Gospel Reflections by Father Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

B - 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 5, 2003
Mark 10:2-16

What God Has Joined

      One of my greatest sources of joy and of perplexity during 20 years as parish priest has been dealing with those about to get married and those already married. I came to see that there are three different kinds of marriage: marriage before the State or civil marriage; marriage before the Church, and marriage before God. Ideally, all three should coincide but the fact is that one or two or all three can sometimes be absent.

      Monday morning she arrives in your office with a shattered, battered, divorcee from abroad. They assure you that they know one another well, - they have been writing for a year - even though he's just stepped off the last flight from Manila. They are madly in love, they say, and they want to get married on Saturday - yes! this coming Saturday.

      Your pastoral alarm signal vibrates as it gets messages from 10 directions. Is this marriage or just mating by mail? Here are two myths: a poor Westerner who has been battered by a liberated wife and who believes he will find heaven in a docile Asian bride - who probably has just as fierce a tiger in her tank as any western woman; and a poor girl who has been led to believe that she will liberate herself and her family from poverty by marrying a rich foreigner - all foreigners being by definition rich in every way.

      So what do you do? Throw them out and tell them that they you cannot touch this case? How can they enter into a union of love and life whey they do not even know one another? It could not be a sacrament? How can you do anything when Canon law prohibits such marriages? Good-bye. They may go and find another church to marry them or find a judge to perform a civil ceremony. But what about the love and compassion of Christ for the least of our brothers and sisters? If you have had your morning coffee, and your favorite team has won last night, and you are generally in a good mood, you might say, "this is a pretty rotten situation, crazy thought it may be, they are going to get married any how. If I kick them out that is probably the end of any presence of Christ and God in their relationship. If I give them time, and demand time from them, they may get that little something that will help the relationship to work. It could be that they are called to marriage before God." And I have to decide what to do.

      On Tuesday morning Rose comes along, bringing Tony, to be interviewed. Rose is an accounting major with a good job in the bank while Tony, who did not finish grade six, is a standby driver. You begin to wonder what is going on. What can there be between them on an intellectual or emotional level? What will happen to them when they need something more than a physical sexual relationship from each other?

      As you listen to her story you find out she has had a very hard life. Her father was a drunkard and treated her mother very badly. Yet her mother had put them through school and through her help and her own determination Rose got her degree and her job. Faced with social pressure - unmarried girls are one of the most oppressed and intimidated sectors of our society - faced with the possibility of becoming an old maid and having no one to care for her in her old age; and facing her own sexual and generativity needs, she has chosen Tony. She believes she can manage Tony, who she sees as weak, and make sure that he does not give her the same bad time her mother got. But if she has already planned to manage the relationship how can they be any relationship at all? As the priest's pastoral alarm bells ring loudly he is also shocked by his own powerlessness. Rose and Tony have a right to marry and they are at present incapable of hearing anything he may wish to point out to them about the minefields ahead of them in their marriage.

      On Wednesday morning Romeo brings along Juliet. Romeo makes quite a boast of the fact that he already has children with three other women. He has now so charmed Juliet that she will marry him, and she is convinced that her charms are such that he will never again seek any other lover. The poor pastor squirms again in his powerlessness. If I officiate at this ceremony it will be a marriage before the State, I am duly licensed; it will be a marriage before the Church, I am duly ordained; but will it be a marriage before God?

      Thank God for Thursday evening. I spend it with Tony and Carmel and their kids. They have had their ups and downs, but you can see the deep love between them. You can see their effort to be for one another and to hear their children. Their no-nonsense realism makes one feel hope and joy.

      The Church's recognition of marriage as a sacrament is a late development. To say that marriage is a sacrament is to say that the relationship of a man and a woman is a sign and a means of God being present in their lives. For a long time marriage was seen as a contract between a man and woman in which they committed themselves to live together and to bring up children. Procreation was seen as the primary, if not the only end, of marriage. In our time the mutual relationship aspect of marriage has been given much more importance. The procreational and relational aspects of marriage are now officially recognized as equal in official Church documents. Many factors have led to this clarification. Women today can live for years and years beyond the childbearing age - which was not the norm before this century. Today, the act of sexual intercourse can easily be separated from the potential to procreate. So marriage today is seen more "as a union of love and life" than as a "contract."
So too there is much more recourse to the annulment of marriage. When marriage was defined as a contract it was generally believed that one had to keep the contract for the good of society. Too bad for you if you made a mistake! However, if marriage is seen as "union of love and life" and if it becomes very clear that the couple in question were never capable of such a union in the first place, then why insist that they continue in a hell of a union that never existed anyhow?

      I will switch for a moment from the topic of marriage to the topic of prayer. Over the years my definition of prayer has been changing from that of a duty we perform towards God to that of our relationship with Him. Now I would define prayer as relationship (period). We cannot relate to God unless we are living at our own centers; we cannot be at our own centers unless we are in relationship with others; we cannot be in relationship with others if we do not have reverent relationship with the world itself and all the things that are in it.
Prayer is an open relationship. Prayer forms that promote such a relationship are life-giving. Forms that limit our openness to or box in and control our understanding of God, or the place where we find God, or what we can expect from God, are not constructive and may even be destructive.

      Now, if prayer is relationship and the relationship of love is of the essence of marriage it is obvious that prayer has a lot to do with marriage. If one's prayer forms are leading one to a more open and loving relationship, such prayer can only lead to depth and growth in marriage. But if our prayer is only a fearful fulfillment of duty - warding off feared punishment, it is most likely that the same attitude will be active in marriage.

      From our discussion so far it is clear that relationship is an essential aspect of marriage and its importance is ever growing. In today's Gospel Jesus says, "Let no one separate what God has joined." People who are in relationship are joined in God and by God and there will be no need for anyone to separate them. But people who are not capable of being still at their own centers are not capable of relationship, of allowing others into their centers, and it is very hard to say if they are joined by God.

      All of us do nearly everything we do primarily for a selfish reason. We start to pray for selfish reasons. We become priests or get married for selfish reasons. In an open type of prayer we will find ourselves becoming more conscious of our selfishness and more able to transcend it. Only then do we become capable of being really joined by God.

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Taken from Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

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