Today is one of those Sundays when certain individuals might feel uncomfortable listening to what the scriptures present. It is one of those days when we hear complaints about the priest’s preaching at Mass and how offensive that might be.
God is exquisite in beauty, therefore the truth of His teachings is not only beautiful but also designed for our exquisite happiness. The Catholic Church is the gatekeeper of Truth, regardless of what the current modern world is proclaiming. As such, the Church doesn’t have the authority to change the Truth. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are a seamless garment in Church authority. Strictly speaking, these teachings are meant to protect both men and women in the noble institution of marriage, not to make things difficult as is erroneously propagated. Priests are just the messengers mandated with the truth, so we must speak it. And we must understand that God gives us commands to bring us peace if we keep those commands. The teachings on marriage are the same; they are ageless truths! Indeed, the teachings on marriage predate the coming of Christ into the world for which we hear Jesus say to the Pharisees in today’s gospel, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female” (Mk. 10:6).
The beginning is God’s wonderful plan for humanity, “The Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him” (Gen. 2:18). At this point, God provided different animals for the man -out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air- but none of these would serve as a suitable partner. Know this, God is the first to show love to Adam, appreciated his joy, and knew what exactly was good for him. God desired that Adam be blessed with a suitable partner, someone who would be valued and who would value him in a genuine way. No animal could do this for the man. God administered the first anesthesia and put him into a deep sleep. The Lord performed the first open-heart surgery and took out one of Adam’s ribs, then closed him up fashioning Eve to be his suitable partner. This is awesome.
When the man saw the woman, the exclamation shows God’s perfect work, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, this one shall be called Woman, for out of her man this one has been taken.” The Hebrew word used to denote “helper” is ezer. The word ezer was mostly used to refer to the help which only God can give. In the case of Adam, the phrase kenegdo is used to qualify ezer. Kenegdo refers to the one who “corresponds to,” the one who is “counterpart.” The woman is the kenegdo ezer, the real counterpart to the man. None of the animals could serve as kenegdo ezer for Adam, only the woman could. For that reason, Adam exclaims, “Aha, this one at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This is the beginning of the conjugal relationship, the union between a man and a woman as ordained by God. Scripture records this beginning as the reason “why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one flesh.” The beginning is God’s plan.
When the Pharisees posit the question for Jesus, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” they already know the answer. The Bible remarks, “They were testing him.” They know God’s requirements from the beginning. Jesus pushes them a little to confirm that they know what that beginning is, asking what Moses commanded them to do. And their answer is that Moses permits a husband to write a bill of divorce to dismiss her wife. Is it really the husband’s sole choice to write a bill of divorce for his kenegdo ezer (his counterpart)? That’s their first mistake. Second, did Moses make the laws on marriage? No, he only permitted them. Why? Simply “because of their hardness of hearts.”
So, Moses made a concession because the people pressured him to because they refused to change their thinking. Moses took a shortcut for them by using a reductionist approach. This is almost similar to the incident of their worshipping the golden calf, a result of their pressure on Aaron, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (Ex. 32:1). Pressures end up producing shortcuts in every experience in life.
We need to pay attention to this question from Christ regarding marriage in today’s context, “What did Moses command you?” Different forms of pressure on traditional marriage exist today. This generation is pushed to change the definition of marriage, to see divorce as one of the choices while making the decision to marry. We can also ask, “What does the state say today about marriage and divorce?” “What does the government say?” “What does the media say?” We all know the answers, they permit that divorce is granted at the slightest provocation. Let’s quickly end it and find someone new. That is the wrong answer.
The correct answer is to return to the beginning, hard as it may sound. Christ says, “What God has joined together, no man must separate.” Personally, I feel sad watching couples struggle to maintain a marriage that seems no longer healthy for them, where the man and the woman feel nothing for each other anymore. It is sad and hard to imagine how such couples could continue. As a priest and a marriage and family therapist, I grieve each time I hear a spouse say, “Sorry, I’m done. I’m out of this marriage.” It breaks my heart. I heard that just yesterday from one of my lovely couples. We’ve been working together to set things right, then I receive this ugly text message.
What I tell such couples is to take some time apart and process what is going on while they were together. At such a time too, there are lots of influences, lots of voices -family of origin, friends, colleagues, men/women who have gone through similar experiences, professionals, and so on. I will always caution couples going through difficulty in their marriage to pick and choose whom they consult. At a time like that, it may be hard to even hear God’s voice because negative feelings and emotions take the upper hand. The danger is to start reading journals and articles on how to achieve a smooth divorce. Do not do that!
A caveat! Marriage is more than having a good sexual experience. It is having an experience of love as willed by God. Sadly, today’s society tries to follow a simplistic and reductionist approach that presents the “suitable helpmate” as a mere sexual partner. Recently, I was engaged in a conversation with a newly engaged couple who already are in a big fight. The guy tells his fiancée that he wants to experiment with his sexuality and see if he is drawn to the opposite sex or not. His fiancé is stressed and worries that she might lose him. So, she suggests they do something gravely immoral. This is the danger in today’s world, and what social media is encouraging. Such postmodern garbage is what is contributing to pressures and is creating marital stress for many. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote a book with the title, “Three To Get Married” in which he emphasized that our Blessed Lord is at the center of every successful and loving marriage. I will recommend that you read that book. What is God’s intention for your marriage?
Couples must return to the beginning. Society and families must return to the beginning. The beginning is that aha moment, a recognition of what God desires for you as a couple. The beginning is that spark of divine love when you first set eyes on your spouse. The beginning is that point of attraction that you felt for each other on your first date. The beginning is that inner beauty that convinced you to make the decision to be with her. The beginning is that drive to love and to cherish each other till death do both of you part. The beginning is God leading and directing you above all the pressures that society brings. The beginning is the presence of the Holy Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23) when things get tough in your marriage. The beginning is God’s voice calling you to calm down and regain focus. Prayer and pursuing God as a couple in your marriage leads to peace and joy. That’s your beginning, exquisite beauty within your marriage; that’s God’s intention from the beginning. It takes the heart of a child to return to the very beginning as Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk. 10:16).