The book of Genesis recounts that “God created man in his own image and likeness; male and female he created them.” This statement underscores the importance of sexuality in human existence- so important an issue that the Gospels themselves record Jesus’ own teachings on the creation of the human person as male and female. In today’s conversation with the Pharisees, he underlines the fundamental facts about our sexuality. We need to be constantly aware of those essential truths – to help us resist the seductions and temptations facing us in this area, and for the sake of those around us who may not have the benefit of faith, of knowing God’s design for human sexuality. We are called to be channels of divine enlightenment to them.
The first fundamental fact about human sexuality is that it is intrinsically good and a part of God’s original plan for humanity. Human bodies and the sexuality naturally embedded in them by the Creator are not evil but are part of our making as human beings created out of love in God’s own image and likeness. Sexuality is an integral part of God’s creative economy for his children – a beautiful, powerful part of his plan. This assertion is contrary to the negativity of some extreme and heretical religious views to consider the body and every material thing to be evil. Human sexuality is very good but could be used in an evil and sinful way.
The second fundamental fact about our sexuality as ordained by God 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 obvious. The woman is taken from the man’s own rib – unlike all 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 the contemporary travesty of social engineering and political shenanigans, a person’s gender is clearly 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, each bringing something that perfects the other. This complementarity is underlined by the normal natural attraction we feel for members of the opposite sex.
The third fundamental 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 always open to forming a new family. As Scripture says, “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” So, marriage and sexual intimacy should be between one man and one woman, not between two men or two women, as some of our contemporaries want to make us believe. Our Lord is emphatic that marital union is exclusive and indissoluble – a lifelong commitment and adventure between one man and one woman. Consequently, “they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They are one flesh in a union of complementary persons, a union that cannot be broken or dissolved unless by death, just as the child coming should not be “dissolved”.
However, marriage is fast fading and crumbling in our age, with calamitous consequences. 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 and married his brother’s wife. We remember that it was for criticising Herod about this that got John the Baptist beheaded. Perhaps also, the Pharisees wanted Jesus to contradict Moses in order to accuse him of heresy. In response, however, he declares that Moses allowed them divorce because they were “unteachable”. He then reminds them how God originally intended marriage to be a sacred, unbreakable bond whereby God 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, human beings get to be used like objects, and then dumped when no longer “useful”. This is utilitarian, and it is wrong!
In maintaining Christ’s teaching on marriage, the Church is by no means insensitive to the pains of those in difficult marriage circumstances; and it 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 is “till death do us part”
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 really married, and so they are free to marry. Annulments and separations are always painful, which is one of the reasons 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 own 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!