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Bible Reflections View Comments

Striving for the Gospel Ideal
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012
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We’re tempted to approach the hard sayings in the Gospels with a “yes, but...” response. We move to a worst- case scenario out of fear of what might happen if we hold to absolutes.

Today is no exception. Jesus makes an unconditional declaration about the indissolubility of marriage: “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Immediately we want to say, “Yes, but what if someone is in a truly abusive relationship? Is she doomed to putting up with the abuse or being alone for the rest of her life?”

Most of us know people who are divorced and remarried—some with annulments, some not. We use particular situations such as an abusive spouse or serial infidelity to argue that we need a change in the rules for marriage. But instead, we need to admit that those are, for the most part, exceptional cases. Because we also know many people in happy, healthy marriages who have never even considered divorce as an option.

Today’s lectionary readings remind us that the gap between the ideal and the real has been around almost as long as humans have lived, breathed and procreated on earth.

The first reading from the Book of Genesis sets forth God’s ideal plan for men and women, joined so uniquely as partners that no one can separate their union. Yet, in the Gospel, Jesus tells his questioners that even Moses made allowances for the dissolution of the marriage bond. But he also points out that those exceptions were made only because the people could not live up to God’s original vision of perfect union. Jesus acknowledges that fact but does not approve of it.

Jesus calls his followers to return to the ideal. He reminds them that God intended the marriage union to be a blessing for both partners, a participation in the divine act of creation. Our Catholic sacrament of marriage has its roots in this ideal. The couple’s mutual love reflects Christ’s love for the Church. The grace of the sacrament helps couples live up to that ideal through the stress of daily life.

The prohibition against divorce is not meant to be some sort of punishment for making the wrong choice of a mate. We do have to acknowledge that often what passes for marriage is not a truly sacramental bond.

Throughout the ages, there has been tension between marriage as a social and even economic institution and marriage as a romantic, intimate relationship between two soulmates. The reality of sacramental marriage lies somewhere in between.

A stable and healthy marriage has been shown over and over again to be the ideal setting for raising children to become balanced and responsible adults. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that as Jesus is trying to explain this to his disciples, Mark tells us that people were bringing children to Jesus to be blessed.

The Catholic Church has long held the belief that one of the primary purposes of marriage is procreation. There may be more wisdom in this than we realize. It may be that what a couple is unwilling or unable to do for themselves and one another, they can do for the good of their children. Again, this is more than living with a spouse in a constant state of armed truce.

Jesus never said that living the Gospel would be easy. But he did say it was more than worth the effort to strive for those ideals.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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