12 August 2011

Divorce, insanity, & the Real

19th Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory

Much like reporters trying to force a politician into an embarrassing public gaffe, the Pharisees throw “gotcha” questions at Jesus. They confront him with hypothetical scenarios and quibble with him over picayune, legalistic disagreements. These questions aren't motivated by a genuine desire for enlightenment or the quest for dialogue on pressing policy issues. They are hoping that Jesus will say something controversial and damage his reputation. What they don't anticipate is Jesus' command not only of the Law itself but his knowledge of the Law's foundations in the divinely created order as well. Our Lord responds to their tricky questions by going well beyond familiar hair-splitting legal distinctions and draws on what we call the Natural Law; that is, the reason, the purpose woven by our Creator into the fabric of reality itself. When asked about marriage and divorce, Jesus sets aside procedural problems and goes to the heart of the question. He quotes Genesis on marriage—a man and woman are made one flesh by God—and concludes, “Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” How does a creature unmake what the Creator Himself has made? In more prosaic terms, how can what is real be made unreal without destroying it?

Though we may not immediately recognize this question, it is the question being asked by those who argue that marriage may not be redefined by legislative, judicial, or executive fiat. Congress, the Supreme Court, the President may no more change what marriage is than they can repeal the law of gravity or make 2 + 2 equal 5. Underlying marriage is a divine reality, an eternal truth that is not subject to the social engineering impulses of the human heart. Gravity can be tragically inconvenient even deadly but it is a force of nature, a feature of reality that cannot be wished, prayed, or voted away. Despite my best efforts as a student, algebra stubbornly held to its fundamental reality, resisting tantrums, pleadings, arguments, and threats of bodily harm. To this day, the quadratic formula haunts my memories as a terrible witness to the harsh, unyielding reality of numbers. For those who would alter reality with words alone, marriage stands as a testament to their inability to command the forces of the Natural Law and unmake that which God Himself has made. 

Divorce—as Moses understands it—springs from the inability or unwillingness of the human heart to endure the burdens of marriage. Jesus understands divorce quite differently—it's the destruction of a divinely created reality and a failure to continue giving witness to the love that he shows his Church. A man and woman joined as one flesh by God constitutes a sacramental ministry to the Church and the world. To hold that marriage is soluble is to hold that Christ can cease loving his Church. Though we recognize the notion of a “civil divorce,” we cannot recognize the actual dissolution of a marriage b/c we cannot imagine that Christ would ever stop loving his people. Thus, once married, always married and if civilly divorced then another “marriage” is an impossibility. This isn't a cruel law of a controlling institution but the recognition that we cannot unmake what God Himself has made; we cannot render what is real unreal. Moses made a concession to the hardened human heart when he allowed divorce. Were we to make such a concession, we would concede to what amounts to insanity: by sheer force of will and the application of intellect, a creature can re-create that which the Creator Himself has made. Once that concession is made, we enter a fantasy world, a world where gravity is a suggestion and algebra an art.

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  1. Anonymous12:32 PM

    Not a comment on this piece but on your non-conventional political and cultural attitudes. A former Dominican, I retain great affection for the Order, but find the warmed over leftism in the "Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation" crowd (in the Church and in the Order) pretty unbearable. You are a welcome exception. It must be hard going for you sometimes.

    On reflection, I think that one of the great flaws in the post VatII Order was morphing it into "The Dominican Family" and allowing the numerically larager sisters to dominate so much. The friars should have kept their distance. Looking at the websites of most OP sisterhoods in the US, you can see that eco-feminism and "social justice" are what really drive them. Most of them are dying out and, frankly, deserve to.

    I see signs that the friars slowly are returning to their natural identities but much has been lost by "collaborating" with groups of women whose primary commitments are little different from those of the left side of the Democrat Party.

  2. Anon., as a thoroughly reformed Lefty I am well-trained in jumping any hurdles my more progressive brothers and sisters might see fit to put in the way. Fortunately, the "social justice/integrity of creation" crowd is not the future of the Order. Younger OP's see most of that stuff for what it is: progressive social engineering thinly veiled as spirituality.

    Though I am very pleased to be part of the Dominican Family, I don't for a second yield to the fantasy that the friars are led by anyone but the Master of the Order and the friars' constitution. Collaboration with other branches of the Order is par for the course and a good thing...but the friars collaborate AS friars. I think my older brothers are starting to wake up to the fact that Gen-X and Millienal friars weren't raised in the "sexist" atmosphere of the '40's and '50's and that we don't have to be forced to collaborate with women in ministry. We're used to it and find it very fruitful. However, we are not going to collaborate as anything other than friars and for the friars who are ordained, anything other than priests. Sometimes our sisters find our refusal to pretend that we aren't priests to be frustrating and even puzzling. They're used to an older generation's immediate and automatic deference to their agenda. The younger priests...not so much.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments!

  3. As a "younger OP" presently amongst fellow younger OPers (although I haven't made vows yet, so I'm technically not an "OP"), you're spot on, Father!

    Thanks for the homily. I like your use of images; it helps me focus on what you're saying. I was a little confused with the last sentence of the first paragraph; I had to read it a couple of times to understand your intent. I hope you're doing well in the Dallas desert!