20May 20 May. Friday, Week 7

Saint Bernardine of Siena, optional memorial

1st Reading: James 5:9-12

Take the prophets as models of courage and speaking the truth

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is sanding at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-12

Jesus rejects the option of divorce and remarriage

Jesus left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Marriage and patience

A lasting marriage affirms the truth of St James’ message about patience and compassion. Though our acquaintances be many, only “one in a thousand” should be our confidant, or our partner in life. Highlighted in today’s scriptures is the value of persevering in one’s commitments. For many people the true friend, the “treasure… beyond price,” is their spouse, since the transition from courtship to marriage is part of most people’s experience. The sturdiness of such relationships will necessarily be tested, and when hardship or conflict comes our way, the sober advice of James is not to grumble at each other. Rather, he says, we should to look to the saints of old as models in practicing patience. As an extreme case he cites the example of the patient Job. Patience and steadfastness can help a marriage to survive any clashes of tastes and preferences that are bound to arise at times.

In their Synodal Report (Oct 2015) the bishops recognised that “within the family are joys and trials, deep love and relationships which, at times, can be wounded.” Still they went on to affirm the family as the “school of humanity” and that despite the many signs of crisis in the family institution, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant.” Then with his splendid pastoral advice in The Joy of Love, Pope Francis has stressed the unique importance of the family  in the life of the Church. He invites us to fix our gaze on Jesus in order to appreciate with renewed freshness and enthusiasm,  the beauty and dignity of  family life.

Much can be lost if one gives up too easily on a covenant that one has pledged. If fully voluntary, such a breach of trust can still be called by the blunt word, “adultery,” and Jesus says that it was not what God intended, when in the beginning he made them male and female . “For this reason a person shall leave father and mother and the two shall become as one… let nobody separate what God has joined.” Our Gospel today warns us not to lightly disrupt what God has personally blessed and united.

On the other hand, this prohibition must be balanced by the fundamental requirements of mercy, of which we all stand in need. Ours must continue to be a welcoming Church, not one that brusquely and automatically refuses Holy Communion to people whose marriages have failed. While the 2015 Synod reached no consensus on the pastoral to be offered to care to those people in that situation, it seems right that in such cases one may seek to apply the famous dictum of Pope Francis when he said, “Who am I to judge?” Many divorced and remarried Catholics long to participate fully in the sacramental life of the church, Many bishops and priests assented with cardinal Kasper’s view that while hoding to Jesus’ teaching that sacramental marriage is indissoluble, there are specific cases when the church can tolerate, though not fully endorse, a second union.

A difficult ideal

In the gospel today, Jesus presents God’s vision of marriage, as found in the book of Genesis, involving a man and a woman coming together and giving themselves to each other for life, so that their two lives become one life. In Jesus’ own day there were reservations about this vision of married life. Some would have seen it as too idealistic and not taking sufficient account of the reality of people’s lives. Yet, Jesus reiterates the teaching of the book of Genesis. There is resistance to this vision today as well of course, and some would want to define marriage in much broader and looser terms. Marriages break down. We all know that. I suspect many of us here in the church will have family members whose marriages have not lasted. I certainly have. Yet, we need to hold on to the vision that Jesus gives us in today’s gospel and that corresponds to God’s understanding of marriage. Jesus regarded marriage as a relationship of love between a man and a woman that reflected loving God’s relationship with his people. The early church came to understand marriage as a relationship of love between a man and a woman that reflected Christ’s loving relationship with his church. The love of husband and wife in marriage is a special expression of Christ’s love for his church, although not the only one. That vision is worth fighting for, especially in a culture that is often unsympathetic to it. It is worth fighting for because it is true to and worthy off what is best and deepest in people.

Saint Bernardine of Siena, priest.

Bernardino (1380-1444) was an Italian Franciscan itinerant preacher, whose elegant and captivating style of speech and use of popular imagery drew large crowds to hear his sermons. He fiercely denounced gambling, witchcraft, homosexuality and usury, was a major revivalist of faith and morals in early 15th century Italy.


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