In the book of Genesis, we read about the creation of man in God’s image and likeness. God created them male and female, and this underscores the importance of gender and sexuality in human existence. In the Gospels too, Jesus affirms the creation of the human species as male and female. In today’s encounter with the Pharisees, he underlinessome essential facts about human sexuality, and we need to be aware of them to help us resist related temptations, and for the enlightenment of those we meet.
The first essential fact about human sexuality is that it is intrinsically good and a part of God’s original plan for humanity. The Human body and its sexuality as made by God are not evil but as a fundamental part of what it means to be human. Sexuality is an integral part of God’s gift to his children. It is a beautiful and powerful part of God’s creative plan. This point is contrary to the negativity of some extreme and heretical religious views which consider the body and matter, in general,to be evil. Human sexuality is very good but could be used in an evil and sinful way.
The second essential fact about human sexuality is that it is gender-specific, equal, and complementary. The Scripture is very clear that God made us male and female – two genders and the symbiotic complementarity is undeniable. The woman is taken from the man’s rib, unlike the other creatures in the Garden narrative, and she is equal to him in dignity. More than just an object of use or pleasure, the woman is a person too, made in God’s image. Her complementarity is indispensable for the man to realize his full potential and vice versa. Nevertheless, a woman is still different – she is a woman and not a man. And contrary to contemporary social engineering and political shenanigans, a person’s gender is specific and recognizable – it is not fluid and not a matter of opinion. Thus, while man and woman are equal in dignity, they are also complementary as each brings something that perfects the other. This complementarity is underlined by the normal natural attraction we feel for members of the opposite sex.
The third essential fact about human sexuality is its spousal dimension. In the original plan of God, sexual intimacy is designed to be an expression of love between spouses. It is a means of mutual self-giving within the context of marriage, and it is always open to the formation of a new family. According to Scripture, when a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife,the couple becomes one flesh. Consequently, marriage and sexual intimacy are designed for one man and one woman, not between two men or two women, as some people want to make us believe. Jesus makes it clear today that the marital union is exclusive and indissoluble, it is a lifelong commitment and adventure between one man and one woman. Accordingly, they are one flesh in a union of complementary persons; a union that cannot be broken or dissolved unless by death, just as any child that results from it should be “dissolved”.
Nevertheless, the marriage institution is facing serious challenges today,with tragic consequences, like loneliness, betrayal, resentment, violence, revenge, neglected and abused children, etc. In the Gospel today, the Pharisees question Jesus on the lawfulness of divorce. This is another attempt to ensnare him, perhaps to set him up against Herod who divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife. We remember that it was for criticizing Herod about this that got John the Baptist beheaded. The Pharisees also wanted Jesus to contradict Moses so they could accuse him of heresy. In response, however,hesaid that Moses allowed divorce because they were “unteachable”. He reminded them that God originally intended marriage to be a sacred, unbreakable bond that validates the mutual love of a man and a woman, and the consummation of that union is a guaranty of exclusive mutual conjugal faithfulness.
Our Lord values the bond of marriage so much that he made it a sacrament, and this makes it a covenant, not just a contract. A contract involves the exchange of goods and services, but a covenant involves the mutual exchange of persons. A contract is about “doing”something, but a covenant is about being: – “You shall be my people and I will be your God!” “I take you to be my wife/husband!” Contracts are created by humans, but we cannot “create” marriage – rather we enter marriage. When marriage is reduced to a mere contract, humans become objects to be used and dumped at will.
The Catholic Church is very firm in maintaining Christ’s teaching on marriage, but this does not mean that it is insensitive to the pains of those in difficult marriage circumstances. Also, the Church does not judge or condemn those in failed marriages. The Code of Canon Law makes provisions for separation when the welfare of those involved is in jeopardy. Circumstances in a marriage may require, for the good of the spouses or of the children, separation, or even civil divorce (for example, in the case of physical abuse), and Catholics in these situations can still be in full communion with the Church. But they may not commence another marriage since the original bond can only be dissolved by death.
Nevertheless, there is a difference between divorce and annulment. Unlike divorce and remarriage, which claims to undo a valid marriage bond, an annulment means that an apparent marriage never really existed, because a defect in the consent of one or both parties blocked the formation of the marriage bond. In that case, the parties involved are not married, and they are free to marry. Separation annulments are always painful, and that is why the Church encourages her children to prepare well for marriage. Not only by attending marriage preparation classes – which are important – but most importantly by living a life of holiness, prayer, and faith. Every marriage has its rough times, so we need a lot of patience.
Therefore, let us pray for all those having difficulties in their marriage, and for those going through the pain of separation, that the grace of God may permeate their hearts and bring forgiveness, healing and restoration. Amen!