As I began to write this, 150 Cardinals of the Catholic Church were gathered at the Vatican to discuss family matters including the problem of people in invalid marriages who would like to receive Holy Communion. Published comments have included mention of a possible “pastoral” solution to the problem.
That sort of language is ambiguous and can be troubling. I suggest that it was that sort of allegedly “pastoral” thinking that led many bishops and cardinals to handle Humanae Vitae as a “hot potato” to use the term of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. That approach and its non-teaching of the demands of Christian love reaffirmed by the encyclical have given us the present situation in which only about one percent of fertile-age Catholic married couples are using any form of systematic NFP. The rest of them are certainly not just letting the babies come as they may, and another consequence is the societal acceptance of sodomy as “marriage.”
The issue raises the question of the New Evangelization. As formulated by Pope John Paul II and reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, this was supposed to help Catholics understand that Jesus Himself is the Author of the difficult moral teachings of the Church. So I wonder how many cardinals, bishops and priests have preached homilies on the permanence of marriage, homilies that explain how radical this teaching sounded to the Jews including the apostles. In particular, how many German cardinals, bishops and priests have preached at least once a year on the permanence of marriage?
How many ordinary pew sitters realize that divorce and remarriage was taken for granted by the Jews of that time, even though the Pharisees and the Sadducees had different positions? One party said you could divorce your wife for any reason whatever while the other party said you had to have a serious reason. So the Pharisees, who held the latter position, phrased the question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” (my emphasis).
The discourse is in Matthew 19:1ff. Jesus refers them back to the order of creation in Genesis. “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two become one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” The Pharisees then brought up Moses and his command to give a certificate of divorce, and Jesus replied that this was because of their hardness of heart. That is, it had become the custom for a man to divorce his wife and then call her back like a yo-yo at the end of the string. So Moses commanded that the divorcing husband give his wife a written decree to stop that evil, but it was certainly not a permission to divorce and remarry.
So Jesus replied, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity [an already immoral union], and marries another, commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.”
“The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” To paraphrase, “If a man can’t get rid of his wife even for a very good reason, he’s better off not getting married.”
So, the difficult teaching comes directly from Jesus; it is not just a discipline of the Church.
To be concluded next week.
John F. Kippley, also at www.nfpandmore.org