Tag Archives: divorce

Reasons to Believe

6 Apr

aaaa“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

“We must obey God rather than men.” St. Peter boldly proclaimed these words as he was questioned by the authorities 2,000 years ago. In a certain sense, not much has changed. Modern popes and faithful Catholics are asked frequently to deny Jesus or the teachings of His Church on so many issues, but especially when it comes to matters of marriage and family life, and we also have to say, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Mostly, confusion arises because the “why” of the Church’s teaching has never been explained well. Many are often unaware of the beauty that stands at the foundations of “controversial teachings” such as same-sex “marriage,” contraception, pornography, and divorce. It is important for us to understand the “why” of the Church’s teachings as much as the “what.”

For common sense explanations on Church teachings regarding marriage and family life, go to www.archkck.org/family. Then click on “defending marriage.”

The Righteous Man

19 Mar

St. JosephToday we celebrate the solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While it’s not a holy day of obligation in the United States, it is nonetheless one of the most popular feast days in the Church.

While we honor St. Joseph as the model of husbands and fathers, we acknowledge that he considered the possibility of divorce:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit . . . ‘” (Mt. 1:18-20).

I find that many people, perhaps thinking as 21st-century American Catholics, believe that Joseph wants out because he naturally assumes that Mary has been unfaithful. Is there another way to look at it, though? Consider the following commentary from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:

Two interpretations attempt to explain why Joseph decided to separate from Mary. They give opposite answers to the question: Who did Joseph think was the unworthy partner in the betrothal?

The Suspicion Theory

This view holds that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery when he discovered  she was pregnant. The troubling news led him to seek a divorce in accordance with Deut. 24:1-4, although he wished to do this secretly to avoid subjecting Mary to the rigorous law of Deut. 22:23-24, which mandates capital punishment for adulterers. Joseph was a just man inasmuch as he resolved to act (divorce) in accordance with the Mosaic Law. This common interpretation suffers from a serious weakness: Joseph’s desire to follow the law for divorce (Deuteronomy 24) does not square with his willingness to sidestep the law prescribed for adulterers (Deuteronomy 22). A truly righteous man would keep God’s Law completely, not selectively.

The Reverence Theory

This view holds that Joseph, already informed of the divine miracle within Mary (Mt. 1:18), considered himself unworthy to be part of God’s work in this unusual situation (cf. Lk. 5:8; 7:6). His resolve to separate quietly from Mary is thus viewed as a reverent and discretionary measure to keep secret the mystery within her. Notably, the expression “to put her to shame” is weaker in Greek than in the translation: it means that Joseph did not wish to “exhibit” Mary in a public way. The angelic announcement in Mt. 1:20, then, directs Joseph to set aside pious fears that would lead him away from his vocation to be the legal father of the Davidic Messiah. This view more aptly aligns Joseph’s righteousness with his intentions (Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, 18).

For further reflection on the role of St. Joseph in the mystery of our salvation, I recommend Bl. John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (“Guardian of the Redeemer”).

Catechesis on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments

5 Dec

Stone tabletsThis week we will treat the Sixth and Ninth Commandments together. First, we have the Sixth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2331-2400):

You shall not commit adultery.

It is generally understood that this commandment applies not merely to adultery itself, but all misuses of one’s sexuality. Amidst a culture that is largely addicted to sex (see this amazing article by Dr. Peter Kreeft), this commandment calls us to reexamine how we understand the incredible gift of human sexuality.

The Ninth Commandment (Catechism, nos. 2514-33) provides:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

As we shall see, this commandment forbids cultivating thoughts and desires that are connected to actions forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

It’s easy to look at the Sixth Commandment simply from the standpoint of prohibited activities. But if we look just a little deeper, we will quickly see it’s all about fostering the virtue of chastity. It is a moral virtue requiring much effort, but at the same time it’s a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is expressed in our friendship with others.

Chastity is related to the cardinal virtue of temperance, in that it helps us to moderate our sexual passions according to reason and Christian morality. All men and women are called to chastity according to our state in life. Chastity is not the same as continence or celibacy, which entails refraining from sexual activity. Even married people with active, healthy sex lives are called to live chastely. Sex is not evil. In fact it’s more than good. It’s holy.

The “theology of the body” taught by Blessed John Paul II has helped us to understand the gift of human sexuality in a healthy, more holistic way that recognizes the complementarity (see Catechism, no. 372) of man and woman. Theology of the body helps us to understand our sexuality as a way of seeking the good of others rather than using them as objects. Continue reading

What God Has Joined

17 Aug

What does Jesus really mean when He says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Mk 10:11)? This may seem straightforward enough, but in our culture of “hook-ups,” “no-fault” divorce, and “gay marriage,” we tend to lose sight of God’s plan for marriage and occasionally need some reminders.

First, what is adultery? It means a married person having relations with someone who is not his or her spouse. We may reason that if a marriage “ends” in divorce, then the slate is clean — the person is free to marry a second spouse without committing adultery. Is that true?

This reasoning would be legitimate if a divorce really could end a marriage, if a state or the individuals themselves — or even the Church — were to possess the authority to do so. But Jesus courageously proclaims that marriage is within God’s sole jurisdiction: “What God has joined together, man must not separate” (Mt 19:6) we hear in today’s Gospel.

In a valid Christian marriage, the two become one in a permanent, mutual bond that exists even when the spouses and the state consent to the legal fiction of a divorce. Therefore the Church has constantly and emphatically taught that a consummated Christian marriage cannot be dissolved. In an analogous way, we understand that Christ the Bridegroom has become one with His Bride, the Church, and will never part company with her (cf. Mt. 28:20; Eph. 5:25-32).

In upholding the indissolubility of marriage, the Church has carefully distinguished divorces from annulments. An annulment, or a “decree of nullity,” is a finding by the Church that a genuine marriage never existed. The principal bases for annulments are lack of form (it was not really a Christian marriage ceremony), incapacity (e.g., the person is under age or already married), or a failure of consent (e.g., the person lacks the emotional or psychological maturity to consent to marriage).

But if a real Christian marriage exists and has been consummated by the couple’s engaging in the marital act, the Church teaches — in fidelity to Christ — that no human being or institution has the power to dissolve it.

Given this clear teaching, the alarming rise in annulments of consummated Christian “marriages” in recent decades can be a source of scandal, particularly here in the U.S., where the annual number of annulments has risen dramatically since the 1960s. Both to those who love the Church and to those who ridicule her, the seemingly routine granting of annulments on such a large scale appears to be a development that threatens the Church’s pivotal teaching on the permanence (“indissolubility”) of marriage.

This threat is not explicit, since an annulment is not a divorce in principle. However, if the teaching — embodied by canon law — is easily avoided, its credibility is compromised. To our shame, a skeptic of the Church’s claims regarding marriage can point to the annulment process as a convoluted system of “Catholic divorce.” How do we respond to this challenge? I’d like to offer six points for our readers’ consideration: Continue reading

The Third Option

25 Apr

Ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Mary Magdalene was on Easter morning.  Well, actually, it was Jesus’ body that was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and she seemingly had no way to get to him.  This consumes her thoughts on the way to the tomb.  How will I get that stone moved? Jesus needs to be anointed. If I ask the guards, what will they do to me? Can the disciples move it? They would be thrown in prison if they tried! And further, they don’t have a great track record of sticking around when things get tough…

What I think is most striking about this inner dialogue of Mary is that as she runs through the impossibilities in her head, she keeps moving toward the tomb.  It seems like she has two options: to incur ridicule or worse from the guards at the tomb, or to fail to give Jesus a decent burial.  Yet when she arrives, she finds something altogether different. Jesus has provided a spectacular third option she never could have dreamed of.

I have been reflecting lately how so many of our pressing social issues come down to a failure to see and embrace that third option.  Our society forces people in difficult circumstances into a false dichotomy of horrible solutions.  If you’re in a troubled marriage, you have two choices: the trauma of divorce or the long agony of staying together “for the sake of the kids”.  Young, pregnant and unmarried? Your choices are abortion or a doomed future of poverty and underachievement. This is a brilliant tool of the devil.  No one likes divorce or abortion, but if you juxtapose it with something equally devastating, it suddenly seems like a viable option.  The “lesser of two evils”.

Now enter Mother Church, who is increasingly a lone voice against some of these “lesser evils”.  Prohibit contraception? You want women to become helpless baby factories! Prohibit assisted suicide? You want Grandma to linger is meaningless pain! Prohibit IVF? You want to deprive people of the beauty of parenthood! What our culture fails to see in every one of these tough cases is the third option.  The Church never just slaps on a legislative cuff.  Instead she gently takes the struggling sinner by the hand and says, “this is extremely difficult, but you can do it”.  In short, the third option is grace.

Grace is a poorly understood concept today, but simply it means God’s supernatural power which we have access to by our Baptism and by the other sacraments.  What it means is that we never face our hardest times alone.  We face them with the same power that moved the stone for Mary Magdalene.  Grace opens doors where no doors should be able to open.

The third option is a transformed marriage where partners can learn to slowly rebuild trust and love again.  It is adoption, where an infertile couple becomes parents, the young person is able to continue with their education and the baby gets to live.  It is Natural Family Planning, through which couples learn to be generous in their love, open to God’s will for their families and through which they can either space their children or often conceive children despite low fertility.

I’m not naïve. I know that life is not a Hallmark movie.  That’s the beauty of grace! I know that sometimes the third option is an ability to survive one of the first two horrible options.  If Grandma is terminally ill, grace normally won’t provide a miraculous cure.  But God will illuminate the meaning of Grandma’s suffering.  Like all suffering endured with Christ, it can be a powerful avenue of grace for others.  This is true of any suffering we let God into.

Finally, the best part about the third option is that it is available even after one of the “lesser evils” is chosen.  There is hope for those who have divorced, whether that choice was made for safety, against one’s will or in the pursuit of a happier life.  There is forgiveness and healing for those who have chosen abortion, or IVF or contraception.  Here, too, the third option opens up floodgates of mercy and peace that never could have been imagined before.  No matter what the situation, choosing the third option of grace leads to a surprisingly rich joy.

So this Easter season, let’s approach the tomb with our deepest anxieties.  Let’s offer them up to the Lord and see what miracles await us.

Note: Grace is often channeled through practical avenues.  For help in understanding the issues raised in this post or in getting practical help, please contact your pastor or the Respect Life or Family Life Offices.