Let me first acknowledge how this is a difficult homily to write, not because the teachings of the Church on Marriage and Divorce is not clear, but because there is so much that I can, or that needs to be said. But also, it is difficult to speak to hundreds of people who all have different perspectives. Some of you, thanks be to God, have been married many years and are thriving. Some of you are married, but are just getting by. Some are divorced, while others are truly struggling, and may even be on the brink of divorce. Some of you are not married, and might be somewhat scared or unsure if you want to get married. Some of you may be pondering a vocation to the single, priestly, or religious life. Regardless if you are single, married, divorced, widowed, or never married, even though this homily will focus on marriage, I will try and something that can benefit wherever you are.
Jesus declared, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate”. Those who are married, when you think of your spouse, do you think that this is the person God has joined you with for life, and that you are given by God to them for their good and their salvation? Jesus is perfectly clear in today’s Gospel that God made marriage to be between a man and a woman and indissoluble- that is permanent, cannot be dissolved. Even though every Catholic is called to marry in the Church, Christ’s teaching on the truth of marriage is not just for the Sacramental marriages in the Church, but also for all-natural civil marriages- because Jesus said, “from the beginning of creation”. And even the Arizona courts acknowledge that marriage is meant to be indissoluble, since the official name for civil divorce is the ‘dissolution of marriage’. Even though every marriage is meant to be life-long, in the time of Jesus as well as today, not every marriage was since the Pharisees and disciples in our Gospel allude to that fact and are were shocked by Jesus’ firm teaching. Jesus told them that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of the hearts of the people, because at that time, some thought marriage was too hard of a contract to keep, but in the beginning of creation, it was not so. But notice that Jesus doesn’t give any concession, he doesn’t soften the teaching as Moses did, instead Jesus re-established God’s standard for marriage. Listen to how the Church defines marriage to be, “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children”. Notice how marriage is meant to be for the good and unity of the spouses as well as the procreation and education of children. Even though divorce is common in today’s culture, Jesus holds us to a higher standard- to put the other’s good before our own, to love the other, even if we are not being loved; and we are given God’s grace to not let our hearts become hardened, but to fulfill God’s standard for marriage.
Today, the Catholic Church is the only organization that still upholds Christ’s teaching. Since the time of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, virtually all Protestant denominations have abandoned the idea of the indissolubility of marriage and the forbidding of divorce. However, the teaching of the Church has not changed, and will not, or cannot change, because Christ did not change or soften the teaching. And the Church can only safeguard and teach what Christ so clearly taught for the good of humanity. Now, for those who think that a Catholic annulment is the same as divorce, it is not. A decree of nullity means that the Church has investigated through testimony and witnesses that at least one of the parties did not or could not enter into the marriage as God has made marriage to be when they said ‘I Do’, therefore an annulment is saying the real relationship of the couple was not elevated to what God has intended and defined as a marriage.
Now let me say something that may be beneficial to everyone, married or not. In our Gospel, Jesus gives the standard of marriage, ‘If a husband or wife divorces, and marries another, they commit adultery’. We all know of the devastating effects physical adultery has in a marriage, but do we think about the emotional adultery? In seminary, in the Hard work of Marriage class that I took, the Professor, a licensed counselor, taught the concept of ‘triangling’. Triangling is when a married couple (two of the points of the triangle), is emotionally more connected or present to a third party, to the 3rd point of the triangle, rather than to their spouse. Even though there is still some kind of connection between the spouses, the attention, energy, and focus of at least one spouse is on the third party and so the spouse doesn’t feel as important. And it is quite possible that each spouse is ‘triangling’ with their own thing. That third party can be any number of things. Often, in marriages the third party might be the kids, where there is more attention given to the kids and less on the marriage. Or sometimes people triangle with work, or friends, or golf, and for some it can be even Church activities. I understand that sometimes this happens unknowingly because another thing may demand more attention for a certain period of time. But sometimes triangling is a response, a way to cope, because of a lack of focus, emotional connection, or lack of intimacy in the marriage. Each way a spouse emotionally triangles, then they are committing emotional adultery. And the feeling of emotional adultery is just as real and severe as physical adultery, because either way it is saying to the other that they are not enough. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, if you are married, I ask you to take time to reflect, and ask God, if you are triangling in your marriage, and do something to re-focus yourself to loving your spouse more with all your heart. Even though your spouse might not be focused on loving you as you want or deserve, are you going to be faithful in loving your spouse as you should, and not triangle, regardless of how they might be? You can’t change your spouse, but you can change yourself and how you love.
However, the Church knows that even though all marriages are called to be indissoluble, life-long, some people seek divorce. Listen to paragraph 2386 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage”. So let me be clear- divorce itself does not place oneself outside the Church, whether you are the one who wanted it or not, and so a divorced person is still free to receive all the Sacraments, beginning with Confession. However, if a divorced person chooses to marry another, assuming they have not received an annulment, then they are committing adultery in the eyes of the Church, just as Jesus said, and thus placing themselves outside communion of the Church. Therefore, those divorced and re-married, or a Catholic not married in the Church, are encouraged to still be part of the parish family, but not receive Holy Communion until they can do something to rectify their marital situation and place themselves back in communion with God and what He has made marriage to be. If you are already divorced without an annulment, God’s will for you is to remain faithful, and find your happiness and love in God alone. I know marriage and divorce can be a sticky situation, I’d love to meet with you to help any way I can.
Finally, let me share just a few words about the generational destruction divorce can have on the children, and beyond. There is an enlightening book, one that I think everyone should read - it is called, Primal Loss- Adult children of Divorce Speak. One of the adult children of divorced parents sums up the devastating effects of divorce: “The parents who quit on their marriage make the decision to put down their cross and leave it for their children to pick up”. In a perfect world, there would not be divorce, as God intended there to be life-long marriages for the good of humanity. Even though we are called to the high standard of marriage, we know that we live in a far from perfect world, and not every person is open or able to use the grace given to them to fulfill their vows. But my brothers and sisters, you who do believe in God’s grace, let that not be you! If you’re having problems in your marriage, don’t give in to the easy way out that our society teaches, be patient and work through the struggles. Please come talk with me. Avail yourself to counseling, Retrovaille, or Marriage Encounter to help. Especially as Catholics, we cannot give into the ways of the culture, but stand up, and fight for our marriages and witness how marriage is for the good of society. Yes, we are fallen people, we have difficult marriages and we often triangle with another, but we are held to a higher standard, and are given the grace to be faithful. Remember that even though we so often greatly offend God, God still chooses to stay married to us. Even though we don’t deserve God’s unconditional love, God is always faithful in loving us. And especially in our marriages, we are called to love like God does, even if the other isn’t faithful in loving us as we deserve. I pray that you use the grace to focus on and improve your marriage, and to love and sacrifice for your spouse all the way to Heaven.BACK TO LIST