After the first six days of creation, God repeatedly looked upon what he has made, and declared it good. It stands, therefore, in stark contrast when we read in Genesis 2:18 that “God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’” There are two directions to go with this. First, that man is meant to live in community, with communal life finding its ultimate fulfillment in incorporation into the body of Christ. Within the body of Christ, each member is distinct and interdependent. No one member can realize his full potential without the rest of the body.
The second direction would be the fulfillment of man’s creation in the image of the Trinitarian God through the complementary pairing of male and female in the vocation of marriage. Genesis 2:24 seems to endorse this interpretation: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The man and the woman need one another to fully realize God’s image, with the fruit of their love emanating forth in a manner analogous to the way in which the Holy Spirit proceeds forth from the Father and the Son. The gaping whole in this interpretation is the holiness of the celibate life.
Certainly, we can say that man is called to live in community, and that this call to community is realized in a special way through the sacrament of marriage. In the Gospel (Mark 10:2-12), Jesus notes that the allowance of divorce was only a concession that Moses made for the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts. In the new covenant, that concession would not be needed. God joins together the husband and wife in an indissoluble bond. Divorce does not free an individual to remarry. The words of Christ are pretty darn clear on this point.
Even in the Old Testament, it is clear that divorce is not part of God’s plan for his people. In Malachi 2:14-16 reads “The Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. ‘For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel.’”
Too many people get married today thinking that marriage is about self-actualization, or they think of it as a 50-50 partnership. Marriage is not about self actualization, marriage is about sacrifice, as Christ sacrificed himself for his bride, the Church. Marriage is also not about each spouse contributing half, but rather each spouse contributing everything they’ve got. They are no longer two, but one flesh.
I can imagine that sermons based on this weekend’s Sunday mass readings are difficult for divorced Catholics to hear. Regardless, it is the clear and constant teaching of the Church, based on the words of our Lord. If it is unpleasant for some to hear, it says more about those who don’t want to receive the hard sayings than it does about the so-called failure of the Church to adapt to modern realities. Perhaps if these teachings were more widely received, the modern realities would not be quite so unpleasant.