A Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 19:3-12
(Internet Image from Kummar)
A Problem with Commitment
As we hear in the Gospel today, divorce is a problem of biblical proportion. So far in 2023, the divorce rate in the US is around 44.6%. If you think this is just a first-time commitment issue, think again. Sixty percent of second marriages end in divorce. Approximately one of every four Catholics have been divorced. Now, the good news is that over-all, this is a thirty-five percent drop over the last twenty years. Sadly, that is not because people are becoming more committed in their marriage to one another, but because most forego any marriage at all and choose to cohabitate. The most common reason cited for divorce is “lack of commitment.” (Statistics from Breyer)
Every divorce is tragic. Though many have heard of “friendly” divorces, these seem to be nonexistent or at best, whitewashed. Frustration, feelings of betrayal, depression, immense pain, and anger seem the norm. That would make sense, you cannot separate what is one flesh without immense pain.
Sin Gets in the Way
We just cannot seem to unselfishly commit without enormous effort. The world draws us to self-gratification. Many are quickly bored and constantly gaze toward, “greener grass.” Some seek pride or power over others and relationships become about, “what I need,” about, “what I want.” They become physically or emotionally abusive. This is nothing new. Think of Adam and Eve bored in Eden. They abandon their relationship with God for what was, “good for food,” self-gratification, “pleasing to the eyes,” lust, and “was desirable for gaining wisdom,” really the power to decide what I define as good and evil, “what I want”. (Genesis 3:3–6). How often do marriages end for this triple concupiscence or three primal weaknesses in human nature of one, the other, or both? Yet, God calls us to live above the muck of sin and self-centeredness.
Marriage requires commitment because true love requires that commitment. The word for commitment comes from the Latin committere "to unite, connect, combine; to bring together.” It is the two becoming one flesh. (Matthew 19:6) This is an act of true love. St Thomas Aquinas speaks of love as the willing the good of the beloved first. This “willed love” is sacrificial. For example, God loves sinners and in this suffers and gives His life for His beloved. God is committed and that commitment never, ever wavers. (See STh., I q.20 a.2) Why? Because His “will” is perfect. It is this perfection towards which we must strive. (Romans 12:2)
The failure in the commitment of one spouse, or the other, or both, is the true pain of a divorce. It is the loss or lack of true love. The exchanging of the vows between the betrothed, the promise of love, is the visible sign of the two becoming “one flesh,” commitment. From the perspective of freely given love, divorce is unthinkable, “what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matthew 19: 6 NABRE)
Where the vow of love, the commitment, is not freely given, is not fully understood, for many varied reasons, or insincere, the marriage is not valid. The commitment is incomplete. It is always amazing when you hear that the Church needs to “update its thinking on marriage.” How could it? Marriage has its roots in love, in commitment, for life. Isn’t that the type of love we demand of God? God’s love is constant, His commitment to each of us is complete. Just gaze up at the crucifix! We must strive for that same commitment.
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Our Heavenly Marriage
Our commitment is not just a requirement for earthy marriage, but for our heavenly marriage as well. In the Book of Revelation, Christ is our heavenly spouse and we, the Church, His bride (Revelation 19:7–8). That marriage, which began at Baptism, is bound up in our commitment to walk in accordance with Jesus’ commands (2 John 6). Our commitment to our heavenly spouse is to love Him completely as He loves us. When we sin, we fail in that love. Thanks be to God that His love never fails and so He is always willing to bring us back into communion through the Sacrament of Reconciliation for, He loves us “to the end.” (John 13:1) Are we equally committed to God? In being committed to our heavenly spouse, we must also be committed in love for those our spouse loves. St John wrote,
The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)
Jesus also tells us in the Gospel today that,
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Matthew 19:12 NABRE)
There is no greater outward sign of commitment to the heavenly marriage than from those who have rejected earthy marriage to remain completely committed to Christ and His Church.
Commit to Love
In this time in which our world, our country, is fixated on division and derision, to evil, we must remain committed in love. In this, we love Christ.
Let your prime commitment be to love everyone and to be available to everyone, never flagging in your faithfulness to Christ and the Church. (St John Paul II, Homily 26 June 2001)
In our heavenly and earthly marriage, commitment to love cannot waver. In this, because we are imperfect, we are counting on Christ, and He is equally counting on us. Therefore, live Jesus!
Breyer, Shawn. “113 Divorce Statistics on the Divorce Rate in America (for 2023).” The Hive Law, 12 June 2023, www.thehivelaw.com/blog/divorce-statistics-us-divorce-rate-in-america/.
John Paul II. Homilies of Pope John Paul II (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014. Print.
Kummar, Jai. “Pin on Jesus.” Pinterest, 5 Aug. 2021, www.pinterest.com/pin/205617539229777831/.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
St Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne. Print.