In the gospel for today (27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B), the Pharisees asked Jesus a question. They asked this question to test him. They were looking for a way to prove He was not the Messiah. While their motives are bad, the question can be a good question, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?“
Jesus responds with a question back to them, “What did Moses command you?” Moses was a faithful servant of the Lord. The teachings that Moses offered were central to the identity of the Israelites. The Pharisees respond back, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” It is important to note that they did not say that Moses taught that it was ok. They said Moses permitted it.
Why did Moses permit it? Jesus answers this question by saying, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.” However, divorce is not what God intends. We are not perfect but we must always strive for the ideal, the “ideal” being what God intends. “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The joining of marriage is not meant to be temporary. As Jesus said, and is said at Catholic weddings after the couple exchange their vows, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.“
To understand the marriage covenant we need to look at the first reading. Before this passage, God had created Adam. Today “Adam” is a name. However, like many names, before it was a name, it was a word. The word “adam” means “human being”. Adam represents the human race. As this passage begins, Adam is singular, but God did not create “adam” to be alone. God himself says so, “It is not good for the man to be alone.“
God knows what He created “adam” for. Adam is created for love. Thus, God sets about making “a suitable partner” for Adam. God created “various wild animals and various birds of the air.” Adam named each one of them. In ancient culture, to name something was to have power over it. This was important. The animals and birds are part of God’s creation. Thus, they are good, but they are not the suitable partner as God knows is needed.
To be complete, to find fulfillment, the man needed not a subordinate. The man needed an equal, one of the same substance. This is why God took the rib from the man and made the woman. Male and female He created them. God created male and female to be equal and for their bodies to compliment one another. While they are equal, male and female are different. In marriage, the two become one flesh, coming together in a way two people of the same gender cannot.
The two becoming one flesh is not merely a matter of physical sex. It is more than physical intimacy (for more on this see my article, “Chastity and Sexuality”). It is emotional intimacy, the two comes together in love, being there for one another. This emotional and spiritual bond of love is what we are created for. Authentic sexual union is an outward expression of something much deeper, the love of the wife and husband for each other.
The love of a husband and wife is life-giving. It is life-giving as they give themselves to each other in love. It can also be life-giving in having children. Having one’s own biological children is certainly important but having children is much more than passing on one’s biological genes. It is caring and nurturing them. (For more on this see my recent article, “Praying the Litany of St. Joseph,” where I discuss how St. Joseph fulfilled his role as a husband and a father.)
Seemingly shifting the topic a little bit, if “It is not good for the man to be alone,” then how come priests and religious do not marry? It is true that priests and religious give up marriage, accepting celibacy, but this does not mean they give up on intimacy and having a role in raising children.
Priests and religious do not live in marital intimacy but this does not mean they are alone without love. What titles do we call them? Do we not call them sister, brother, and father? These are terms of relationship. It is not the same relationship as marriage. It is not supposed to be. In accepting celibacy, religious and priests, share in a different intimacy with God. It is not a better intimacy with God but it is different. As to religious and priests not having children, I point to what I discussed in my recent article, “Praying the Litany of St. Joseph,” regarding what St. Joseph passed onto Jesus. Priests and religious pass on faith and what it means to be a child of God to many. In that article I also talked about role of St. Joseph as husband to Mary. Their relationship did not include sexual acts but it was a spousal love. Religious and priests take the Church as their spouse.
May the Lord bless you in your vocation, whether it be as a married person, single, religious, priest, or deacon.