Last week I received the news like a punch in the gut: a relative and his wife are divorcing. It was shocking partly because the marriage never seemed troubled and partly because an hour or so before I had prayed with the day’s gospel reading in which Jesus says, “they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
While I was thinking about the coincidence, my dad plunged into one of his new-but-becoming-habitual condemnations of Catholicism, holding up in turn each of my mother’s siblings who were married in the Church but subsequently divorced. “Look at all those Catholics! They say they don’t believe in divorce, but now look at them. Your mom and I were married in front of a judge. We didn’t want any of that wedding crap, and look at us! Thirty-seven years!”
I am grateful for my parents’ marriage, of course, but I also thought that in terms of spiritual warfare it isn’t too shocking that the Sacramental marriages would face more obstacles than a civil marriage. I digress. There is so much suffering and heartbreak. I can so understand when people leave their marriages to pursue happiness elsewhere when their gaze settles only on the happiness that the world can provide. My own marriage has not exactly been a tiptoe through the tulips, and I have experienced a lot of ups and downs. I do believe that Jesus meant what he said about the indissolubility of marriage and I do believe holding things together is worth making some significant sacrifices for.
Looking at my life, sometimes I see the long road ahead of me and doubt my ability to persevere to the end in faith. Not just in marriage, but in every difficult detail. Jesus talks in the parable of the sower why someone would abandon the faith. Even when I try my best to follow Him there will be times when I’m rendered a hypocrite. We’re a church of sinners needing medicine. Shocker. I so hope to avoid being the seed that fell among the thorns, and I pray for perseverance often.
Flannery O’Connor says it best through the Misfit in A Good Man is Hard to Find shortly before he murders an old woman:
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can–by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.
Either He did or He didn’t. The Misfit, in his deplorable violence, was at least intellectually honest. If Christ didn’t raise the dead, then what’s keeping us from doing whatever would make us most happy here in this world regardless of its cost to other people? I think He did, and now I owe Him everything. He told me that following Him comes with a cross. Would that I could be honest, too, and embrace my sufferings for love of Him.
“I pray you, good Jesus, that as you have given me the grace to drink in with joy the words of your knowledge, so in your loving kindness you will also grant me to come at length to yourself, the source of all wisdom, to stand forever before your face. Amen.” – Venerable Bede