06 October 2012

Divorce, remarriage, and the love of God

NB. I have a Dominican laity Serra Club retreat all day today. So, this homily is an edited repost from 2006. 

27th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

What does it mean to accept the Kingdom of God like a child? Jesus says quite plainly that we must come to accept his Father’s Kingdom like a child would, open our lives to His rule if we are to be a part of the glory that is to come. Living with God forever is not a reward for good behavior or right belief, it is the supernatural consequence of a life lived in right relationship, in righteousness, with He Who loved you into being, loved you into redemption, and loves you even now, drawing you to Him, seducing your heart, wooing your soul back to the source of all peace, of all happiness, pulling you back to Him. 

To accept the Kingdom of God like a child means first that you respond to our Father’s clarion call to come home to Him without argument, without pretense, without guile, without need for evidence or proof. You come home to rest because home is where you most belong. Because resting in God is the rest that comforts your nastiest hurts and eases your most tedious worries. You come home to rest in God because you know and accept—as any child would—that there is no argument for love, no pretense in belonging. The bond between you and God, between all of us and God was forged at the welding of creation, from the instantaneous explosion of Nothing into Everything, we are bound to Him, indelibly marked by His love precisely because He is Love and Love is Who He Is. To know as true and accept as real that you are brought out of nothingness, shaped body and soul by Love, held in being by Love, and seduced back to Love while you seek after holiness—to know these as true, to accept these as real—THIS is what it means to look up into the face of Jesus, to come to him, to be embraced and blessed by him as a child and to live with him forever. 

Forgive me, I’m going to become a professor for a second: Coming before everything we have freely chosen ourselves to be is the primal kinship between each of us and God. There is nothing about us more basic, more fundamental than the fact that we exist. We ARE. This fact means that we are loved. God is Love. And we continue to exist because He loves us. God made us in His image and likeness. He made us for no other reason than to live in perfect relationship with Him. It follows then that every relationship we can name, every connection we can point to, every single kinship we have is given to us by God and is a reflection of our most primitive relationship with Love, with God. We can have no relationship with each other or with anything in creation that is not first a relationship with God, first a kinship with Love Who made us. Now, I can say: the question the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce obscures the purpose of our creation, misses the point of our very existence; in fact, it betrays a deep misunderstanding of who we are made finally to be. 

You are probably saying, “Wow, Father, took you long enough to get to divorce!” It did. Here’s why: how easy for me to stand up here and teach what the Church teaches about marriage and divorce, pointing to all the relevant texts—all read this afternoon—and pointing to the CCC and telling you what you already know: marriage is permanent, therefore, divorce is impossible. But you might think that this is a social policy issue, or a cultural problem, or a private choice. You might think that the Church needs to loosen its teachings on marriage or ease its strict understanding of divorce. I spent so much time laying out our childlike relationship with God so that I can say this: divorce is impossible because it is impossible for us NOT to have a relationship with God—even if that relationship is broken and deeply impaired, it is still a relationship in love. What God has joined, no man must separate. 

OK. That sounds odd. Divorce/remarriage is impossible because it is impossible for us not to have a relationship with God. Think about it: God created Man, Adam and Eve. In the more detailed telling of the two Genesis stories of creation, God uses Adam’s rib to create Eve. God brings this newly created person to Adam for a name. He names her “woman.” The story continues with this explanation of marriage: this is why a man leaves his mom and dad and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh. Perhaps it should read, “and the two become one flesh again.” 

My point is simple: our most basic relationship is with God, the One in Whom we find our completion, our wholeness, and our end; marriage then embodies the search for and discovery of wholeness and the consummation of a single person’s separated existence into a completed existence. In other words, the sacrament of marriage signifies and makes present the joining of the creature with his or her Creator. Marriage is a sacrament of redemption. Divorce/remarriage is impossible because divorce/remarriage implies that marriage, a sacrament of our healing, can mean something else entirely. It cannot. It cannot mean anything other than the sacramental joining of one man and one woman into one flesh for the purpose of expressing Christ's love for his Church and the raising of a natural family. This definition of marriage was not born in hatred or bigotry. It simply expresses the stark truth of reality. 

All this is well and good. But what do we do with Catholics who have divorced and remarried? This will sound harsh. We do with divorced and remarried Catholics what we do with all those who disobey God, what we do with all those who manage to mess up their relationship with the One Who loves us completely. We do with divorced and remarried Catholics exactly what we do with fornicators, apostates, adulterers, abusive priests, irresponsible bishops, and heretics; we do what we do with you and with me when we sin—we stand here imperfect in the truth of the faith, clearly proclaiming the golden standard of holiness to which we are all called, readily naming our own sins, our own need for forgiveness, and we welcome them—all of them—back to a life of righteousness, always back to Love, always back to that which they and we resist in our most hateful moments of pride: Christ’s patient, loving embrace. There is no alternative here. No other way to go. Absolution of sin requires repentance. To freely receive God's freely given mercy, we must repent, turn away from sin. 

We cannot lie about divorce/remarriage or adultery or fornication, or any sin for that matter. Pretending that sin isn’t sin or renaming sin to hide its ugliness does nothing to the reality of a broken relationship. We might as well conclude that gravity is a hateful notion and decide to ignore it. Dropped dishes will still fall. Airplanes will still need speed and thrust to fly. And divorce/remarriage is impossible not because the Church says so, not even because Jesus say so, but because marriage is a living witness to the most basic hunger we have, the most basic satisfaction we can find: the love of God. Marriage cannot be what it is not. And neither can we. 

Know and accept, therefore, the embrace and blessing of Christ. If you are married, make that commitment shine like the sun for our good and yours. If you are divorced and remarried, come back; come back to us for your holiness and for ours. We need your matrimonial witness. We are one flesh, one Body in Christ. Pope Benedict writes in his letter, Deus caritas est, that when we embrace Christ and his blessing, “God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love.” There is no better measure of mercy and there is no better way home.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->


  1. Riveting - truly. I read eagerly, anxious to see what you were going to say next. Toward the end I lost that just a little, but found it again at the very end. Overall: instructive, clear, and encouraging us all to live toward holiness - not just telling us TO do it, but teaching us WHY.


  2. "If you are divorced and remarried, come back; come back to us for your holiness and for ours."
    How is that worked out in practice?

    1. Fragrance, through annulment. . .but even if annulment isn't possible, remarried folks can still come to Church.

  3. But do the remarrieds who come to church feel accepted and forgiven, or like second-class Christians? Presumably if no annulment they are not able to communicate?

    1. I really can't say how they feel. If I had to guess, I'd say they feel like all the rest of us sinners.

      They are forgiven but unless they've regularized their marriage situation they remain unabsolved and should not take communion.