Clearly, we don’t have the space here to go into all of the nuances and connections between the story of the creation of woman and Jesus’ teaching on divorce mentioned in today’s reading, but we can take an overview look at some of the highlights. The first, and probably foundational piece to understand, is the concept of covenant because that’s the core relationship between these two readings and it is the way we enter into relationships, both with each and with God. We hear a lot about covenants in various prayers at Mass, especially the Eucharistic prayers, and they are mentioned frequently in Scripture, so it’s good to have a clear mental picture of what exactly a covenant is and what it is not. A covenant is not a contract. A contract is: temporary, involves the exchange of goods/services, and is made in your name. By contrast, a covenant is: permanent, involves the exchange of persons, and is sealed with the name of God. For the ancient Israelites, the difference between a contract and a covenant was as great as the difference between prostitution and marriage. There is one more huge factor that identifies a covenant: covenants form families; in essence, a covenant takes people (or a person and God) who were not related before and, after making a covenant together, they become family. Adoption and marriage are both examples of forming a family bond through a covenant. A covenant changes the soul of those that enter into it, permanently. We enter into covenantal relationship with God through our Baptism.
When we look at that story from Genesis about the creation of woman, we are really reading the story of the first wedding. The language that Adam uses to describe the woman, “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,” and the wording that describes their relationship thereafter, “the two of them become one flesh,” this is covenantal language that reveals to us the mystery of an unbreakable, permanent covenant between this man & woman with God as their witness. Later, when Jesus quotes this Scripture in response to the question of divorce posed to Him, He is very intentionally reminding the “wise” teachers of His day about what a covenant is meant to be and that marriage is one. He points out that from the beginning of time God intended marriage to be a permanent unbreakable covenant between man, woman, & Himself. It’s not that divorce isn’t a good idea or shouldn’t be allowed; it’s that IF a covenantal marriage has taken place, a divorce isn’t possible because a covenant can not be broken.
Some people say that the Catholic Church does not believe in divorce. That’s not an accurate statement. Legal divorce is a fact, it exists, and is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary to preserve the safety and health of one of the person’s in the marriage or the children. However, a legal divorce cannot sever the covenantal bond of marriage. You may have heard that an annulment is a Catholic divorce. Also not true. However, the Church does not take lightly Jesus’ definitive teaching on marriage, “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Matt 19:6b, Mk 10:9) However, she also seeks to share His mercy over abundantly with His people who are so hurt. This opportunity to share the mercy of the Lord is where the annulment process comes into play. An annulment examines a marriage from many aspects to determine if that covenantal bond was ever actually there. If it was, it cannot be broken. However, it may be determined that the bond never occurred. This does not mean that there wasn’t a legal marriage, but that it wasn’t a covenantal one. Again, this is a very complex topic, far too deep to fully explore in this limited article. If you have questions about an annulment or the process, please contact me!
One of my roles here at St. John is to help our parishioners through this journey and I am happy to talk with you about it anytime. One of the most common questions I get is: I am a divorced, not remarried, Catholic; can I go to Communion? While I can’t give a blanket answer here as everyone’s situation is unique, the advice I always give to people in this case is to go to sacramental Reconciliation and speak to the priest about your particular situation there. He can better advise you in that regard and Christ, through him, can offer absolution for anything else that may be a blockade to your return to the Eucharistic Table.
I would love to chat with you about Scripture, covenants, sacraments, or annulments. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: firstname.lastname@example.org and may God bless you!
Coordinator of Sacramental Preparation