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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Trust always and a great deal in divine providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead! <br />-Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus

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