You hid the truth. You lied. You are selfish. You didn’t care who was hurt as long as you had your own way. You did that out of jealousy and spite . . . Have you ever said those words or had them spoken to you? They are harsh – but the intention is clear: to protect others.
Three times I can remember having to speak like that because I was protecting someone falsely accused. I then had to take the dislike, I was the one to blame. I accepted because the situation had become my responsibility.
The ideal law is like that: to protect the falsely accused, convict the wrongdoer, even try to establish the truth – though that can be very difficult when people see and judge differently and lawyers can be clever with words and expected to win their cases. I sadly remember one case where a little girl was destroyed in court by a barrister brought in at great expense by the accused’s family. The little girl cried afterwards “They didn’t believe me,” and the barrister sent a private note to the girl’s family “I am sorry but I had to win my case.” We all knew the truth which became public only a little while later. Courts win and lose cases, life seeks the truth.
Today’s Gospel reading has Jesus telling his questioners that God’s plan for family is true love between husband and wife and the lives of their children. Moses, he admitted with his challengers, had allowed divorce – a man to put aside his wife. Moses did not allow the same right to women and the words about women in today’s Gospel reflect Roman law, not Moses’ law.
Jesus, in reminding his listeners of God’s original plan, is protecting the woman. She is not to be pushed out of a marriage, making way for the man to make arrangements to suit himself. She belongs. Jesus is asserting her rights. That is the best way to begin looking at the Church’s teaching and pastoral work – to protect and defend the woman. Over the centuries the Church has changed its laws on marriage in accord with new circumstances and for many people the Church has now become more intent on protecting its law than having the law protect the people.
A change in law always brings confusion because people don’t know of a change, think the old law still binds, confuse legal and moral, want the simplicity of yes or no because they don’t or can’t bother with the arguments, ridicule what the can’t or don’t understand. Boris Johnson’s Catholic wedding in Westminster Cathedral a short time ago is a good example: according to the law of the Catholic Church he was free to enter that marriage because his previous marriages were annulled as taking place outside the Catholic Church (Johnson was baptised a Catholic). He was legally free – but with a trail of other marriages and affairs and a number of children people saw a moral issue – how could he have such a right? Legally, he did; morally, who are we to judge?
The ideal is clear: a promise of love for life. How would the wording of any law express that ideal when people cheat, lie, change their minds, become cruel, unfaithful, have hidden other affairs or marriages. The innocent suffer, they are the betrayed ones – and they are told to obey the law whilst the cause of their suffering has gone, uncaring.
Could you world the law so that the innocent are protected? You would be amazed at the number of changes in the Church’s law governing marriage down the centuries.
We pray for for those whose love has been betrayed and the Church seems (seems) helpless to help them.
God bless and guide us,
(3rd October 2021)