Some years ago I recall meeting a Catholic lady at a social gathering and in the course of conversation, I innocently asked her, which church does she attend? Her response to me was, “I have stopped going to Church since my marriage broke down. Though I have come to terms with it but the parishioners have not. In the early days I went to Church, but each time I stood up to go for Holy Communion, the “eyes of judgement” were all on me. I have stopped going.” Immediately my heart was struck with sadness and a question popped in my head… “Did she let the Church down or did the Church let her down?”
The Gospel today presents Jesus in three different scenes: firstly, Jesus is being tested by the Pharisees with a question about divorce; secondly Jesus is with His disciples in the privacy of a house where He explains further; and finally, Jesus is surrounded by children and Jesus goes on to explain the reign of God.
The intention of the Pharisees, who knew the law well, was not to seek clarification from Jesus, but it was to test Jesus’ authenticity – whether He would contradict the Mosaic Law with a more liberal position, and if He did, it would be a clear sign to reject Jesus as a “prophet”. Quite similar to our times when the world had their eyes fixed on the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in 2015, wondering if the Catholic Church was going to change its age old teachings on marriage and family. However, Jesus yet again, will turn the tables on them. Jesus does not undermine the authority of the Mosaic tradition. Instead, He recognises and points out the pitfalls of human failure and weakness.
As much as the Church presents marriage as a “divine institution”, we recognise and know of many people for whom this “divine institution” has been fractured for reasons best known to them. It is never easy to make a decision to either stay in a marriage or even walk away. As a priest, it is my duty to preserve the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage but I also realise that it is not my duty to judge anyone who chooses to walk away. The question that I often ask myself is, ‘how do I support those who are struggling to make it work or perhaps even those who have gone their separate ways?
The teaching of Jesus on marriage in the Gospel today is meant to be an inspiring ideal for couples to give their best and seek to live their married life with generosity and intimate love. However, a simple reality check also shows that many fail from the inspiring ideal. In such situations, one has to remember that the Church makes room for everyone, especially those who struggle to live that ideal just like how all of us are trying too.
Pope Francis in his Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia points out that marriage is an icon of God’s love. Nevertheless, he is also aware of the great deal of strain on marriages and families that already exist in these times and how sometimes that ‘icon’ can fall short.
The Gospel today reminds us to not look down at people who may have fallen short of the ideal but rather challenges us to find ways to help those who have distanced themselves from the Church because of our “eyes of judgement”. As Christians, we are called to stand by those whose attempts to live this inspiring ideal have been shattered. The “little ones” in the Gospel today includes those whose marriages have failed and are staying away from the Church.
If you are one of those “little ones”, don’t beat yourself up with guilt as you listen to the Gospel this Sunday. Jesus is saying to you… “Let the little ones come to me; do not stop them.” There may be a “remedy” for you – it could be just a stone’s throw away from you. Here are some possible solutions:
(1) Catholics who are in a first marriage and not married in Church can easily do so in a simple, quiet ceremony, without cost. (2) Catholics who are divorced and would like to seek annulment, make an appointment to meet your priest; (3) Catholics who are away from the sacraments for a long time because of a second marriage, take courage to see a priest.
Often there is a solution despite what others may have told you – each situation is different. Some of the solutions may need time to sort out but give the Church the opportunity to bring you God’s love and give yourself the opportunity to experience God’s healing love.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (3 October 2021)