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Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

There were at least two different schools of thought about divorce in Jesus’ time and the Pharisees were hoping to trap Jesus into supporting one of them, therefore alienating the other. Jesus responded by giving a vision of marriage, going back to Genesis, which  describes man and woman as helpmates. Their union is one of love, frequently used in the bible to describe the relationship between God and Israel. The Apocalypse uses the term “the bride”  as the spouse of the Lamb: Christ and his people (Rev. 21:9-10). This is an understanding of marriage completely different to the legalistic one which the Pharisees had in mind. In Jesus' day, marriage - at least among the higher ranks of society - was more to do with property and power than with a personal relationship. This was true in other places, centuries later, where peace treaties between countries were often sealed with a marriage. The woman probably had little say in the matter as she was first the property of her father and then of her husband.

Jesus presented the ideal. However, marriages often fail; men and women divorce and remarry. The Church needs to treat the couples with the same concern and respect as he showed the Samaritan woman with the five husbands and the  liv-in partner. Why should they be ostracised while far greater offences go unnoticed?

For a very long time religious life was held up to be the ideal and there are very few married saints who can be exemplified as role models. Most are kings and queens, hardly helpful to the ordinary person.

Marriage is a sacrament and the intimate relationship between husband and wife a source of grace. Blessed Karl, the last Emperor of Austria, exiled to Madeira, where hew died in poverty, had this to say on the eve of his marriage to Princess Zita: “Now we must help each other to attain Heaven”.