The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Genesis 2:18-24 + Hebrews 2:9-11 + Mark 10:2-16
October 7, 2018
The Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
The foundation of marriage is Christ’s love: that is, the love of His Sacred Heart, which is the love that seals the spouses’ lives together. This is the only thing strong enough to save marriage. This is true not only of marriage in general. It’s also true of each particular marriage: when it’s at its worst, each marriage can only be saved by Christ’s love.
So when is a marriage at its worst? A marriage is at its worst not when life throws poverty, or sickness, or any other serious blow against a couple, but when the blow comes from within: when a marriage is torn by infidelity. When the unity that God brings into being on the wedding day is violated, the husband and wife are in a sense alone again, as the man was “in the beginning”.
“Fidelity”—“faithfulness”—is one of the four essential qualities of a sacramental marriage. A marriage which mirrors Christ’s love for His Church is a love that has those four qualities that we see in Jesus on the Cross: a love that is free, full, faithful and fruitful. Of these four, it’s trying to live out faithfulness—fidelity—that is the greatest struggle for many couples.
However, there are many different types of infidelity. There is a whole spectrum of types of infidelity: from thought, to word, to action. Of course, some actions are worse than others. But there is no marriage that is not affected by one form of infidelity or another. Even when infidelity occurs only in a spouse’s thoughts, and even if those thoughts are kept to oneself, the married love of that couple is truly weakened, which makes daily self-sacrifice—the bread and butter of marriage—more difficult.
But at its worst, infidelity tears married love completely inside out. It’s then that a spouse has to answer again the question that the priest asked at the beginning of the wedding ritual, on the day they got married: “have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?” That word “wholeheartedly” gets at the heart of the Church’s clear statement—founded on the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel—that a marriage in which love is not given “wholeheartedly” is not a Christian marriage at all.
When a priest prepares a couple for marriage, he asks each of them the question, “Do you intend to accept the obligation to be faithful to your spouse?” How many young engaged persons understand that this “obligation to be faithful” includes the obligation to offer forgiveness to the spouse who has been unfaithful?
In other words, a spouse who says, “If you’re ever unfaithful to me, I’m out the door,” is saying that there are limits to his or her married love. But Christ on the Cross says that that’s a lie, because that sort of “limited love” doesn’t mirror the wholehearted love of Christ that poured forth from His Sacred Heart on Calvary. If Jesus said to you, “I’ll continue to love you, as long as you’re faithful to me,” you would have no hope whatsoever of ever getting to Heaven.
Take this statement, and imagine one spouse saying it to the other: “I will love you, as long as you do not… BLANK.” Fill in the blank. If there’s anything that a spouse can fill in that blank with, to make that statement true, then that spouse needs to look upon Jesus on the Cross.
At a wedding, when the priest asks, “have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?”, if the man or the woman says “Yes” out loud, but in his heart, or in her mind, finishes that sentence by saying, “Yes… as long as my spouse is faithful to me first,” then no marriage comes into existence in God’s eyes. But as difficult as it is to give one’s whole heart to another sinful human being, through God’s grace, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony not only comes into existence, but can endure in the face of human infidelity. Upon the Cross, Christ shows us that with God, all forgiveness is possible.