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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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Elizabeth of Portugal: Elizabeth is usually depicted in royal garb with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father, Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father, James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality. Thus fortunately prepared, she was able to meet the challenge when, at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom. 
<p>He, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. She long sought peace for him with God, and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son, Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, she set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.</p> American Catholic Blog In the name of the Father, use my mind to bring you honor, and of the Son, fill my heart to spread your word, and of the Holy Spirit, strengthen me to carry you out to all the world. Amen.

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