Bishop Mark Davies: failure to accept Church teaching on marriage linked to lack of faith in the power of God’s grace

Rt Rev Mark Davies, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, has drawn attention to one of the most important aspects of the current crisis facing marriage and the family.

In a sermon preached at the Mass of Chrism on Maundy Thursday Bishop Davies noted:

In our reflections on the vocation of marriage and the family how easily we can fall into thinking of this vocation merely in terms of sociology or psychology and fail to take into account the grace of God by which marriage and every vocation becomes possible.

He links this failure to:

the unfolding drama which St. Luke recounts in the Synagogue of Nazareth [in which] God’s own people reject the greatness of their calling. They could not see how the salvation of God was manifest among them in the ordinary realities of family and working life.

The bishop continued:

…this drama continues today whenever we fail to recognise the vocation of marriage and the family as a call to holiness; the vocation to the priesthood and the consecrated life as gifts of Christ to His Church; the greatness of the lay vocation, of a Christian in the world to transform the secular order and not to be conformed to it.

In words that that have great relevance during the current controversy over the admission of the divorced and “remarried” to Holy Communion he said:

God’s grace and calling is always seen in our ordinary lives and especially when we are able to live and persevere in a way we never imagine is possible.

He continued:

[People in the] dominant culture around us now all but despair of life-long commitments and often see the promises of marriage as fearful and uncertain; our contemporaries often see chastity, pure love within marriage as much as outside of it as near impossible to attain; and the celibate priesthood or the consecrated life as almost reckless adventures in the face of human weakness. And all because one part of the equation is never reckoned upon: the grace of God which alone makes our vocations possible.

Voice of the Family commentary

In his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio Pope John Paul II taught that the entry into invalid civil unions by the civilly divorced was “an evil” that “must be faced with resolution and without delay.” (FC, 84)

After acknowledging the different situations that exist, and the motives that led people to these situations, the Holy Father clearly expressed the perennial teaching of the Church:

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”(FC, 84)

Cardinal Walter Kasper on the other hand has rejected the idea that such an ideal can be achieved. In his extensive interview with Commonweal magazine in February 2014 Kasper stated:

“To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”

Kasper’s statement suggests a lack of confidence in the grace of the God who told His disciples “such things are impossible to man’s powers, but not to God’s; to God, all things are possible.” (Mk 10:27).

St Paul taught that man would always be given the grace to avoid sin:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor 10:13)

 The Ecumenical Council of Trent confirmed this in its authoritative Decree on Justification, which states:

But no one, however much justified, should consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one should use that rash statement, once forbidden by the Fathers under anathema, that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified.

For God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes thee to do what thou canst and to pray for what thou canst not, and aids thee that thou mayest be able. 

The decree goes on to define infallibly that:

If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.

(Decree on Justification, Council of Trent, Session VI)

To deny that the “remarried” are not all called to truly reform their lives and live in accordance with the truth of the moral law is to deny the power of God’s grace and to contradict the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church.