THE IDEAL VS THE REALITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jos 24:1-13; Ps 136:1-3,16-18,21-22,24; Mt 19:3-12 ]
One of the greatest threats to the future of humanity today is not nuclear war but the attacks on the institution of marriage, family and chastity. This is the strategy of the Evil One, for by destroying the stability of marriage and family, humanity would become dysfunctional. More evil and sins would be committed because of the lack of the foundation of love and values in family life. It is for this reason that the Church has always taught that the foundation of marriage and family life rests on the indissolubility of marriage between a man and a woman; and for those not called to married life, a life of celibacy.
In the gospel, Jesus established the foundation of marriage by referring to the creation of God. He said, “Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.” In the original plan of God, man and woman were to be united in marriage so that the two could become one in mind, in heart and in flesh. This was how God created us to be and intended us to be. Thus, clearly in the mind of Jesus, God did not intend to have same sex union. One cannot therefore justify from creation that same sex union is an option in life. It is an anomaly, not a matter of option, that one could choose to marry someone of the same sex.
Flowing from this principle, Jesus condemned divorce. “Now I say this to you: the man who divorces his wife – I am not speaking of fornication – and marries another, is guilty of adultery.” As long as a marriage is properly celebrated, that is with full consent and maturity of decision from both partners, then the marriage is valid and indissoluble. If it can be proved that there was no real marriage, then the marriage in the understanding of Jesus could be annulled. For this reason, the Church, following Jesus, does not accept divorce unless declared null and void since in marriage, man and woman are permanently sealed in the union.
By extension, those who are single are called to be celibate. Jesus said, “There are eunuchs born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs made so by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Singlehood is a choice that one makes, either because one is not called to married life or because one wants to devote onelf to the service of God and humanity either by giving onself to a cause or to priestly and religious life. Regardless of whether we are priests, religious, married or single, we are called to love and give ourselves in love and service to the promotion of family, growth of society and humanity.
Yet, these remain the ideal. This is in accordance to the plan and mind of God. The Church makes these ideals as laws for her faithful in order that we may live out the plan of God so that we can live integrated lives. The laws of Christ and the Church in protecting marriage and the family cannot be faulted. No one would argue that a stable family where there is mutual love and care provides security for everyone in the family. When there is no commitment between both parents, the children live in fear of being separated once their parents are divorced. They will lose the love of one of the parties or even be separated from their own siblings. This is true with respect to marriage defined as between a man and a woman. Same sex union does not provide a holistic upbringing of children. Every child comes from the union between a man and a woman, and therefore has the right to be brought up the by couple that gives life to them. A same sex couple bringing up a child cannot provide that holistic love that every child should be exposed to.
It is the same for priestly and religious celibacy. The Church’s requirement of priests and religious to be celibate is worthy and noble. This will help the person to be fully committed to Christ and to the service of the people. St Paul made this exhortation, “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.” (1 Cor 7:32-34) So celibacy is a total commitment to the Lord as our bridegroom.
But the reality is quite different. Jesus refers to the weaknesses of man. When they asked why Moses allowed divorce, He said, “It was because you were so unteachable that Moses allowed you to divorce wives, but it was not like this from the beginning.” So we have the ideal that does not match the reality. The truth is that man remains a sinner. He is weak in love and in understanding.
Whilst, ideally, husband and wife should remain united in love for the rest of their lives so that there is stability in the family, especially in the raising of children where there is security and love, yet the reality is different. We are all so different in character and in upbringing. We are all influenced by the values of the world and what we read. Today, with women also working and holding the same responsibilities as men, the demands are very different compared to the world 2000 years ago. Along the way, there will be conflicts in world view, in seeing religion, in values, in managing the household and in raising up children. Conflicts and disagreements lead to distancing and the inability to communicate. This strains the relationship further, hearts are numbed and hardened after many quarrels and even fights, and love is eventually lost.
Again, ideally, a man should find a woman to be his helpmate. But sometimes, such a situation does not happen. For some reasons, we cannot find a life partner in marriage or we are not attracted to one of the opposite sex. Yet, all of us cannot live without a helpmate. We all need love. Loneliness and rejection is most feared by all. We do not want to be alone. Everyone needs a friend. If this friend is not our husband or wife, it might be one of the same sex. There could be an intimacy or love like that between King David and Saul’s son, Jonathan. But the temptation to be physical in love is great, especially in the light of promiscuity and sensuality of the world. We need physical love, to be hugged and to be kissed. When such intimacy is intense, it could lead to physical love. So whether the person is a single as a lay or a priest or religious, he or she is called to refrain from physical love. This is a tall order indeed, and many fail in the attempt to keep themselves chaste. This is the reality of life.
This is where the Church seeks to be compassionate. Whilst the laws are good and should be followed, not all can live up to that ideal as taught by our Lord. When “the disciples said to him, ‘If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is not advisable to marry.’ But he replied, ‘It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted.” In other words, His teaching on marriage, family and celibacy is difficult. We need the grace of God to accept His plan for humanity, and the grace to live out this divine calling for all of us. But without His grace, we will not be able to make it because we are sinners, unteachable right from the beginning. This is the consequence of original sin. Our will is weak and our intellect is dull.
This means that whilst the Church needs to uphold the laws for the sake of discipline and the greater good of humanity, yet we must appreciate that many cannot not live up to the requirements of the ideals of the gospel. For such people, they need time to come to appreciate and subscribe to the teaching of the gospel. This comes about through prayer and a greater union with the Lord. This is not something that we can enforce or impose because acceptance and understanding takes time. We must allow such people to be in our community to grow in love for the Church and in their faith. God will show them the way.
Indeed, our history is a history of grace and sin. This is what the first reading seeks to show. Joshua went through with them the history of salvation, beginning with their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He brought them through how God prepared the people to enter the Promised Land. Through many trials, mistakes and adversities, the Israelites were then made ready to possess the Promised Land. But all these were not possible. Not by their own strength did they occupy the Promised Land but by the grace and mercy of God. Indeed, God reminded them that “this was not the work of your sword or your bow. I gave you a land where you never toiled, you live in towns you never built; you eat now from vineyards and olive groves you never planted.” With the psalmist, in thanksgiving we could only say, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. Great is his love, love without end.” So let us not lose hope. Let us continue to make this journey as we come to discover the love of God in our lives. These issues will not go away but God will somehow lead us to the Promised Land beyond our imagination. In the meantime, let us continue to grapple with these issues and ask God for direction, wisdom and compassion.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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