WELCOME to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions,"
the lay ecclesial leaders who attended the Diocesan Congress in
Salt Lake City.
When we hear the creation account in Genesis today we have to
dismiss any former notions we may still have. At a previous time our
unfamiliarity with the Scriptures gave us notions that led to
stereotypes. A casual reading of the creation of humans shows how we
can draw simplistic conclusions.
example, since the man was created first, he appears to be the
primary focus of God’s plan for creating humans. The woman seems to
be an afterthought and created just for the purpose of giving the
man companionship and comfort.
Biblical scholarship and a thoughtful reading show the woman’s
equality and her partnership with the man. She is created from the
same "stuff." Thus, God intended man and woman to live in
cooperation and meant to share life with one another. The text
asserts that in marriage the two become "one flesh." Even their
derivative names, "man," "woman," affirm their intimate
relationship. The Genesis reading forms the backdrop for our gospel
The question posed by the Pharisees was not if divorce was
allowed, but when it was permissible. The question of divorce
was long debated among the religious teachers. The texts about it
were scrupulously studied. So, for example, Deuteronomy 24:1 –
"Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not
please him because he finds something objectionable about her, so he
writes her a certificate of divorce...." It does not take a biblical
scholar to realize how vulnerable the wife would be to the pleasure
of her husband. What was the "something objectionable" that would be
grounds for the divorce? That was the focus of the debates.
The strict, or narrow interpretation, would allow divorce only
for infidelity. But a looser reading would allow divorce for
anything that the man found "objectionable." Grounds for divorce –
what could they be? A burnt meal? Not bearing a son? Old age? It
isn’t hard to imagine how society would be affected by such easy
divorce procedures. Divorce involves legal issues, and much more,
since family and community relationships are affected by divorce.
For example, married couples are responsible to care for and protect
children who are intimately affected by a divorce. As the Scriptures
show, God is also involved in married relationships and in our
tradition, to signify that, marriage is a sacrament.
Consider the dire straits a divorced woman would undergo in
Jesus’ world. For the most part women did not own property. Marriage
would provide them and their children support and protection. On
their own they would be hard-pressed to find life’s essentials.
Hence, the law was crucial for protection of women and their
children from the more powerful forces aligned against them.
Jesus’ stricter interpretation of the law was characteristic of
his desire to protect the least in society. In other places in the
gospel Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, leaving behind their
families. He was creating a new family, not related by blood ties.
But about divorce and its consequences, he chose to follow God’s
intention, the teaching we heard in today’s Genesis reading: "the
two of them become one flesh." "Therefore," Jesus teaches, "what God
has joined together, no human being must separate."
What I think is "preach-able" from today’s gospel, is not the
absolute prohibition of divorce. In the light of domestic violence,
for example, there is need for divorce to protect the vulnerable
partner in marriage. Here’s where I would come down on Jesus’
teaching – the reason for his interpretation. Marriage was supposed
to be permanent, but some husbands too easily cast off their wives.
As he always did, Jesus seeks to protect those excluded who didn’t
have societal recourse.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees in good rabbinical fashion, by
asking another question, "What did Moses command you?" Moses
permitted divorce with a certificate from the husband; which was a
way to protect the wife from abandonment in their male-dominated
society. With the certificate a woman was free to marry again and
have the legal support she needed.
Jesus refers to Genesis to show God’s original intention: the
equality of man and woman. The man found the animals inferior that
God presented to him. When God presents the woman to Adam he finally
finds one like himself – "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh."
What about the charge of adultery for remarriage? In Jesus’ world
if a man were unfaithful he wasn’t committing adultery against his
wife, but only against other married men. If a woman committed
adultery she would be stoned. So, Jesus’ teaching now includes men
in the charge of adultery if they remarry. (Note: Jewish women could
not divorce their husbands, but Mark addressed his Gentile audience
where women could divorce and own property.)
Jesus preached with urgency the coming of God’s kingdom, which
would enable a whole new way of living. Hence, among his other
teachings, he forbade oaths and divorce (Matthew 5:34-37). But as
the Christian community grew and spread they found they could not
live up to all the ideals and they compromised over some of his
teachings. So, for example, they struggled with how to support
permanent marriages in light of human weaknesses.
Our country allows women to own property, receive wages and seek
divorce. Still, women and children are the most vulnerable in our
society. While divorce may be easier, society fails to enforce
adequate child support, yielding an increase of those on the poverty
roles – comprised primarily of young mothers and children.
Jesus does not reject law. He wants life to have order,
structures and to provide and nurture those most in need. Today’s
passage also includes his comments about children. In light of our
ongoing crisis of clergy abuse of children, and our obligations to
protect our vulnerable members, his words are empowering. One way of
"embracing," and "blessing" children, as Jesus does, is for church
members, clergy and laity, to call for full disclosure, the removing
of violators from working in the church and to do whatever we can to
facilitate healing among those who have been betrayed and violated.
Jesus’ rebuke of the behavior of his disciples and his instructions
to them about proper behavior towards the least, challenge and
empower all of us disciples not to take a "wait and see" attitude,
but to do what we can now to move us out of the muck we now find
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Jesus does not say, "Blessed are those who plot
revenge." He calls "blessed" those who forgive and do so
"seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22). We need to think
of ourselves as an army of the forgiven. All of us have
been looked upon with divine compassion. If we approach
the Lord with sincerity and listen carefully, there may
well be times when we hear his reproach: "Should not you
have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on
you?" (Matthew 18: 33). Seeing and acting with mercy:
that is holiness.
— Pope Francis,
"Rejoice and Be Glad"
see your children’s children.
The last verses of this psalm extend the blessing to all the
people for generations to come. The future belongs to these
children. What kind of a future will we prepare for our children and
our children’s children? What kind of a future will we prepare for
the children we do not know, who are not our immediate family?
I am reminded of Daniel Maguire's thoughts in his book, A
Moral Creed for All Christians, where he states that children
are "the clearest reminders of the pricelessness of human life and
they are the fairest product of this fruit-filled Earth. Indeed, if
one were pressed to give a single statement to sum up morality, I
would return to: what is good for children is good and what is bad
for children is ungodly. With that principle alone, our politics,
economics, and religions could all be brought under searing moral
scrutiny" (Fortress, 2005, 211). Maguire goes on to cite the
following statistic: "On December 9, 2004, the United Nations
Children’s Fund announced that more than a billion children, more
than half of the children in the world, suffer extreme deprivation
because of war, HIV/AIDS, or poverty. . .Wars, invasions, and
grossly inflated military budgets kill children, the true treasures
of the species. Were we not so morally frozen in our collective
consciousness, the arguments for a ‘just war’ would melt before the
prospect of shedding children’s blood" (211). For reasons such as
this, the "Just War Doctrine" is being re-examined by many spiritual
leaders including Catholic leadership. What has the Catholic Church
established as Just War Doctrine?
In the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church #2309, four
strict conditions are listed for legitimate defense by military
force: "The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or
community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other
means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical
or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use
of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to
be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very
heavily in evaluating this condition." Perhaps, incorporating
Maguire’s guideline would yield us a fifth condition--what effect
will this war have on children? Perhaps, it is time for a Just Peace
Doctrine that more closely emulates the nonviolent life of Jesus,
who so dearly loved the little children.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Genesis 2: 18-24; Psalm 128; Hebrews 2: 9-11; Mark 10: 2-16
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
...a man shall leave father and mother and be
joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.
While our Church’s marriage laws are meant to protect the
institution of marriage for the common good, still, Jesus has taught
mercy and forgiveness and in his ministry he kept persons primary.
How then can the Church do the same? By holding fast to its current
laws and restrictions? Or, while raising up the ideal, by also
ministering to those wounded by their previous experiences in
marriage, who now hope to start afresh in new relationships – and
still be full participants in the church.?
So we ask ourselves:
- By their love and commitment to one another
which married couples have witnessed to me the
blessings of the sacrament of marriage?
- What can I do or say to give support to those
who are struggling in their commitment to one
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Shan E. Carter #0486636 (On death row since 3/19/01)
- Fernando L. Garcia #0702066 (4/19/01)
- Jim E. Haselden #0561943 (6/6/01)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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