My parish retreat ministry means I am a visiting preacher. So, I usually call in advance with a request of the staff: "Tell me about your congregation" – a kind of "congregational analysis." We itinerant preachers have to do that; unlike the local preachers who already have a good knowledge of their people. I may not have a pastor’s grasp on the congregation but, from my experience, I can be sure of a couple of facts: there will be single parents and divorced people in the congregation. There will also be other couples who are in a second marriage, after having their first annulled .
Others will be in a second marriage, without having gone through the annulment process – – some because they did not qualify. Others may be like a friend of mine who is in a second marriage. He told me, "When I married my first wife we were in love. After 20 years and many changes in our lives we grew apart... we were walking different paths. I don’t want to go through the annulment process and say hurtful things about her, or something that isn’t true, just to get the annulment. So, I have not applied for it." That’s not the first time a person in a second marriage has told me that.
In this Sunday’s congregation people, like the ones I just described, will be listening. How will those divorced and/or remarried, hear today’s gospel? Will Jesus sound harsh and unbending? Will the gospel stir up past or present guilt; a sense of failure or inadequacy? Will the well-married be moved to a sense of superiority and egoism? "Marriage is hard, but we made a go of it; we stayed together. Why couldn’t they?"
It’s a day we might be tempted to change the gospel reading because it evokes so much; or preach from one of the other readings. But still, people will hear the gospel and draw their own conclusions. Best to wrestle with it and do our best. I’m sure local pastoral ministers have much more experience than I with the type of situations I just described. Still, here’s one itinerant’s approach to listen to the spirit of Jesus for light and guidance.
Jesus places the ideal of a permanent loving relationship before us. In a morally adrift world that has grown used to: television soap operas, season-long series ("Sex and the City") and "reality shows," with their casual sexual situations, language and mores, Jesus’ teaching can sound terribly old-fashioned, even quaint. But besides stating the ideal, isn’t Jesus also suggesting the Good News in his teaching? For those who "accept the kingdom of God like a child," what the world may consider parochial or outdated and impossible – is possible. That’s why we gather for Eucharist; we acknowledge we need help to live up to Jesus’ teachings and example and we turn to God for help and nourishment.
Jesus says a man who divorces his wife and marries another "commits adultery against her." (He says the same about women who divorce their husbands.) In Jesus’ Mediterranean world families arranged marriages and so a woman’s whole family would be shamed if she were divorced. Think of the conflict then between all the male relatives in both families. How often would a divorce lead to bloodshed between such families? Perhaps the reason divorce was originally prohibited was to prevent such feuding and bloodshed.
Jesus’s hearers would have heard another piece of Good News – – for women. In his time men could divorce their wives, "Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." But that’s not the plan God had in mind when, "God made them male and female." What would happen to a woman who was "dismissed" by her husband? At that time she couldn’t go to night school to learn medicine or computer skills. Have you noticed how often prostitutes are mentioned in the Gospels? Is that what happened to "dismissed wives" – those women, outcasts from their own families, who had to support themselves and their children?
Jesus’ prohibition of divorce by men would be good news to wives who could be easily be put aside and suffer, who knows what fate in their villages? Jesus prohibiting divorce by both men and women was treating both with a kind of equality. It seems women, normally considered insignificant in his world, are recognized by Jesus as having power too.
There were some who interpreted the Mosaic law about divorce rather loosely. Deut. 24:1 gives permission for a man to divorce his wife if he "finds something objectionable about her." Some thought the "objectionable" thing could be as trivial as poor cooking. So, for example, if a wife burned the pot roast she might find herself "dismissed." Who then would support her and her children? Jesus’ teaching about divorce could provide a fixed structure for a couple to live together with some sense of permanence and security – especially for the women.
We could say our society has come a long way. Still, even today, divorced women and their children become very vulnerable. How many of these women do we know who are trying to hold down jobs and raise their children without the support of their former spouses? Check the poverty rolls. While civil law views marriage as a legal contract, our religious tradition also holds it as a sacrament. God is involved in the union of a man and woman in Christian marriage. And more: the love between them is a sign of Christ’s love for his church.
Mark is a gospel of mercy upon mercy. None of us in the pews can look down our noses at anyone else and claim to be better Christians than they. If we haven’t realized our own sin and asked for forgiveness, can we even claim to be Christian?
Throughout this gospel Jesus is calling followers to a new community not determined by blood relationships. He seems to be putting family ties aside (3:31 – 35). He even described families being divided because of him (13:12). To those who left their own families he taught about forming a new family (10:29 – 30).
Our ideal is a loving and permanent union between a man and a woman in marriage. The whole community benefits from such permanent structures and people of faith see in them signs of God’s abiding presence. Such unions challenge the partners to be faithful, loving and self-sacrificing for one another. This ideal of perfection, which reflects the image of God’s love, is also impossible to achieve; still it is worth striving for.
We know from our experience how difficult marriage can be. When a marriage is failing sometimes nothing remains but hurt and the potential for still more hurt. In such painful circumstances people feel there is little alternative but to end the union and try to begin again. It seems these days this is more and more the case. Those who acknowledge their own failings in marriage and still want to continue following Christ, will ask for forgiveness for any part they may have played in the break-up.
It’s a challenge to our Church to consider how we are to treat those sincere and wounded people who have gone through a divorce. While our laws are meant to protect the institution of marriage for the common good, still, Jesus has taught mercy and forgiveness. He kept persons primary in his ministry. How can the Church do the same during this time of crisis for the institution of marriage and the family? By holding fast to its current laws and restrictions? Or, while raising up the ideal, also ministering to those wounded by their previous experiences in marriage, who now hope to start afresh in new relationships – and still be full participants in the church.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/100321.cfm
In the ancient Mediterranean world, marriages were between families. Each family selected a partner, union with whom was intended to bind the families together, forming a stronger unit. Just as children cannot choose their parents,. So too children in this culture could not choose their marriage partners. God chose one's parents, and through one's parents God chose one's marriage partner. Hence Jesus' cultural truism about marriage: "What God has joined together, let no one separate" (v.9).
Even such a brief statement of the nature of Mediterranean marriages makes it evident why divorce would be unacceptable. Divorce is not just the separation of two partners but rather the separation of two families. In a society driven by the values of honor and shame, the family of the bride will be shamed. The bride's male relatives in particular will have to bear the shame as well as the responsibility to remedy it. Feuding will result and undoubtedly escalate to bloodshed. This must be avoided at all cost, hence the cultural rule is no divorce.
----John J. Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996. Paper, 170 pages. ISBN 0-8146-2287-9
"May you see your children’s children."
Psalm 128: 6
Anyone who is a grandparent knows of the great blessing that this passage from Psalms conveys. However, in the journey of the spiritual life, one comes to realize that all the children of the world are your offspring. Indeed, we are related to all life as part of the mystery of God.
In this Respect Life Month of the Church, we should ask ourselves: What life do I respect? Do I only respect the life of my immediate family and/or friends? Does my respect only extend to my own self-interests? Do I only respect the life of the unborn? What about the mother of the unborn? What about all the children born into a world of poverty? In North Carolina alone, we have higher rates of childhood poverty than two decades ago. As Gene Nichol put it so well in a recent editorial, "Having one of the developed world’s highest child poverty rates is apparently, for us, un-worrisome. . .we behave as if having deplorable child poverty levels is as natural as the morning sun. Who cares if we treat our kids worse than almost everyone else?. . .We can’t be bothered with the likes of poor and hungry babies" ("Seems NC can’t be bothered by poor and hungry babies" News & Observer 8/16/21). What major anti-poverty initiatives do you actively support in the Church and/or in the larger community?
And what about our respect for the life of the natural world? Pope Francis states clearly this respect in an address he made 12/4/14: "It bears repeating that Creation is not a possession that we can dispose of as we please, much less a possession of only a few. Creation is a magnificent gift that God has given us to care for and use to the benefit of all, with respect. I encourage you, therefore, to carry on in your commitment in order so that Creation may continue to be the patrimony of everyone, to hand down in all its beauty to future generations. "Pope Francis has reminded us over and over in his encyclical "Laudato Si," "that everything is connected." Since everything is connected, then everything must be respected.
May you see your children’s children, all children of the future, be born into a world filled with respect for life.
Visit:" The Web of Poverty" video at https://www.usccb.org/committees/catholic-campaign-human-development
Visit: "A World of One" video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCQXKP5rhns
– Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
"...a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate."
While our Church’s marriage laws are meant to protect the institution of marriage for the common good, still, Jesus has taught mercy and forgiveness and in his ministry he kept persons primary. How then can the Church do the same? By holding fast to its current laws and restrictions? Or, while raising up the ideal, by also ministering to those wounded by their previous experiences in marriage, who now hope to start afresh in new relationships – and still be full participants in the church.?
So, we ask ourselves:
"Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made. They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness."
—Last words of Quintin Jones before he was executed on May 19, 2001 at Huntsville Prison, Texas. Media witnesses were not admitted to his execution.
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
"First Impressions"is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr John Boll, OP at email@example.com.
If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to FrJude Siciliano, OP
St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736
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1.We have compiled Four CDS for sale:
If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.
You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:www.PreacherExchange.com http://www.PreacherExchange.comand clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.
2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, OP atJboll@opsouth.org.
3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
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