The Word Encountered
The Two Shall Become as One
“Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mk 10:9)
I attended a wedding this summer. It seemed a special privilege, since I did not have to preside, or “do” the ceremony. The bride was a former student of mine, one of those young people you hold always as a luminous presence in your life.
It was beautiful in every sense: in its simplicity, in the strong words of the celebrant-homilist, in the splendor of bride and groom, in the families all gathered and garnered.
I thought of that wedding as I read this Sunday’s scriptures. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Intimacy, relationship—the bottom of our being. “God took out one of Adam’s ribs.” Adam spoke, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” The two of them became one body.
A psalm sings: “Your spouse shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; your children shall be like olive plants about your table. Behold thus is a human blessed. May you see your children’s children.”
What act of great moment is remembered here? I thought of the young bride and groom. What was it that they wanted to say to each other and the world? They wanted to say “forever.”
There is something that reaches the godly in such holy desire. When we abide in love, our hearts arch to the infinite. Rilke said, “Lovers, you touch pure permanence underneath.”
Yet marriages fail. You’d think that fact alone might tame our dreams of forever. Yet I have never met an engaged couple who wanted to give their futures to each other “till it doesn’t work out, till you get sick, till you go broke, till you break down.”
What is it about us that wants to say “forever”? To say “eternally”? To say “till the end of time”?
Jesus was given a test by the Pharisees. It was a conundrum about eternal love and life. He asks them in return, somehow aware of their stubbornness, about the judgment of Moses, who permitted divorce. But Jesus digs down to the well of our hearts’ desires. “They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore let no man separate what God has joined.” “Whoever divorces a wife and marries another commits adultery; and the woman who divorces her husband and marries another commits adultery.”
It seems so clear and fast and abrupt. It seems even cruel to some who hear it. And surely painful. But isn’t this always true with matters of love? Would any of us, bent on a life of covenant, settle for less?
Which brings us to the lapse of our loves, of our marriages. Some endings we call annulments (a term that others might deride; they say, why not call it a divorce—what it is—instead of pretending it is something else?). Others think that annulments are a farce, easily purchased, easily forgotten.
Well, they are not purchased, not a farce, and not easy. Just ask someone who has gone through one. An annulment is our own churchly attempt to deal with our own law, our own promises, and our desire to honor and obey Jesus as well as Genesis. It is not so much a judgment about our relationship to God (there are some divorced and remarried people, without benefit of annulment, who are, no doubt, far closer to God than the likes of myself, having never been married) as it is a statement about our relationship to each other and to our own intentions. We want to honor and respect our own words.
So an annulment process is an attempt to determine whether two people were, as a matter of fact, free and able to choose irrevocably in God to become “one flesh.”
A divorce may mean many other things: that two who actually made an eternal covenant slowly grew apart, that they had irreconcilable differences, that one person could no longer abide another, or that they somehow never adequately and wholly chose to become irrevocably one. An annulment says only the last.
We Catholics have our liturgies, our communions, our Eucharists. Some of us attending are divorced and remarried and place it all before God, not knowing really whether we have put asunder what God had once joined in us. Some have annulments, a human judgment offered only after long analysis and painful remembrance. Some of us weep in the back, not approaching the altar of union. Some trust God and abstain. Some trust God and partake.
Few, thank God, judge. For no matter what our rightful relationship to our church, its laws and traditions, we all pray in an assembly of believers who are sinners; and, most assuredly, we all stand before our good and great God as children.
And Jesus spoke to the child in each of us. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs. I assure you that whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.”
Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
**From Saint Louis University