Of Marriage and Divorce

Continuing my series on hard subjects that keep the faithful from the Catholic Church.

This week we will look at divorce. When we look at the statistics of how many marriages end in divorce we can be not only discouraged, we can wrongly begin to question the Church’s teaching on the subject.

If you have lived long enough, you know of a couple that just “were not meant to be married”. You know them, the couple that did nothing but fight. If you invited them to a party you knew the festivities would be marred by at least an argument if not a full blown fight. But these are your friends, and they are miserable. Usually sides are taken by friends and the debate hardened. The answer? They simply don’t belong together….for the children sake, let them get a divorce. A few years pass, both “exes” (is that even a word??) go their own way and find love again. They marry for a second time and both are so happy it makes the whole divorce worth while.

I have known this couple. They are still really happy…separately. We are all human, we make mistakes, we have all fallen short of the grace of God. So what does it matter to the Church if we find real happiness in this life, repenting from a bad choice to marry the wrong person? The problem is marriage itself; but let me explain, from the beginning.

Pope John Paul II wrote the Apostolic Constitution “Familiaris Consortio” in 1980. It was and is a beautiful explanation of married life. It is married life that we must get to know before we can make an educated decision about divorce.

The “supernatural sense of faith” however does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful. Following Christ, the Church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as the majority opinion.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

From the beginning, St. John Paul II lets us know that this is not a debate, this is Church teaching. The “supernatural sense of faith” spells out for us that God created us and all we can possibly know, He wrote the book on creation. But there are those of us, firmly pointing the finger back at myself, that do not care for instructions books. I find it a wonderful challenge to get the new gadget, that has “some assembly required”, and put it together without the manual; I figured it out myself!! Prideful? You think? I have paid for my pride though, Stephanie would love to relay each and every story of my failures over a glass of wine, just invite her over!

So why are we so prideful to think that we can figure this creation out ourselves? Blame the majority. That wonderful mob mentality that lets us know we are right…because look how many agree with me! I love democracy, mainly because if we make a mistake in leadership it only takes 4 years to realize it, learn, and make a better call next time. But the faith is not like our earthly nation. It is not left up for us to tinker with God’s plans.

It follows that only an education for love rooted in faith can lead to the capacity of interpreting “the signs of the times,” which are the historical expression of this twofold love.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

I sat as a protestant and watched Canterbury burn, thinking we would learn from our mistakes, but the correction never came, the church simply built upon it’s mistakes. Love was not allowed, as schism begat schism. Sides were taken, and separations were deemed necessary. Seems strangely like a divorce.

Love, agape love to be exact, is the only thing that will lead us to God. The love that is willing to make sacrifices.

What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Conversion. To turn from the wrong path and take the right one. This always requires sacrifice. Here is were we need to ask ourselves “how important is creating a godly and loving environment”? Look at the world…just the married world…what condition is it in? Is it OK? Adultery, pornography, serial divorce, children that have no concept of discipline, children acting out, homes built only on possessions and wealth, I could go on. The married life is not all it’s cracked up to be, this is why so many of our youth are opting out of marriage, just “shacking up” as it were. I guess this is where we start. If you think the married world is fine right now, you may not get the true point of this article. But if you agree with me that marriage is on the ropes in modern society, then lets start the conversion, our conversion.

The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Marriage was always meant to be the giving of the man and the wife to each other as total, holding nothing back. Lets stop here for a second and ask the question. “If those we know that were divorced had given fully of themselves, making whatever changes necessary for the other (spouse), how many would be divorced”? Total personal self giving is the first rule of marriage. If the wife cares more for the husband than herself, and the husband cares more for the wife than himself, how can a marriage go wrong? Total self giving.

So why can’t we do this outside of marriage? Just moving in together? If the couple, usually one of them, will not take the chance of entering into a legal and sacramental agreement, then are they giving totally of themselves? They are holding open their options, and that is not love…

And the same sin which can harm the conjugal covenant becomes an image of the infidelity of the people to their God: idolatry is prostitution, infidelity is adultery, disobedience to the law is abandonment of the spousal love of the Lord. But the infidelity of Israel does not destroy the eternal fidelity of the Lord, and therefore the ever faithful love of God is put forward as the model of the of faithful love which should exist between spouses.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

So we have the happy couple, sharing in love. As we know this usually will develop into a family; and this family unit is more important to the well being of mankind than you can imagine.

Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.
John Paul II. (1981). Familiaris Consortio. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The family shows God’s love to the world. It is the beacon that educates all about a loving God that wants to share all with His creation. Vatican II tells us that “The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called “the domestic Church.” The most basic building block of the Church is the family. The Church is therefore in existence to help families flourish. This is a solemn responsibility that too many churches ignore.

So we now understand that marriage plays a central role in all creation. It’s importance as the beacon of God’s love can not be underestimated. And following closely behind, the importance of raising children to know and love God. This institution is not something that we should toy with!

A short time ago the heater went out on my trailer. The heater is propane fueled, with an electric fan. Explosive gas and electricity, all in a small space! So I don’t like instruction books, do you think I humbled myself to use one? Or just wing it and put my family at risk of a fiery death while we sleep? I used MANY instructional sources to make certain I did the job correctly!

Without marriage, God’s ability to make His love known to the world is severely handicapped, lets do this one by the book.

Lets also not forget that marriage is a sacrament. Sacraments are an external and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Sacraments happen once, and they never go away. Given the right form and matter, they are Divine in nature, let no man try to undo them. A priest can consecrate the Eucharist, but to do so a second time over the now Body and Blood would be heresy. The blessed sacrament would not be any more so Body and Blood, it would remain the same as it was before the second words of consecration. So what happens to a married couple that separate and are remarried? They cannot remarried, the first sacrament of marriage prevails.

But wait right there! The Church does allow divorce in some cases, right? True, but only if there is found, after careful deliberation, that there was never a valid marriage. Lets say that a couple falls in love and marries, only to find that the husband was already married to another. What happened? Nothing. The sacrament was not conveyed, as a sacrament of marriage already was. The woman was never married and is free to remarry, the husband would be told to go back and care for his wife, that he for what ever reason hid. Marriages can be annulled for several reasons:

  1. Coercion (shotgun marriage)
  2. Physical or Mental abuse
  3. Pre-existing marriage
  4. Spouse becomes an atheist and is a threat to the family
  5. Spouse is a serial adulterer

There are advocates within the Church that look at each case, and present them to a tribunal in each diocese. This process takes time, and sometimes they do not agree with those who petition, but all are treated fairly. Those petitioning cannot be remarried nor in any kind of intimate relation while this process progresses, as they are still married until the tribunal makes it’s judgement.

Most divorces stem from one or both of the couple not willing to change for the other. If conversion occurs, the marriage can and should be saved. Divorce should not be an option, it should be a last resort in extreme conditions.

Married couples carry a large responsibility in conveying the light of Christ to the world, lets not let God down on our duties.

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