19th Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory
Much like reporters trying to force a politician into an embarrassing public gaffe, the Pharisees throw “gotcha” questions at Jesus. They confront him with hypothetical scenarios and quibble with him over picayune, legalistic disagreements. These questions aren't motivated by a genuine desire for enlightenment or the quest for dialogue on pressing policy issues. They are hoping that Jesus will say something controversial and damage his reputation. What they don't anticipate is Jesus' command not only of the Law itself but his knowledge of the Law's foundations in the divinely created order as well. Our Lord responds to their tricky questions by going well beyond familiar hair-splitting legal distinctions and draws on what we call the Natural Law; that is, the reason, the purpose woven by our Creator into the fabric of reality itself. When asked about marriage and divorce, Jesus sets aside procedural problems and goes to the heart of the question. He quotes Genesis on marriage—a man and woman are made one flesh by God—and concludes, “Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” How does a creature unmake what the Creator Himself has made? In more prosaic terms, how can what is real be made unreal without destroying it?
Though we may not immediately recognize this question, it is the question being asked by those who argue that marriage may not be redefined by legislative, judicial, or executive fiat. Congress, the Supreme Court, the President may no more change what marriage is than they can repeal the law of gravity or make 2 + 2 equal 5. Underlying marriage is a divine reality, an eternal truth that is not subject to the social engineering impulses of the human heart. Gravity can be tragically inconvenient even deadly but it is a force of nature, a feature of reality that cannot be wished, prayed, or voted away. Despite my best efforts as a student, algebra stubbornly held to its fundamental reality, resisting tantrums, pleadings, arguments, and threats of bodily harm. To this day, the quadratic formula haunts my memories as a terrible witness to the harsh, unyielding reality of numbers. For those who would alter reality with words alone, marriage stands as a testament to their inability to command the forces of the Natural Law and unmake that which God Himself has made.
Divorce—as Moses understands it—springs from the inability or unwillingness of the human heart to endure the burdens of marriage. Jesus understands divorce quite differently—it's the destruction of a divinely created reality and a failure to continue giving witness to the love that he shows his Church. A man and woman joined as one flesh by God constitutes a sacramental ministry to the Church and the world. To hold that marriage is soluble is to hold that Christ can cease loving his Church. Though we recognize the notion of a “civil divorce,” we cannot recognize the actual dissolution of a marriage b/c we cannot imagine that Christ would ever stop loving his people. Thus, once married, always married and if civilly divorced then another “marriage” is an impossibility. This isn't a cruel law of a controlling institution but the recognition that we cannot unmake what God Himself has made; we cannot render what is real unreal. Moses made a concession to the hardened human heart when he allowed divorce. Were we to make such a concession, we would concede to what amounts to insanity: by sheer force of will and the application of intellect, a creature can re-create that which the Creator Himself has made. Once that concession is made, we enter a fantasy world, a world where gravity is a suggestion and algebra an art.
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