The sanctity of marriage

The sanctity of marriage
The Sunday Gospel

Today’s Gospel (Mark 10: 2-16) is first of all about the sanctity of marriage between husband and wife, and then about the touch of God on their children. The background is a trick question about divorce in an attempt to trap Jesus. “Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?” Opinions were divided on the complex matter of divorce so the plotters felt that whichever way Jesus answered would alienate some people. They reminded Jesus that Moses allowed a husband to draw up a writ of dismissal of the wife and so to divorce. The man then had the right to remarry whereas the woman did not have that right and would be guilty of adultery if she remarried. Jesus struck a blow for women’s equality in saying that the man who divorced his wife and married another would equally be guilty of adultery. The same law for men as for women. Moses faced an unteachable people so he made the best of a messy situation by salvaging some protection for a woman out of the wreckage of a divorce. Jesus went on to say, “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. That is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.”

Christian marriage

Christian marriage is more than a legal contract. It is a Sacrament, one of those sacred moments in life when the presence of God is celebrated. In a dialogue on marriage, Rabbi Abraham Skorka quoted the Old Testament for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio – the future Pope Francis. “A cord of three strings is not quickly torn apart” (Eccles. 4:12). The third string is God whose presence is celebrated in the Sacrament. As Father Peyton used to say, “the family that prays together stays together.”

Touched by Jesus

After the debate about divorce, people were bringing little children to Jesus for him to touch them. Nowadays Christian parents bring their child to be touched by Jesus in the Sacrament of Baptism. This touch is not a one-day affair. The parents and godparents are asked if they are accepting the responsibility of training their child in the practice of the Faith. Family life has been called a little church where faith is nurtured and passed on. It is in family life more than anywhere else that that belief, prayer and Christian morals are nurtured.

Instability of family life

We usually think of Jesus living 30 years in family life and only three years travelling on his public ministry. That means that for every year in his public mission he spent ten years in his family environment. Actions speak more loudly than words. Family life is the most important sphere of his kingdom.

Since the family is still the basic unit of society, good family life is the backbone of a stable society. In our rapidly changing society, family life is under pressure. People change jobs, addresses and spouses. Houses are bigger but families are smaller. In many places more than half of firstborn children are conceived outside of marriage, or, indeed, of any stable relationship. The number of single-parent families has multiplied.

Today’s liberal agenda pursues individual rights to the detriment of the rights of others. It’s my right and no mention of my responsibilities. It is a crime to slap a child but it does not appear to be a crime to walk out on one’s spouse and children. To quote a great Jewish writer, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Turning promiscuous males into responsible fathers is the hardest task in any culture”. In regards to abortion, the so-called ‘right to choose’ is a lie because it is a denial of the right to life of another human being.

The family school

The most important school one can ever attend is the family. It is there, more than any other place, that one takes to heart the skills of interpersonal relationships. This personal schooling begins with self-worth. It expands into responsible relationships with others. And it blossoms in a relationship with God.

The foundation of self-worth is established in the way a child is welcomed into the world. The seeds of trust, reliance on others and confidence are planted in the brain and heart as the cries and needs of the infant are heard and answered. I am wanted and loved in this world. The warm hugs that the child receives are deeply embedded in the subconscious memory. The foundations of a mature personality are set in place.

As the child grows, he or she learns that the world is bigger than me. It’s not all about my rights: others have rights too. “You can’t have this, it belongs to your brother.” “Shh, quiet, or you will wake the baby.” Learning that others have rights will be the beginning of responsibility. It is in the family that we learn the reality of love, trust, sharing, respect for others, and awareness of the rights of others. We absorb the need for gentleness and patience. Very important will be learning how to handle conflict and how to forgive. Pope Francis speaks of three necessary words in any marriage: please (or may I), thanks, and sorry.

The cradle of faith

The family is the cradle of faith, handing on the Christian story, telling the story of the crib and cross, teaching the basic prayers. It is said that faith is not so much taught as caught. It is the atmosphere that one breathes in. Jews have a saying that God has no grandchildren. If parents fail to pass on the Faith, a whole generation is skipped. Nowadays it is often the grandparents who have to bring the children to the crib. Jesus spent ten years in family life for every one year is public ministry. That’s how important family life is.

Prayer of Pope Francis

Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division; may all who have been hurt or scandalised find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth, make us ever more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.

Gospel Reflections and Prayers by Fr Silvester O’Flynn is published by Columba Books.