Our Gospel this Sunday presents us with the first of three encounters that Jesus has with different individuals. This Sunday he encounters the Pharisees and the following two Sundays he will encounter a young man and then James and John. Again we see that the emphasis is on teaching. This section of Mark’s Gospel known as the WAY section then ends with Jesus meeting the blind man Bartimaeus. It began with the gradual healing of the blind man of Bethsaida and ends with the complete healing of Bartimaeus who then follows Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem. The only other miracle in this section was when Jesus healed the possessed boy. In that instance the apostles couldn’t drive out the evil spirit. Jesus worked the miracle but it too was heavy with Jesus teaching.
In these few verses, today’s readers of Mark’s Gospel can see the early church’s struggle with one of the most painful areas of concern in our contemporary church and society—the meaning of fidelity in marriage. At the core of Mark’s Gospel message is Jesus’ challenge to spouses to live in faithful and perpetual union until death.
The biblical teaching on Marriage contained in this passage from Mark is but part of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are 15 pages on Matrimony. Traditionally and continually we must preserve the ideal of marriage for life, in the Sacrament of matrimony. But we must also recognize today’s reality, in our society, our parish, 50% of people who have been married have also been through divorce. Surely Jesus’ compassion and healing reach out to strengthen and help people to persevere. But his compassion and healing must also reach out to those affected by divorce—spouses and children. One of the ways the church assists people who have been divorced is the annulment process. We have information about this process in the office.
Some people do not have correct information about the present teaching of the Church. In past years, in the Catholic Church, Divorce carried with it separation from the Church, Excommunication. That no longer is the case. There is no longer an automatic excommunication connected with divorce. Divorced people who have not remarried are in good standing with the church and can receive the Eucharist, go to Communion. People who have received the sacrament of matrimony and are then divorced and have remarried are forbidden to receive Communion. Some Marriage cases are also brought to the sacrament of Confession and are resolved there. This is called the internal forum. If you have questions about this you should contact a priest. Support groups have been established for divorced and separated people in many parts of the country. As far as I know there aren’t any of these groups in the Diocese of Brownsville. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee had a very active ministry to the divorced and separated.
There is a bit of tension then when we hear Jesus’ teaching about Marriage and Divorce. He is clearly upholding the ideal of a marriage for life. But surely he also would be the first to minister to those who are divorced.
In my experience I find that some couples give up too easily on their marriage. They may even receive advice from family or friend, “Get a divorce.” That surely should not be the first response to difficulties in marriage. But in my experience there are also couples who stay in a marriage too long. There are reasons to get a divorce: violence which includes physical or sexual abuse, alcoholism with no efforts to resolve the problem (it is very significant that the most effective means of dealing with alcoholism is AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] and there are as far as I know no AA groups in Willacy County); drug addiction, a spouse involved in criminal activity, continued infidelity. These are reasons for divorce.
Pope Francis has created quite a discussion (storm) when after the Synod on the family he wrote an Apostolic Exhortation entitled THE JOY OF LOVE. There are 9 chapters in this exhortation. To my way of thinking it is sad that most of the focus on this document has focused on chapter 8, titled “Accompanying, Discerning, and Integrating Weakness”. There is much to study and reflect on in the entire document. The pope did break some new ground in chapter 8. This quote is an example which opens new windows: “What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf., Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”.338 These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard.” [#300]
Clearly the pope has struck a nerve. This is easily recognized in the various reactions to these words of Pope Francis. The Pope seemed to clarify his meaning by saying that the explanation of his former Archdiocese in Argentina is what he meant. Cardinal Burke however was, and is, a leader of the opposition to the pope’s opening.
Mark’s Gospel moves from the discussion of marriage to Jesus teaching about receiving children and learning from them. Children in Jesus’ culture “deserved” nothing, had no claim on anyone, and were considered as property. In the Bible, along with women and resident aliens, children generally represented vulnerability. Mark says that “the people were bringing children to Jesus that he might “touch” them. This word “touch” carries the idea of healing them. Many pictures of this scene depict the children almost as little angels, squeaky-clean, children full of life and smiles. One author said: It would have been “more like a pediatrician’s waiting room—or the emergency room at a children’s hospital. Jesus is surrounded by sick children—and all the problems and smells that come with that: runny noses and dirty faces; diarrhea and smelly diapers; nausea and its unpleasant eruptions; crying or whimpering that just won’t stop.” With this picture in mind, it makes sense to think that the disciples would want to protect Jesus from these sick children. Perhaps the disciples thought that such a great teacher and scholar as Jesus wouldn’t want to waste time with sick children. For whatever reasons the disciples are trying to stop parents from bringing children to Jesus. Jesus tells them not to stop them. Prior to this the disciples had tried to stop an exorcist from doing his deeds in Jesus’ name. Jesus told them not to stop him. Jesus is depicted as welcoming the children not only because they are endearing but also because they are vulnerable and in need of the protection of others. Then, as so often happens, he turns our perceptions inside out. The child, dependent on others for nurture and protection, is set before us as an example of how we are to stand before God—open and trusting.
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