THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (B)
The Church recognizes marriage as a basic aspect of human nature. I say "recognizes" and not "declares" because marriage is something which preexists the Church. It was not invented by a Church council but is part of our very human nature. This is why we recognize non-sacramental marriages between non-Christians as valid natural marriages, be they Hindu, Muslim, pagan, atheist etc.. But this does not mean that we recognize anything and everything as marriage. Whether natural or sacramental, a valid marriage must be intended for life and open to children (Can. 1055). This presumes a complementarity of gender. Societies across the world of all cultures and faiths have recognized these truths to some degree. But sometimes societies get it wrong.
This is why the Church has procedures in place for annulments. An annulment is the recognition by the Church that a valid marriage never existed; because sometimes we get it wrong. If one party enters into the marriage not intending it to be life-long, or not intending children, then they are not truly married. If one party is already married to someone else at the time, they are not truly married to their second "spouse." A wise priest commented to me once that the Church seems to be granting more annulments these days because there are fewer true marriages. This is because our society's understanding of marriage has eroded during the last century.
In 1930 the Anglican Communion decided in their Lambeth Conference that contraception could be morally licit. Soon nearly all Protestant denominations reversed their teaching on contraception. Contraception was once illegal to sell in the United States, but by the 1960's and the advent of the Pill, it was seen as the new norm. The contraceptive mentality has led to an acceptance of abortion, the ultimate solution if your contraception fails. Children are now treated as commodities to be purchased or discarded. Have a baby but don't want one? Get an abortion. Want a baby but don't have one? Get one made-to-order in a lab. Whether you are married or not really doesn't enter into the equation.
Marriage is about creating a stable family for the upbringing of children, but if children are removed from the equation then there is no reason why marriage should be a life-long bond. So in 1969 California enacted the nation's first no-fault divorce law. The rest of the country soon followed, meaning anyone could now divorce their spouse simply because one didn't want to be married any more. There is no longer an expectation that couples entering marriage will be together for life. At the dawn of the 20th century, the divorce rate in America was 7%. By the 1980s it had grown to over 50%.
I relate all of this only to illustrate that there are certain requirements as to what constitutes a valid marriage, and for decades we have lived in a society where an increasing number of "marriages" do not meet those requirements.
In our second reading today (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15), St. Paul speaks of equality. He reminds us that Jesus became poor so that we might become rich, and with the abundance He gives us we should supply the needs of the poor so that "there may be equality." St. Paul was talking about Christians sharing their material needs, but the same holds true for spiritual goods. One spiritual good which many lack while others have in abundance is knowledge of the truth.
The collect from today's Mass contains the beautiful prayer "that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth." It is precisely by living in the bright light of truth that we can be lights to those who are spiritually poor, "that there may be equality."
The Supreme Court has not given us "marriage equality." Instead we have a great inequality between reality and practice when it comes to marriage in our society. A proper understanding of the natural order is a good Those who live in the light of truth have an abundance of this good. Today, that abundance will have to supply the needs of our society. How do we share this abundance? Not by snarky comments on Facebook. Not by spewing messages of hate. Not by accusing anyone of being unworthy of love. It is shared by living in the light of truth and generously sharing the love of Christ.
In many ways our scripture readings this Sunday are about restoring the natural order. Our first reading assures us that "God did not make death" (Wis 1:13). Death is not natural. And so in the gospel we see Jesus overcoming death by raising the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:21-43). There are other times Jesus restores the natural order. Moses allowed a Jewish husband to divorce his wife. But in Mark 10:1-12 Jesus says, "from the beginning this was not so." Divorce is not natural, so Jesus commands that what God has joined together, no man can separate. Christ restores the natural order of marriage when society gets it wrong.
The world today gets a lot wrong when it comes to marriage -- not just the one thing that was in the news so much last week, but many things. It calls contraception a good, and children an inconvenience. It considers life-long marriage to be an unrealistic ideal. It says marriage has nothing to do with gender. It says marriage is whatever you want it to be. Tomorrow, who knows what the world will say about marriage? But Catholic couples and others of good will can continue to stand in the bright light of truth by faithfully living their marital vocations. Pray for all married couples that by the witness of their vocation they may share in Christ's loving restoration of the world.