I have resistance to preaching about or writing about marriage. It is such a complex affair. Marriage is often a hot button issue in the Church. Reflect back to the Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015. There was plenty of diversity of experience and opinion. The very word family can be loaded and dangerous. Every statement seems open to arguments.
Marriage may have plenty of beauty when it works well, but it also has plenty of ugliness when it doesn’t work. We’ve all experienced both, in our families and among our friends. Some of the ugliness is toxic, and, even, dangerous. I’ve come to believe that some people were never meant to be married or to have children.
I count among my family, friends and acquaintances, many women and men who are in loving partnerships. Some are married. Some of those were married in a church and with the Sacrament of Matrimony. Others were married in a civil ceremony, sometimes taking place in a backyard or on a beach. I have gay friends who are married and some who live together without any formal exchange of vows or promises.
I count among my family members, relationships where the partners come from different racial backgrounds. I have either witnessed or been at celebrations for people who already had offspring from a previous partner. And so on! I am hardly unique in my variety of experiences of marriage. I cannot judge regarding what is right and what is wrong. I don’t like to lay expectations on my own siblings and their children.
I may be an ordained presbyter, but I’ve long adhered to the line that Pope Francis used in another context a few years ago: “Who am I to judge?” Lifelong relationships are complex, and no one is entitled to stand outside and make judgments. But, alas, we do!
Marriage can be beautiful. In its most beautiful moments, we recognize Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel account. “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” My initial experience of reflecting on marriage was by seeing firsthand the union between my mother and father. They produced seven children, thirteen grandchildren, and a growing number of great grandchildren.
We all get along and the values that my parents instilled in their children have been passed on. I was in the Jesuits a few years before I realized that not everyone has that experience.
Was my parents’ marriage perfect? I’m not sure what perfection is. I’m sure that there were struggles, challenges, tensions, opposing views, and difficulties – just as there are with any close relationship. But my experience is that the union between my parents included the natural tools for overcoming stress in any relationship: open communication, mutual sacrifice of personal desires, and forgiveness.
Jesus is critical of the hardness of heart that necessitates commandments about how a couple live as one. I would suggest that many of the ugly unions are marked by that same hardness of heart.
Let’s take time today to give thanks for that beautiful and loving relationship between two people.