Homily: Divorce, yes or no?

May 26, 2024 - 5:51 PM

CALOOCAN City— Below is the homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan during Mass at the San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan City on Friday, May 24, 2024:

Today’s Gospel is bound to go viral again in the social media because it is about a hot issue that is presently being debated and has already undergone a third reading and voting by our legislators in the Philippine Congress— DIVORCE. It is an issue that is about as old as humanity itself. Mark’s Gospel was written around 1,960 years ago, and he is referring to Jesus commenting on the law of Moses, which was written about 1,500 years earlier than Jesus’ time!

The question that is posed to Jesus is plain and simple: “Is divorce in accordance with the Law of Moses?” YES OR NO? And Jesus answers, not with a plain YES or NO. His answer is a YES, BUT… which twists it into a NO.
Let’s start with the YES. Yes indeed, if you look at marriage as just a legal contract between a man and a woman. Like all legally binding human contracts, its validity ends the moment the terms of agreement between the two parties are violated or no longer in place.

Notice that Jesus adds a parenthetical remark to his YES. He says divorce was made into a law by Moses because of the people’s “hardness of heart.” And our second reading today seems to be affirming that remark. We heard St James say, “Do not swear, either by heaven or by the earth or with any other oath…”. I think this fondness for swearing like little kids who say “Peks man, cross my heart, mamatay man ako…” is what Jesus calls hardness of heart in the Gospel—the tendency to make promises we cannot keep. The composer Burt Bacharach once wrote a song that became popular in the 60s, entitled “Promises, promises.” In a tone of exasperation, he says, “Promises, promises I am through with promises, promises…”.

The apostle makes it sound so easy. He says, “Just let your YES mean YES, and your NO mean NO, that you may not incur condemnation.” The trouble precisely is, very often, we say YES when we mean NO, and NO when we mean YES, especially when we are constrained by our circumstances from being truthful. Perhaps that’s why even witnesses in court are made to swear to tell the judge “only the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Because we know how unreliable our words can sometimes be, how fragile our promises can be. That’s why we are even made to raise one hand while another hand is made to rest on an open Bible, and then we are made to affix our signatures on our sworn statements and end it with a prayer that says, SO HELP ME GOD!

That makes me understand now why Jesus’ answer is a YES, BUT. YES, our promises are human and fragile and can be dissolved by law when broken. BUT NO, we don’t make that into an excuse for giving up on our humanity. No doubt, we are weak, fragile and sinful, and often unable to keep our promises, but we are also capable of forgiveness, of healing, and mending our broken relationships, of renewing our commitments, of rising above our conditionalities because we believe in the grace of loving unconditionally as we have been loved by God in Jesus Christ.

If indeed you think of our human promises as just agreements among ourselves, the indeed they can be dissolved when violated. But Jesus raises the bar of our humanity by teaching us to look at marriage, not just as an agreement between two spouses, but as a covenant between the couple and God. In the sacrament, God invites the couple to make an act of faith, not just in each other, but in the God who calls them to build a family. That, if God is the foundation of the marriage, there is no way any human institution can dissolve it.

Yes, it is still human, weak and fragile, but it can grow, it can fall and die like a seed on the ground and germinate, blossom and bear fruits that are divine. That is why, in spite of all the divorce laws that have been legislated in most countries around the world, the Church has not given up its teaching on the possibility of grace, the grace that we call “indissolubility of marriage.” Yes, those whom God has joined together we must not separate. But those whom God has not joined together, we must not keep together either.

We believe only in the indissolubility of marriages founded on God, meaning, on genuine and unconditional love. We don’t condemn couples who have failed and who have given up on each other. But we are not to forget the silent witnessing of millions of couples who have made an act of faith, not just in their love for each other, but in the love that is greater than the two of them, that love that gives them the stubborn will to hold on through thick and thin, to stand up after each fall, to mend broken promises with the grace of forgiveness and unconditional love we learn only from our divine master, Jesus Christ.