Homily – October 3, 2021

At different times when witnessing a marriage I’ve used the words of Jesus from his cross, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ And they don’t. The young bride and groom are making an act of faith in an unknown future. In that act of faith they say to one another, in good time and in bad, in sickness and in health, in all the future possibilities of our lives, I will be yours and you will be mine. The old marriage ritual contained the following promise; ‘God will be with you in your needs, he will pledge you the lifelong support of his grace in the sacrament you are about to receive. ‘Still, they know not what they do.

One biblical scholar claims that we know very little about how divorce was handled in Jewish society at the time of Jesus, but Jesus maintains God’s dream of humanity is bigger than the social realities of that time and it still is. This ‘oneness of flesh is an ideal to aim for and not a rule to be applied strictly without taking circumstances into consideration. It is an ideal to reach towards, without pretending to have obtained it with a perfect love.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, marriages were between families. It is the custom in many cultures today. Each family selected a partner for the other. Marriage was intended to bind families together, forming a stronger unit.

A divorce was more than the separation of a husband and wife; it was the separation of the families. Such a separation could lead to family feuds as each side blamed the other for the break-up. This happens today as family and friends are expected to take sides blaming the other for the break up. It can get quite nasty.

Maybe the basic purpose of this commandment in ancient Israelite society was to head off feuding which led to bloodshed. The idea was to maintain internal societal harmony and stability.

Jesus saw the marriage covenant as a symbol of the unbreakable covenant between God and the people of Israel. St. Paul saw marriage as a symbol of the covenant of Christ’s love for his bride, the Church. A covenant sealed with his blood.

Sadly the words of Jesus, ‘what God has joined let no one separate’ have little or no influence on society today. Divorce is a sad and painful reality in our lives. Husbands and wives split, children are passed back and forth and one family wants nothing to do with the other.

Divorce is a fact in our reality as Church. Men and women who divorce believe they are out of the church. This is not true. A divorced man or woman who remarries without an annulment, which can be a painful process, opening old wounds, is at odds with the church but they are still in the church, they are still family, they are still welcome.

Jesus speaks about the hardness of people’s hearts. Pope Francis is facing resentment and resistance from cardinals and bishops as he’s asked for a reform of the annulment process and a change in attitude toward divorced men and women. He respects the decision of divorce men and women who, mindful of their need of God’s grace seek to come to receive Holy Communion. Who am I to judge? Pope Francis also reminds us the Holy Communion is not a reward for the righteous but a remedy for the weak. And we are all weak.

There may be many at this Mass whose lives have been touched by the tragedy and sadness of divorce. May we as a parish family pray for and welcome these good people whose lives have been touched by this blight. We pray for the children whose lives are in turmoil because of divorce. May our parish family always welcome divorced men and women to the Eucharist. May these good people find new life and new love. God said , ‘it is not good to be alone.’