Well, I have - think of it as an occupational hazard. It is the kind of experience that stops you in your tracks and makes you reconsider everything - like raising the doorway another 8 inches.
Divorce was that way for me, because six years ago I learned that I was getting a divorce - there was no option and no discussion. Not only a divorce, but an ugly divorce that has divides my family to this day.
This means that the readings today hit home in a particularly hard way - and it is difficult for me to preach about such a sensitive topic.
Please let us take a moment and pray - pray that God will give me the grace to respond to His Spirit and to proclaim his word.
I know that I am not alone in this experience of Divorce. I know that many people who gather here to worship God have also experienced divorce. Probably half of us did not choose divorce, while others did. I can't speak of your situation, but I can speak from my experience.
The readings today smack us over the head like a solid brick door-jam because they run squarely against our current understanding of marriage and divorce in our society.
We live in a world that is confused about marriage. And because of this confusion we have a hard time with these readings. Let me explain.
Today we recognize marriage as "a public recognition of a couple who are in a relationship of committed love.
In ten years, our understanding will have changed to "A public recognition of a set of relationships between people who share a relationship of committed love" -
But what is committed love? What is the public recognition of that love?
For our society the recognition of the committed love is a marriage license from the state. It costs you $30 and you can get married.
What is it's value?
Another way of asking this question - what is committed love? What is love? These two questions are where we struggle as society to answer. Love is the desire / capacity to seek the good for another. The degree to which we love is reflected by the degree to which we are willing to sacrifice and suffer for the other.
- An obligation that restricts freedom of action.
- A Quality of being dedicated to a cause.
- A Promise to do something
But is this true?
Not really - the state, while recognizing our marriages at the same time undermines that commitment. There is nothing in state law, or in the bulk of our society to help a couple to persevere in their commitment. The reality of our divorce law is that at any time either person can divorce the other - they can break the commitment and stop being married.
So what is the value of the marriage license?
How does this stack up against God's image for marriage?
Are we even close?
The first reading today is from the Book of Genesis. God created man and realized - "It is not good for man to be alone!"
In this God is recognizing that we are created for community. That we are created for a relationship of love with the other. This is why in the Church that the two sacraments of service - Marriage and Holy Orders are both oriented towards the other. I live out my vocation for Marriage when I serve my spouse. I live out my vocation for Holy Orders when I serve the Body of Christ.
So God, places Adam into a deep sleep, and takes from his essence and creates Eve. God created Adam and Eve to be complementary to one another - to complete one another. Adam is missing something that he finds in Eve and vice-versa.
God's vision for marriage is that we complete one another, that we seek to show one another true love - love that is willing to sacrifice for the other, to bring the other to a greater good.
This is the first place where the world is confused about marriage. For the world, marriage can be between any two persons - regardless of sex. Yet that is not God's plan. For God marriage is meant to be between man and wife - because there is a unique way that they complete one another that works for their mutual benefit.
Science backs up this perspective. Scientists have studied why humans have a unique pair-bonding pattern across the vast majorities of societies, cultures and times. When we compare ourselves to the apes, this is not their pattern. Apes do not pair bond, yet humans do. Not only that but when a Man and a Woman are married their bodies begin to interact with one another at a neuro-chemical level. Men and Women emit hormones which form the foundation upon which our emotional, physical and intellectual relationship is built. Scientists have noticed that when a couple become intimate, and enter into this committed relationship their bodies adapt to one another. In this way a husband is aware of his wife's fertility, and he develops a primal instinct to protect his family and children.
Build atop this neuro-chemical layer is a set of psychological behaviors that form the attachment system - a system that we all have that helps us to form long-lasting relationships with one another.
These systems in our bio-chemistry, psychology and culture serve to help us to enter into a lifelong and faithful relationship with one another. This is what Christ is referring to when he says that the two become one flesh.
When you have become one flesh what happens when this relationship is severed? What happens when your arm is severed, or your leg? It is painful, destructive and life-altering. You become crippled, maimed and incomplete. The result is worse than where you started from - because each person in a divorce has lost something precious, something beautiful.
Fidelity - Trust - Faithfulness
Because our bodies are communicating on a neuro-chemical level, hormonally, we can become aware of changes in the other. The commitment side of marriage (from the worlds understanding) says that we have become a society of serial monogamists. First Marriages end in divorce 50% of the time. The statistics are worse for those couples who live together prior to marriage. Second Marriages divorce 63% of the time and Third marriages end in divorce over 70% of the time. This means that your best shot is your first shot, after that the odds are really stacked against us.
Fidelity - means that I will be faithful to my vows - I will continue to live out the promises that I made to God and to my spouse. It means that our marriage is exclusive to us and no one else may interfere - not another man or woman, or in-law. It means that in our lives the spouse comes first - before even ourselves. It means that even when it gets difficult, my commitment to God, and to my Spouse is to see reconciliation, to forgive, to strive to love them as Christ loves me.
God's vision for marriage is that marriage is faithful. In this way we imitate the love of God when we choose to be exclusively in relationship with our spouse.
Commitment implies that we are no-longer open to certain kinds of relationships and interactions. It means that we no longer dating others, that we have settled down and have chosen to give ourselves exclusively to our spouse. This also means that we have chosen to give our spouse permission to be totally and completely themselves, so that they can work through their sin in their relationship to ourselves.
In marriage, it is my love for you that allows me to forgive you. It is my love for you that causes me to endure your sinfulness, your selfishness, your wastefulness. It is my love for you that leads me to examine my own behaviors, habits and actions and to change them so that your life can be better, and that you can grow holier. This is what fidelity means.
The confusion of the secular world is that marriage is not a commitment - it is not exclusive, it is not complementary and other-focused. It is self-focused. I am here as long as I am happy, and as soon as you no longer make me happy, I will leave and find another.
Secular marriage is selfish, focuses on my own happiness, life-less (hence the view that children are a burden instead of a gift) and temporary.
Christian marriage is self-less, other-centered, open to life and permanent.
What is the greatest stumbling block to marriage? What is the greatest cause of divorce?
The hardness of our hearts.
In the Gospel today the Pharisees put Christ to the test - they challenge him on a point of law - is divorce legal? Moses said it was. Christ's response is like hitting another brick wall - "That was because you are so thick-headed!"
Where in my relationship is my heart hardened?
Perhaps there was a relationship where we did not reconcile and we have agreed to disagree - but we are both hurt by our actions.
This is where we fall back to the Christian foundations of marriage.
- Is my love for you changing me? How I act, how I show you my love?
- Is my love for you leading me to recognize the ways that I have hurt you? Is it leading me to ask for your forgiveness?
- Is my love for you allowing my ears to be open, to forgive when forgiveness is asked for?
- Is our relationship open to life? Do we see children as a blessing from God and an invitation to share the intimacy of our love for one another with our family?
Is our relationship exclusive, and long lasting? If I am here to stay, then why am I continuing to remain in a relationship without Christ at it's center?