul Haffner, “Christ restored Marriage to its original purity and bestowed the grace required to carry out the demands which this involves” (The Sacramental Mystery [TSM], p. 236).
In its subsection entitled “Marriage in the Lord,” the Catechism goes on to purposefully emphasize that “in his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning” (CCC, n. 1614).
His solemn proclamation of this central teaching of our faith from the Gospel of St. Matthew is cited:
“And Pharisees came up to [Jesus] and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning 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?” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery’” (Matt. 19:3-9).
It is informative to examine the context of Jesus’ teaching in this account. Our Savior was east of the Jordan River and on His way to Jerusalem after completing His Galilean ministry. According to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible — New Testament (ICSB-NT), this was significant for two reasons: 1) This location is linked to John the Baptist, who was executed for condemning the divorce and remarriage of King Herod and his brother’s wife Herodias (cf. Matt. 14:3-10), and 2) it is also the region where Moses gave Israel the laws of Deuteronomy, which included the concession that allowed for divorce and remarriage (cf. Deut. 24:1-4).
One cannot help but suspect that “the Pharisees hoped to lure Jesus into the same trap that cost John his life . . . [and] it seems more than coincidental that Jesus is about to repeal the Deuteronomic concession for divorce and remarriage in the very place where it was ratified” (ICSB-NT, p. 40).
Probably aware that Jesus had already condemned divorce and remarriage on the occasion of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5:31-32), scholars suggest that the intent of the Pharisees was to discredit Christ by pitting Him against Moses. Jesus, however, evades their trap by recalling the words of Moses from the Book of Genesis and turns the tables by showing it was they who were out of touch with the true intention of marriage as taught by the Torah (cf. ibid.). And even though Moses did allow divorce due to the people’s “hardness of heart,” it is clear that even in Old Testament times divorce falls short of God’s plan for marriage: “Let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel” (Mal. 2:15-16).
A question remains, however. What did Jesus mean when He said “except for unchastity” in the verses from the Gospel of Matthew cited earlier? According to Fr. John Paul Echert, “it is important to parse carefully the words of this text to know the very specific limits of the exception clause conceded by our Lord, namely, for fornication. Jesus applied this single exception to divorce, but not remarriage. In other words, infidelity can be grounds for divorce but it does not free one to remarry” (The Catholic Servant, volume XXI, n. VI, June 2015).
Anyone who uses this so-called “exception clause” to justify remarriage “fails to interpret Jesus’ statement in light of its immediate biblical context. The disciples’ response to Jesus statement on divorce (‘it is not expedient to marry’ [Matt. 19:10]) demonstrates that, in their understanding, Jesus was leaving no room at all for divorce and remarriage” (ICSB-NT, p. 41).
By His “unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond,” teaches the Catechism, “Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy….By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” (CCC, n. 1615).
Great solace can be taken in the words of St. Paul in this regard: “[Our Lord] will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Husbands and wives will receive the sacramental graces necessary, “as a fruit of Christ’s Cross,” to preserve the unity and indissolubility that they promised one another on the day of entering into Holy Matrimony.
The Catechism next makes reference to the fifth chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which is powerfully expressive with regard to the sacramentality of marriage and how marital love is a reflection of Christ’s love for His spouse, the Church (CCC, nn. 1616-1617).
It is a subject that Pope St. John Paul II examined extensively during his catechesis on the “theology of the body” from September 1979 to November 1984. A translation of the compilation of the Holy Father’s audiences by Dr. Michael Waldstein entitled Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body will be used as a primary resource for an analysis of how the mystery of Christ’s love for His Church is to be lived out in Christian marriage.

A Great Mystery

To end this installment, this important excerpt from St. Paul’s epistle will be quoted in full as a prelude to an analysis of individual verses which will follow in next week’s column:
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
“Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:21-33).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a consecrated Marian catechist.)

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