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DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE IS ADULTERY
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Friday, Tenth Week of the Year, June 10, 2016
1 Kings 19:9, 11-16, Psalm 26, Matthew 5:27-32


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.


"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:27-29).


Here is another example of how seriously Jesus takes God's moral law (the Ten Commandments). The law says, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14), but Jesus makes this commandment much stricter, saying, "But I say to you that every one that looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Surely no one has been able to completely avoid the sin of looking lustfully at someone at one time or another. This is something that can trouble us afterwards, causing our conscience to continually accuse and attack us, making us feel guilty, alienated from God, sinful, and depressed, robbing us of our inner peace and happiness in God.


In this way we learn that if we want to live in inner peace and joy with God, with a clean and happy conscience that does not accuse and attack us, we must avoid this sin in the future and avoid those who cause us to sin in this way. We learn that the traditional practice of custody of the eyes makes a lot of sense. Women also learn that it is not good to make themselves into the snares and traps of the devil to try to lead men astray by the way they dress and present themselves.


Immediately after warning us not to look at a woman lustfully, Jesus says, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:29). This is an exaggerated expression, but its meaning is clear. We are to make great sacrifices to avoid the sin of looking lustfully at someone. Jesus calls this sin adultery of the heart.


So what would be an example of plucking out your right eye to avoid this sin? An example would be custody of the eyes, that is, avoiding looking at those who turn themselves in the snares and traps of the devil by the way they dress and present themselves.


If you pluck out your right eye, you do not see as well with only one eye. You have a blind spot on your right side, your vision is impaired, and it is much easier to avoid seeing harmful sights. I know, because I went blind twice this past year in my right eye, and for most of the year I could just barely see through my right eye. When I walked through the crowded dining room, looking straight ahead, there was a whole range of things and people that I could no longer see clearly on my right side, and so I found it to be an advantage in avoiding harmful sights and practicing custody of the eyes.


Jesus then goes on to talk about divorce and remarriage, where he makes the Old Testament law against adultery much stricter, saying, "It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity (porneias), makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:31-32).


The exception clause uses the word porneias (unchastity) instead of moicheia (adultery). The word porneias in this clause has been understood by the Catholic Church to mean an invalid marriage because of consanguinity, that is, an incestuous union of near relatives. Such a union is not a true marriage and can be declared null and void. But a valid marriage is indissoluble. Hence if one is validly married and divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery and is living in an ongoing state of adultery, because his first marriage is still valid.


Adultery is a grave sin, a mortal sin, punishable in hell for all eternity if one dies in this state. Since no one knows when or how he will die, he who lives in open, publicly proclaimed adultery, such as a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic, is walking on thin ice and is placing himself in great danger of going to hell forever when he dies. How many people die suddenly in traffic accidents or of a heart attack and have no opportunity at all to repent and amend their life?

 

God's moral law is his moral law. There is no such thing as gradualism in God's law; that is, that God is calling someone to live in adultery at this point in his life, and when he grows more in his faith, God will call him to something higher; so one can therefore relax in his adultery, knowing that that is all God is asking of him at this point in his life. This is a completely false teaching that every Christian should repudiate. Adultery is a grave mortal sin for everyone at every point of his development and life, and must always be avoided by all at every point of their life.


Others think that God's moral law is not really binding on them because it is nothing more than inspiring consideration from our tradition that I should be aware of as I make up my own mind as to what is best for me in my circumstances, given the mitigating factors of my life. This also is a completely false teaching. God's law is God's law, plain and simple, and it applies equally to everyone.


It is the job of the preacher to make God's law known to people so that they cannot claim ignorance of the law or ignorance of their duty as an excuse. They should be clearly taught that if they commit adultery, they are putting themselves in a state of grave mortal sin that alienates them from God, bans them from the Eucharist and from sacramental absolution, and is punishable by an eternity in hell when they die if they do not repent and rectify their life in time.


So what is the solution to the problem of adultery? The solution is to repent with a firm purpose of amendment and to call upon the merits of the reparation-making death of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. People living in adultery must break up their adulterous union and call upon Christ in faith so that God can declare them righteous and just, because of Christ's death on the cross that made reparation for their sins. It is their repentance and faith that enables to God to apply the merits of Christ's death to them.


This is the same solution that we are to use for the sin of adultery of the heart, that is, looking lustfully at someone. We must admit and confess this as a sin, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23), wherein we receive God's forgiveness. Our faith enables Christ's death to be counted as though it were our death in just reparation for our sins, and we can then go free, absolved and declared righteous by God through our faith and repentance. This restores great peace to our heart and joy in God. It also gives us a strong desire to avoid this sin in the future in order not to fall out of this peace and joy that we are now experiencing in God within ourselves, with our conscience at peace at last, no longer attacking and accusing us, making us feel guilty and depressed.

 

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