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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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Anthony Zaccaria: At the same time that Martin Luther was attacking abuses in the Church, a reformation within the Church was already being attempted. Among the early movers of the Counter-Reformation was Anthony Zaccaria. His mother became a widow at 18 and devoted herself to the spiritual education of her son. He received a medical doctorate at 22 and, while working among the poor of his native Cremona in Italy, was attracted to the religious apostolate. He renounced his rights to any future inheritance, worked as a catechist and was ordained a priest at the age of 26. Called to Milan in a few years, he laid the foundations of three religious congregations, one for men and one for women, plus an association of married couples. Their aim was the reform of the decadent society of their day, beginning with the clergy, religious and lay people. 
<p>Greatly inspired by St. Paul (his congregation is named the Barnabites, after the companion of that saint), Anthony preached with great vigor in church and street, conducted popular missions and was not ashamed of doing public penance. </p><p>He encouraged such innovations as the collaboration of the laity in the apostolate, frequent Communion, the Forty Hours devotion and the ringing of church bells at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays. </p><p>His holiness moved many to reform their lives but, as with all saints, it also moved many to oppose him. Twice his community had to undergo official religious investigation, and twice it was exonerated. </p><p>While on a mission of peace, he became seriously ill and was brought home for a visit to his mother. He died at Cremona at the age of 36.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, help me make my life more about you and less about me. May others see you in me—your image and likeness. Teach me ways to increase my time with you, my service to others, and my love for my family, for strangers, and for the poor. You are the light in the darkness. With each new day, may we be light to one another.

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