Readings: Ezekiel 16:1-15, 60, 63; Psalm 12; Matthew 19:3-12
Jesus speaks of marriage past, present and future. How it was meant to be 'from the beginning' is his first response to the Pharisees' question about divorce. In the intention of the Creator divorce is not envisaged, but rather that a man and his wife should be together in an inseparable union. In the intention of any couple getting married, unless there is some deception being perpretated, divorce is not envisaged, but rather that the couple, from the significant beginning of their relationship which we call 'falling in love', will be together in an inseparable union. That intention and that union are blessed in the Catholic Church to become a sacrament, a sign and a realisation of the presence of the Kingdom of God.
But experience shows .... is the next comment from the Pharisees, not in so many words but in effect. Moses allowed men (sic) to divorce their wives. He did, Jesus replied, because of the hardness of heart that can creep in to destroy relationships and break marriages. But that is not how God intended it. There should not be divorce, Jesus says, it is equivalent to adultery.
Now it is the disciples' turn to appeal to experience. If you take that line, they say to Jesus, not in so many words but in effect, then it is not expedient to marry. As the Pharisees present Jesus with past experience, the disciples present him with present experience, and together they say something like 'human nature being what it is, your ideal is not going to work in some cases'.
Jesus echoes his own radicalisation of the law in the Sermon on the Mount: 'I say to you'. And the requirements of God's law become more difficult, more demanding, because what is asked must come from within, from the heart, arising from love of the good and not from fear of consequences. This is the ethic of the kingdom, the future reality which Jesus is inaugurating in the present. There are those who can already live according to these demands, he says, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. But they are those whom love, the Spirit of God who is love, has made able to receive this teaching.
What if our morality is not something we can generate out of our own natural resources but a gift to be received? And what if we live between the past of which the Pharisees speak, the present of which the disciples speak, and the future of which Jesus speaks? It would make faithful marriage also an eschatological sign, a sacrament making present in the Church, the life of the world to come.
Hardness of heart is a permanent threat, always lurking at our door, ready to poison and distort our commitments and our relationships. It is only the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love, who will soften our hearts and keep them gentle. And so keep them capable of faithful love. Not all can accept this word, Jesus says, his teaching about marriage, and for some it is actually better that they not marry. But whoever can accept this ought to accept it.
Traditionally this has been applied in the Church to the vocation to celibacy. But considering the changes concerning marriage that are happening in the world around the Church, it seems that we must find also in these words of Jesus an encouragement of those called to marriage, understood as it has been from the beginning. If we are to receive this teaching, and live in accordance with it, then whatever our particular vocation in the Church, we need the Spirit of love to come to dwell in us. Only by the power of that Spirit will our commitments and promises share the strength and fidelity of the everlasting covenant which the Lord has made with his people, the covenant of which our promises and commitments are sacramental and charismatic signs.