It is Jesus who taught us that divorce and remarrying is a sin
From today’s Gospel (Mark 10:1-12):
‘Jesus came to the district of Judaea and the far side of the Jordan. And again crowds gathered round him, and again he taught them, as his custom was. Some Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’’
In this passage Jesus stresses the importance of marriage and the consequences of divorce. This passage is an important reminder of Jesus’ teaching on these issues at a time when the institution of marriage and the family is under serious threat. This passage is the reason the Church holds steadfast to marriage between one man and woman and why it holds steadfast to refusing to allow anyone who has been divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist. It is Church teaching because it is Jesus’ teaching.
The Church is so often criticised for its stance on these issues - and these criticisms often arise from within the body of the Church itself – with critics claiming that they ‘have a problem with the Church’s stance or teaching on these issues’. Yet these critics continually fail to identify the true root of the perceived ‘problem’. That root is Christ. It is Christ who set these standards, not the Church. Christ taught the people. He then formed the Church and the Church has to this day remained faithful to his teaching.
The Church will continue to uphold this teaching but, crucially, it also continues to offer the mercy of God in the sacrament of Confession (another teaching of Christ) for any people who find themselves affected by marriage difficulties including divorce. The Church also offers the opportunity to have a marriage annulled, where it may deem that that the marriage was never recognised in the eyes of God. The process of annulment can be a lengthy one and the Church would do well to improve this but it is important to stress that this is an option available to people who are encountering significant marital problems.
As Pope Francis said recently, the Church must be open to all and we must be a Church of mission where we reach out to all people. This has always been the ideal of the Church but it has not always been the case on the ground, particularly in recent times, with much criticism being aimed at individual priests for failing to show sufficient sympathy and understanding at a difficult time. We must hope and pray that, with Pope Francis’ influence, the Church will become a loving and compassionate place for all people affected by marriage difficulties and, although we must never stray from Jesus’ teaching, we can help people in their difficulties and seek the invaluable intercession of Mary and the Saints to guide us in testing times.