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Bible Reflections View Comments

Striving for the Gospel Ideal
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012
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We’re tempted to approach the hard sayings in the Gospels with a “yes, but...” response. We move to a worst- case scenario out of fear of what might happen if we hold to absolutes.

Today is no exception. Jesus makes an unconditional declaration about the indissolubility of marriage: “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Immediately we want to say, “Yes, but what if someone is in a truly abusive relationship? Is she doomed to putting up with the abuse or being alone for the rest of her life?”

Most of us know people who are divorced and remarried—some with annulments, some not. We use particular situations such as an abusive spouse or serial infidelity to argue that we need a change in the rules for marriage. But instead, we need to admit that those are, for the most part, exceptional cases. Because we also know many people in happy, healthy marriages who have never even considered divorce as an option.

Today’s lectionary readings remind us that the gap between the ideal and the real has been around almost as long as humans have lived, breathed and procreated on earth.

The first reading from the Book of Genesis sets forth God’s ideal plan for men and women, joined so uniquely as partners that no one can separate their union. Yet, in the Gospel, Jesus tells his questioners that even Moses made allowances for the dissolution of the marriage bond. But he also points out that those exceptions were made only because the people could not live up to God’s original vision of perfect union. Jesus acknowledges that fact but does not approve of it.

Jesus calls his followers to return to the ideal. He reminds them that God intended the marriage union to be a blessing for both partners, a participation in the divine act of creation. Our Catholic sacrament of marriage has its roots in this ideal. The couple’s mutual love reflects Christ’s love for the Church. The grace of the sacrament helps couples live up to that ideal through the stress of daily life.

The prohibition against divorce is not meant to be some sort of punishment for making the wrong choice of a mate. We do have to acknowledge that often what passes for marriage is not a truly sacramental bond.

Throughout the ages, there has been tension between marriage as a social and even economic institution and marriage as a romantic, intimate relationship between two soulmates. The reality of sacramental marriage lies somewhere in between.

A stable and healthy marriage has been shown over and over again to be the ideal setting for raising children to become balanced and responsible adults. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that as Jesus is trying to explain this to his disciples, Mark tells us that people were bringing children to Jesus to be blessed.

The Catholic Church has long held the belief that one of the primary purposes of marriage is procreation. There may be more wisdom in this than we realize. It may be that what a couple is unwilling or unable to do for themselves and one another, they can do for the good of their children. Again, this is more than living with a spouse in a constant state of armed truce.

Jesus never said that living the Gospel would be easy. But he did say it was more than worth the effort to strive for those ideals.


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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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