Marriage and Divorce and Mercy

First Reading: James 5:9-12

Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another,
that you may not be judged.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.
You have heard of the perseverance of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear,
either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath,
but let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,”
that you may not incur condemnation.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 11-12

R. (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Gospel: Mark 10:1-12

Jesus came into the district of Judea and across the Jordan.
Again crowds gathered around him and, as was his custom,
he again taught them.
The Pharisees approached him and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?”
They replied,
“Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce
and dismiss her.”
But Jesus told them,
“Because of the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment.
But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.”
In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this.
He said to them,
“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery.”



Today’s Gospel according to Saint Mark spells out a contentious and touchy subject for many Catholics: divorce and remarriage. The Church’s teaching on this is clear: marriage is a bond that can’t be broken and re-marriage is adultery (CCC 2383-86). Annulment is not Catholic divorce; it’s saying the bond never actually happened to begin with and is declared after a close examination on a case-by-case basis (CCC 1629). Separation is permitted and even civil divorce if necessary to protect the children and legal rights of the injured spouse (CCC 2383-86).

This is juxtaposed with the First Reading that reminds us #firstworldCatholicproblems: there is a Judge and it’s not you. He’s standing at the gates. He’s also a merciful God.

My experience with divorce and remarriage is unusual.

Raised in a strongly Catholic household, my four siblings and I experienced our parents’ separation and divorce when I was seven years old. Amicably, they navigated parenting well and put us kids first in the following years. They took different paths at times. Yes, they fought. Likewise, they also wept with each other when their family underwent life-altering accidents, drug-abuse treatment, death, and deployment.

The time I had to explain to my Catholic school sixth grade friends why my parents had different last names {divorced!} drove home the message of how I wasn’t like them and their families. When my first boyfriend asked me what I thought partnership looked like and I explained how my parents worked through decisions for us, he thought I was eccentric. As I took my marriage vows, I felt a pang for my parents in the front row, seated together but not together.

My siblings and I came to our own terms about being raised by devoted but divorced parents. You can imagine our heart-stopping shock when my parents announced to us that they were re-marrying a few years back. The flooding of our joy, the celebration. The keen reminder of all the pangs of judgment and condemnation throughout the years by many in our lives. The resentments I had held in my heart against my parents. It all came out to heal.

Most divorces don’t wind up this way. But keep your hearts open to the love and mercy of Our Father if divorce happens in your circle of family and friends. The Merciful Judge is up there and He’s working with grace in all our souls.

If you’ve experienced the pain of divorce and are looking for healing, talk to a trusted priest and he will be able to help you find support and guidance in your journey.

photo credit

Nell O’Leary is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom to three lovelies. She and her husband live in the great city of Saint Paul. You can find out more about her here.

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