Recently I heard a talk by Julie and Greg Alexander of The Alexander House
which helps parishes strengthen their marriage ministry or to help build a foundation to create one. Greg says that the turning point for their marriage when it was in crisis was a priest who asked them to consider God’s plan for marriage. They had never thought about that.
In my experience, this is true. So many couples come to the Church for marriage without ever learning what God’s plan for Marriage and sexuality is.
, we looked at God’s design for Marriage. The Catholic view of Marriage is a beautiful and unique one. For Catholics, Marriage is both a Vocation and a Sacrament. The celebration of Marriage between two Catholics normally takes place during Mass because of the connection of all the Sacraments with the Paschal Mystery of Christ. This does not mean that a marriage between a Catholic and a non-catholic is not valid, but for Catholics, it makes sense that Marriage should take place in connection with the Eucharist.
I tried to make this clear last time. In Marriage we come closest to loving another person the way God loves us. God gives himself totally to us on the Cross; that is the moment that is made present in the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist the memorial of the New Covenant is realized; the New Covenant in which Christ has united himself for ever to the Church, his beloved bride for whom he gave himself up. It is therefore fitting that spouses should seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives by uniting it to the offering of Christ for his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and by receiving the Eucharist so that, communicating in the same body and the same blood of Christ, they may form but "one body" in Christ.
In Catholic teaching, Marriage is a serious thing. That’s why it is a Covenant and not just an arrangement or “contract."
On the Sermon of the Mount, speaking about adultery, Jesus said: “I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)
On another occasion, his disciples asked him why Moses allowed for divorce. Jesus said, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? (Matthew 19:4-5). Remember that from Genesis 2:24
? Jesus continues, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:6)
On these two occasions Jesus is speaking about the permanence of marriage: A marriage is forever, as long as both spouses are alive (on another occasion Jesus speaks about how there is no marriage in Heaven - see Matthew 22:30. As a point of clarification, let me add that this is why widows or widowers are able to re-marry in the Catholic Church).
But our society has “re-defined” marriage into a union that is not permanent. It can be dissolved. Divorce is so common that many people don’t even expect marriages to last.
My parents recently celebrated their 50th
Wedding Anniversary. A few months before the anniversary they were leaving the bank and a young woman helped them out to the street to get a cab. In conversation she asked my mom if the gentleman with her was her brother. My Mother said that he was her husband. The young woman looked confused and said that she had never met a couple that had been married for so long.
To add to the confusion, many people have heard that the Church offers Marriage annulments. They think that an “annulment” is Catholic “divorce”. But if it’s true that ‘what God has joined together, let no one separate’, then why are there annulments?
I heard a super homily once about that. A lot of people think that the Church says that once you’re married, that’s it, door closed, there’s no way out and people who are divorced or separated sometimes feel they are not welcome to the Eucharist. But that’s not true.
People who are divorced or separated are welcome to the Eucharist. This is one of the issues that was addressed at the recent Synod on the Family in Rome. Being separated from your spouse is not what breaks communion with God; committing adultery is. That is why the issue was always addressed as “Communion for divorced and re-married
Catholics." Divorced Catholics can receive Communion. The problem is when they are re-married, because getting married again, after a divorce is considered adultery in the same way that being in a sexual relationship with someone while you’re married to someone else is adultery. The Church doesn't recognise a civil divorce. If you’re married and the Marriage is valid, then you’re married as long as you are both alive.
But that doesn't mean that people who find themselves in abusive marriages or marriages that are destructive are trapped. The Church will be the first to say that if you’re in a dangerous relationship, you should get out. You don’t have to stay in that relationship. In some cases, if the marriage is deemed to never have existed in the first place (and therefore not valid), you can get an annulment. In other cases, even though the Marriage is not a healthy marriage, it may still be valid. It depends on whether the consent was valid at the time it was exchanged.
For example, if a husband has a history of abuse before the Marriage, or if you married someone not really knowing who they really are, or if you were too immature or were pressured into the marriage, those are all grounds for an annulment because the consent would not have been valid; it was not done in a free, faithful, fruitful and total way.
Annulments can be complicated, but they don’t have to be. My advice to married couples who are no longer together is to call the local Catholic Marriage Tribunal and find out what they can do to find out whether there is just cause for an annulment.
The better advice, however, is for young people before they get married. Why are you getting married? Do you really understand God’s plan for Marriage and sexuality? Do you understand fully what the Catholic Church teaches about Marriage and Family?
We spend four or more years preparing for a career; the Church prepares men for at least six years for the priesthood, but we offer young couples one weekend or two for marriage preparation. This should not be acceptable. All Catholic high schools should have on-going teaching of the truth about God’s design for sex, Marriage and relationships. All parishes should have on-going Marriage preparation and Marriage support for couples. Let’s not settle for the lowest common denominator; let’s strive for the ideal, which is that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” for the sake of holiness, so that we can fulfill God’s plan that we love another as He has loved us, freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally.
CNS photo/Daniel Karmann, EPA