By Fr Dylan James.
For the next three weeks, bishops from across the world are gathered in Rome for a special synod devoted to the family. Marriage and the family, as we all know, are rather broken realities in our modern society. Divorce is a much more common phenomenon today than it was when our Lord spoke against it.
I’ve not spoken about this in the 8 years I’ve been in my current parish, so its about time, and I want to reaffirm a few things today:
First, that the Lord Jesus meant what he said about remarriage after divorce being adultery;
Second, that such a second marriage bars someone from receiving Holy Communion;
Third, that this is necessary in order for children to have a stable environment;
Finally, that marriage is still a good worthy of being pursued, even with the challenge that such commitment involves.
I want to start with the words in our first reading from Genesis that, “it is not good that man should be alone”(Gen 2:18). These words indicate a desire for union that is written in our nature, a yearning to not be alone that is satisfied in many things: in prayer with the Lord, in human friendship, but it finds a particular physical completion in the exclusive loving union of marriage. Thus we heard the Lord Jesus quote that phrase from Genesis about a husband and wife becoming “one body”(Mk 10:8; Gen 2:24).
All love involves giving of ourselves. We give our time, our energy, and more. Marriage is that unique self-gift where someone gives their EVERYTHING to someone, in a mutual self-gift that brings many rewards.
But, once you have given yourself to another, in totality, for life, you cannot then take back that gift. If your wife become sick, you are still married, still given to her. If she becomes poor, she is still your wife. If she is unfaithful to you, she is still your wife. If she goes off, she is still your wife.
Now it is true that sometimes there are reasons a couple have to separate, either temporarily or permanently. Often there is an innocent party left behind, with much suffering.
But even if you separate and civilly divorce, nonetheless she is still your wife in the eyes of God. As Pope Francis said last week, there is no such thing as “Catholic divorce” (plane interview, 28/9/2015).
If we look at Scripture, as quoted on the insert sheet in the newsletter, it says very clearly what a separated or civilly divorced spouse is called on to do: “remain single or else be reconciled to” your spouse (1 Cor 7:10-11).
You are not then free to give yourself to another, because you have already given yourself to your spouse –even if she no longer appreciates that gift, even if you no longer live together.
You are not then free to commit yourself to another, because you are already committed.
If you have said “till death do us part” to one woman, you cannot say that to another while she still lives.
Thus Jesus says, “The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery” (Mk 10:11).
Thus the Church says that a person who remarries (while their spouse is alive) commits a public act that bars them from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism 1650; 2384). Bars them until they amend this aspect of their life.
How shall I conclude? By acknowledging that this is a very hard teaching. Every walk of life has its cross to carry, but this call to “remain single (1 Cor 7:11) rather than remarry can be a heavy cross.
This said, a romantic union in marriage is not the only way to fulfil the desire spoken of in our first reading, the desire to not “be alone”.
And, faithfulness to God, faithfulness to the vows made, will bring with it strength and grace, and ultimately all faithfulness to God is rewarded, not just in heaven but in this life too.
The joys of marriage are only possible because of this hard teaching about commitment. A union that didn’t claim to be for life would be a very much lesser thing than marriage, it wouldn’t really be the “one body” union the Lord Jesus speaks of. If this lifelong commitment is abandoned then what is being abandoned is the beauty of marriage itself. And with it, a stable environment in which to raise children. And thus the Church tells us that the Lord meant what He said.