In mid-November, an 80-year old man in Florida calls his son in New York and says, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing. Forty five years of misery is enough.”
“Pop, what are you talking about?” The son screamed.
“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the father said. “We are sick of each other, and I am sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Denver and tell her.”
Frantic, the son called his sister, who exploded on the phone. “Like heck they’re getting divorced,” she shouted. “I’ll take care of this.”
She called her father immediately and screamed at him. “You are not getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing. DO YOU HEAR ME?”
The father hung up the phone and turned to his wife, “OK,” he said. “They are coming for Thanksgiving and paying their own way.”
The other day, an eleven year-old girl confided in me that her parents were getting a divorce. And she said she was feeling sad, angry, confused and wondered if it was her fault. And her younger brother also became quiet and got into trouble at school. Divorce is not a pleasant experience for anyone. It is not pleasant for the couples; and it is not pleasant for the children. It is not pleasant for their relatives and friends. The couple would feel they have failed each other and their children. The life of the children will never be the same. They are not going to grow up in a normal nucleus family with the same mom and dad and brothers and sisters as they used to be. They are going to spend some days with mom and some days with dad. They will have to meet and learn to relate to someone else who is not their mom or their dad. Sad as it is, divorce is happening in our society. It is not a new problem either.
When the Pharisees approached Jesus and asked if it were lawful for a man to divorce his wife, they already believed that they knew the answer. Divorce was permitted by Jewish law. But Jesus surprised them. He referred to the original intention God had in creating men and women. It is important for us to attentively listen to the words of God in today readings. We find four essential elements of Catholic Marriage in the first reading and the Gospel:
Jesus' teaching about divorce provokes a variety of responses. Some people hear the text snarl at them like a wild animal. Others grow angry when they simply hear the words, and vow to cross their fingers the next time they encounter that piece of scripture. Many priests and ministers avoid this text. A clergy said, “I have a congregation full of divorced people. How dare I invite them to the Lord's table with a passage that sounds so fierce?” We have an uphill battle to fight. In this new world, old Taboos against divorce and cohabitation are disappearing. Contraceptive pills and condoms are being distributed free in public schools and from the new healthcare reform policy. Our culture is abandoning its commitment to faithful lifelong marriage. It is predicted now, based on these trends that about half of the children today will spend at least part of their childhood in single-parent homes. Many factors contribute to this moral breakdown in our society: The sexual revolution of the sixties, the invention of contraceptive pills, the secularization of our society, the women’s movement, and the legalization of abortions, all these factors come about because our society is losing the sense of the sanctity of marriage and human life.
On the Respect Life Sunday, it is important for us to be reminded of the Church’s teachings on Marriage and Life. The first page of the Bible says, “God created man in his image; in the divine image He created them male and female. God blessed them saying to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:27-28). This is the foundation of the Church’s understanding and teachings on Marriage and Life. Life comes from God. God created men and women for His purpose. This purpose is to fill the earth with life. We fill the earth with life through marriage between a man and a woman. And the image of God continues to exist in every human being. To prevent life through contraception is against God’s intention and block life and the Image of God to be multiplied on earth. To do abortion or support abortion is to destroy life and the images of God in the world. Life is sacred. God always provide enough spaces and resources here on earth as well as in heaven for everyone. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places” (Jn 14:2). And “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them” (Mk 10:15).
One of the most difficult parts of the job of a priest is trying to convince people to uphold the rules and the teachings of the Church on marriage. The attitude of many Catholics toward marriage, divorce, sex outside of marriage, cohabitation, and same-sex marriage is not for the most part formed by what Jesus is teaching us. It is pretty much formed by the secular culture of our society. Some Catholics are questioning the Church, “Why does the Church have all these rules? Why doesn’t the Church allow divorce and remarried? Why doesn’t the Church allow contraception? It looks like the Church is trying to make it hard for people to stay in the Church?” Truly, the Church is not making it harder for people. It is the human hearts that are becoming more hardening toward God and God’s teachings. The Church’s mission is to continue Jesus’ work of saving the world. Therefore, the Church is here not to please the people or to make it easier for people, but to call people to be more faithful to God and to teach people to live a life that is pleasing to God. Catholics are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Sadly many are taking the values of the secular world and unwilling to change their hard-hearted attitude to conform to God. Catholics are called and challenged to influence the world and transform the world by our faithfulness to God.
I love this argument from the late Msgr. Edward P. Browne: Take and imagine situation: Suppose you have a neighbor who is a very annoying neighbor. He cuts the grass at five o’clock in the morning; he has a barking dog; he doesn’t take care of his property. So ten of you get together and you say “Let’s have this person murdered. We will each chip in a thousand dollars and hire a professional killer and have that neighbor murdered.” If you involve yourself in that manner and pay that money, you would be hiring a professional killer and would be guilty of first degree murder, according to the law and according to facts. Yet, it is told that sixty-four per cent of Catholics in this country, who vote, vote for politicians who are pro-abortion. In other words, sixty-four per cent of you are hiring professional killers. You are hiring them, paying their salary, electing them as president of the United States, sending them to Congress from your jurisdiction so that they can bring about abortion in our country, so that they can be paid to foster abortion, to foster all the things that are contrary to the law of God. And yet you pay them. If you are assisting in that fashion, you are guilty. If you support abortion, either by direct action or by appointing people who will support abortion, then you are responsible for the death of those innocent children. It is not just a matter of “Well, I personally don’t believe in abortion, but I am not going to impose my mentality on anybody else.” That’s totally idiotic.
The responsorial Psalm reminds us that God will bless us if we fear the LORD, and faithfully walk in his ways! We shall eat the fruit of our handiwork.