“Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”
I was asked by a faithful Catholic recently, “Father, don’t you think that it would be great if the law on priestly celibacy was changed and you priests, religious, and bishops were all allowed to get married?” I knew where she was coming from. She was echoing a very common idea that allowing priests to marry will somehow put an end to all the clergy sexual abuse plaguing the Church.
I replied to her that I had never really thought about the discipline changing and I have never prayed or desired that it be changed. The thought had never really crossed my mind. I gave this honest response for two reasons:
First, changing the law on priestly celibacy and allowing priests to marry cannot solve the problem of clergy sexual abuse in any way. Aren’t there cases of sexual abuse and deviant sexual behavior even among clergies of Christian denominations that are allowed to marry? Has being married to a spouse prevented some of these clergy people from acting out sexually with people of the same or opposite sex outside their marriages? How then can we ever expect a Catholic priest or a bishop who is unfaithful to his vow of celibacy after many years of priestly formation, who repeatedly abuses young and matured boys and women, to suddenly become chaste and faithful to one woman in the exclusive unbreakable union of Christian marriage? No one overcomes sexual deviations simply by getting married.
Secondly, I do not waste my time praying for a change in this law or any other Church discipline because I am busy praying for something more important – that God change my heart. I strongly believe that if I allow God to change my sinful heart and make it more like His own, there is no law that I cannot keep, even the law on priestly celibacy in these our profligate days. Without a changed heart, there is no divine or Church law that I could ever hope to obey, no matter how the law is changed or diluted.
The entire work of creation and law-giving is an act of divine charity. God created Adam in love and allowed him to experience his loneliness among all the creatures whom he knew and named, “None proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” Out of love, God formed a suitable partner for him and “brought her to the man.” In another act of divine love, God gave expression to the law that has been written into man, “A man would leave father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” This divine law cannot change because, coming from God our Creator, it is stamped and programmed into our very being as male and female. The law was given only after Adam was created and recreated by God to show that, as certain as God’s love for us never changes, so also does His laws written into our nature do not change.
When the Pharisees tested Jesus about the lawfulness of the divorce allowed by Moses, Jesus responded, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.” Moses was helpless in the face of the hardness of their hearts that he allowed divorce. Jesus is the Son of Man, who “came not to abolish the law but to fulfill them.”(Mt 5:17) He fulfills the law because He is the God-Man who alone has power, wisdom, and love to change our hearts and make them like His own so that we too can see the love behind the Father’s law and commandments and obey them out of love for God. Instead of wishing that the immutable divine law on marriage and life be changed, we should be begging Jesus to change our hearts more and more into His own heart.
Our hearts can only be changed by Jesus when we approach Him with a child-like attitude of surrender and giving of ourselves to Him, “Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter into it.” We have all become self-conscious and self-reliant adults who are reluctant to offer ourselves entirely to God because we feel that we are not worthy or ready to commit to Him. Instead of seeking to belong completely to Him as we should and begging Him to change our hearts, we futilely long for a change of the law as if that would solve all our problems.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “the one who consecrates,” and we who are being consecrated have one origin. He is the eternally begotten Son, whose food was to “do the will of the One who sent Him.”(Jn 4:34) We are the ones created in time who are rebellious at heart, and at the best, ambiguous regarding our fidelity to God’s laws and commandments. Yet Jesus is not ashamed to call us “brothers.” Why then should we be ashamed to give ourselves to Him completely in faithfulness to our baptismal consecration? Why are we reluctant to allow Him shape our hearts into His own? There is no divine or Church law that we cannot obey when our hearts have been changed into the heart of Jesus.
My dear brothers and sisters, many people today are clamoring and demanding for change in laws that are basically unchangeable. Many fail to see that the divine love behind our being created and preserved today is also the source of the laws that govern our nature. There is the clamor for the legalization of so-called “same-sex” marriage. There is the push to have divorce recognized. The acceptance and condoning of adultery has made mockery of the sacred bond between husband and wife. The move to normalize homosexual relations is fueled by the utter rejection and disregard for that in-built equality and complementarity between the sexes.
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate,” reminds us that we live an illusion when we think that these laws can be changed by governments, presidents, senates, courts, or even by the Church. Longing for changes in such divine laws is a waste of time and only leaves us broken, frustrated, distracted, and confused. Even if the Church laws and disciplines can be changed, what is the guarantee that we can obey the new laws while our hearts remain as hardened as ever?
What we need is to become like little children who know and depend on their mothers. We too look to Mary as our Mother to help us give ourselves to Jesus Christ completely just like she did, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” Mary did not have time to beg for the change of any law because in her pure heart she saw the divine love, power and wisdom of God in those laws. This is how she let God make her into what He wanted her to be – the Virgin Mother of God.
This same divine grace and love that transformed Mary completely is offered to us in this Eucharistic encounter with Jesus who assures us that “Only those who do the will of God will enter the kingdom of God.”(Mt 7:21) He comes as usual to change us more into Himself and not to change the law. This divine will never changes but if we give ourselves to Him, sincerely and fervently begging and allowing Him to change our hearts, we will surely be transformed more into His own image and then there would be no divine law that we cannot obey with love.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!