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FRIDAY HOMILY: From the Beginning It Was Not So

By Fr. Randy Sly
August 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In years past, I usually approached this text based on HOW one is to approach marriage and divorce. There is a new wrinkle now introduced into the general discussion of marriage - WHO is being married, particularly regarding the so-called union of same-sex couples.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - I've been just sitting, staring at the passage from Scripture that serves as the Gospel for today for awhile, amazed at the changes in our culture since I first read this. How many times over the past 30-plus years of ministry I've exegeted, taught, preached and ministered from this particular section. Yet, today, things are so different.

In years past, I usually approached this text based on HOW one is to approach marriage and divorce. There is a new wrinkle now introduced into the general discussion of marriage - WHO is being married, particularly regarding the so-called union of same-sex couples.

When Jesus was approached by the Pharisees, they challenged him at a point of theology regarding divorce and remarriage based on the practice currently used under the law. In his answer, Jesus pointed out that "From the beginning, it was not so." A change in marriage had been made, not based on theology but on human frailty - the hardness of heart. The concept of divorce was introduced into a covenant relationship that was to be a walk unto death.

So here we go again. A change in marriage has been made not based on theology but on human frailty - the hardness of heart. Since there was no room for a same-sex couple in the definition of marriage, the definition was changed and with it, the purpose of marriage.

But from the beginning it was not so.  As Jesus pointed out in this passage, there are those who are incapable of marriage. He then lists three categories: Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.

The Revised Standard text makes it very clear what sets aside capability - they are eunuchs, men incapable of reproduction due to a physical abnormality, intervention by those who make them that way or those, who for the sake of the kingdom, choose to remain celibate.

Obviously, for our Lord and His Church the choice is clear. One of the key components for marriage is procreation - the ability to bring forth life out of the relationship.

The problem in properly dealing with marriage today does not really come from a lack of understanding regarding the true meaning of the term. Rather, as Jesus points out here, we are battling hardness of heart.

As he points out, this is what led to the indiscriminate practice of divorce under the Law of Moses. This is also what is leading to a de-construction of the language of marriage today.

In a sense, regarding the face-off on marriage both sides see the other as being hard-hearted. So often, proponents of same-sex relationships claim that those who refuse to agree with them are the ones with the stony interior. "These people love each other," is their retort. "How can you be so cruel and cold to refuse them?"

From their vantage point, the heart of man is one that should embrace and encourage what others want and wishes, no matter what. There should be no constraints placed on warming the heart toward the desires of another. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out where that could ultimately take us, as everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

The "heart," especially from a Biblical perspective, is not the organ of our life but the core of our being. Here rests our mind, our will and our emotions. For that reason, the heart is only as good as the source upon which it rests for direction. Basically, it can go in one of two directions: toward the flesh, a term used here to describe the base elements of fallen humanity or toward the spirit, the spark of life where the Spirit of God dwells after baptism.

For many in our world today, the second option is not really available, leaving only one source for the spark - the lust of the flesh. To that heart, as St. Paul would say, Christ, the cross and the principles of faith would seem foolishness.

Thus, we have hardness of heart, which is an interesting term. In our passage, for example, it is a single compound word - "sklerocardia," indicating a difficult, hard or harsh heart.  In other places the term used describes a "petrified" or "hardened" heart. In both cases, the heart is not exactly hard in the sense of being impenetrable to anything but, rather, resistant to the Creator - to God Himself.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul describes the situation this way, "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen." (Romans 1:24, 25)

When they exchanged truth for a lie, their hearts then followed falsehood as though it was true. As Paul said in Ephesians, "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart." (Eph. 4:18)

We need to work unceasingly on all fronts to protect marriage. Holy Matrimony is a permanent and pure sacrament of the Church that exists between a man and a woman. As the Catechism states, Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics.

At the same time, we must recognize that the assault on marriage is a clarion call to the Church and a mandate for evangelization. The human heart must be turned toward God. Without conversion, the human soul is bound to repeat the same cycle over and over again. As Catholic Christians, we must always remember that this is possible for anyone and everyone.

In a foreshadowing of the work which would be accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ along with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the prophet Ezekiel offered this message from the Lord. And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19, 20)

This is our calling and destiny, to do the work of the gospel in today's society, to see hearts changed. When speaking with the youth gathered in Brazil at World Youth Day, Pope Francis issued a challenge to them that really belongs to the whole Church. There are no borders, no limits: He sends us to everyone. . Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.

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Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.

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