Thursday, October 4, 2012

Until Death Do Us Part

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 7, 2012 - Year B

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Until Death Do Us Part

What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mark 10:9)

Sometimes it seems like marriage doesn't stand a chance.  We all shake our heads in disbelief when we hear of someone we know who is separated from their spouse and thinking about divorce.  Someone you respect or look up to or have confidence in leaves his wife and kids leaves you disillusioned and heartbroken.  You may even begin to think that true love does not exist and faithfulness is impossible.

We had this conversation recently at our table.  A doubt was raised that there is really any true love and commitment.  My wife spoke up and said, "We've never divorced.  Your dad has never left me."  She was speaking up for the fact that we had demonstrated what faithfulness looks like.  Also we noted that our parents on both sides were equally without incidences of infidelity in marriage.  That got me thinking.  I have to go back to my great-great grandparents before I find any adultery or divorce.  In my wife's family there isn't any divorce as far back as she can remember.  In fact, Debbie's great-great maternal grandmother's maiden name was Susan Samantha Saluty.  She outlived four husbands.  So the humorous remembrance of this stout woman was that her name was Susan Samantha Saluty Shelton Williams Fortner Snow!  

About a year ago Pat Robertson made a startling statement on his 700 Club TV talk show.  A viewer named Andreas asked about his friend, who had started seeing another woman after his wife developed Alzheimer's.  According to the CNN report Andreas' friend says, "He should be allowed to see other people, because his wife as he knows her is gone."  Andreas pleads, "I'm not sure what to tell him.  Please help."  I'm sure at this point many were shaking their heads and screaming at their TV screens something on the order of, "What a jerk!"   But not Mr. Robertson.  None of that 'for better or for worse' or 'for richer or for poorer' stuff.  Mr. Pat explains that this man should divorce her and start over again but also make sure his soon to be ex-wife has custodial care and somebody looking after her.  Robertson does agree that there is the vow of "till death do us part," but Alzheimer's is he said, "A kind of death."  I bet you're shaking your head about now. 

My mother died from an incurable disease.  But before she died I watched my dad do everything in his power and faith to find help for mom.  They prayed together and stayed together.  They solicited the prayers of their church and family and friends far and wide.  My dear mommy wore a smile through it all. Every day was a pretty day to her.  No matter if the sun was shining or the sky grew dark with clouds and rain, it was a pretty day according to mom.

I knew the end was near when I dreamed about mom on a Thursday or Friday night before she passed on Sunday.  I saw her suspended in the heavens as though she was rising to heaven.  From a distance I could tell she was dressed in a white robe.  It was very white.  As I drew near to her in my dream I saw how beautiful she was.  Her beauty exuded an indefinable youthfulness.  There was no more pain; there was no more disease.  While I was getting ready for Sunday services, Debbie brought me the phone with tears in her eyes and said, "It's not good news."  My eyes fill with tears as I write this.  Dad told me that Mom was gone.  It was the Lord's Day.  I asked Daddy if I could conduct the funeral unless he had planned to himself.  He told me I could do it if I thought I could.  He said he didn't know anyone better he'd rather have preaching Mom's funeral.  I titled my sermon for her service, "A Faith to Remember."  

Mommy stayed at home until her last breath.  My precious sister Mary Rose graduated from Graduate school and came home and helped my dad take care of our mother.  I stood alone at her casket before any one else arrived at the funeral home.  I lifted my hands in praise to God and wept tears of sorrow and thankfulness.  This woman, my mother, had nurtured me in the faith.  She taught me to believe that God is really, really big.  She sat in the pew as she listened to me preach my first sermon at age 13.  It was mommy who gave me the article and information that ultimately led me to be a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  It was mommy I saw on her knees praying beside her bed.  It was mommy who glowed when she said to me, "I always knew that Debbie was the one for you."  Mommy died the way she had lived.  Every day she lived in the awareness that God's love is deep and wide and she trusted him to help her to protect and raise her six children.  

I know that many of you are examples of true love and fidelity.  The unfortunate truth is that not without reason many think that marriage isn't something that lasts.  This institution ordained by God as we hear in the first reading is being assaulted.  It's integrity and necessity for home and society is discounted in high places.  The statistics show that 41% to 50% of first marriages end in divorce in America.  The rate of divorce in second marriages is from 60% to 67%.  For those in their third marriage the divorce rate soars to 73%. 

According to the Bishop's website the phenomenon of cohabitation is redefining commitments in relationships and is a corrosive impact on marriage as the center of family.  We need strong voices and spiritual leadership from those who know the joy of marriage.  Fathers and Mothers who now rock grandchildren to sleep are important witnesses in our parishes of the gift of marriage.  It is a mystery of self-giving that brings a husband and his wife to a particular fulness and fruitfulness of life.  Married love is a Sacrament that teaches us to think deeply about the great love Christ pours upon his Church, how he gave himself for her lavishing her with the joys of forgiveness and mercy.  That's how a Christian husband is to love his wife and children.  "This is a great mystery this union of a man and his wife, the two becoming one flesh," says the apostle Paul, "But I speak," he says, "concerning Christ and the Church." 

God presided over the first wedding.  He brought Adam and Eve together to live in holy union.  Their communion with each other is phrased in those immortal words, "And the two shall become one flesh."  One man united to his wife makes one family.  Life as one is not always easy.  There will be times of misunderstanding and tension.  But the same Jesus who turned the water into wine at the marriage in Cana will help you and your beloved to have the grace and the love that makes marriage the gift that it is.  It is what God envisioned from the beginning.  The man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.  

And so shall it be, until death do us part.  Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at   His website is:   

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