We Don’t Call Her “The Virgin Mary” For Nothing.

Whenever we talk about Mary, we address her with many different titles: Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, Holy Mary,  Blessed Mother.  However, out of all these, the one most often heard across Catholic (and Protestant) aisles is The Virgin Mary.

Virtually every person that claims the Christian faith accepts that Mary miraculously conceived Christ as a virgin. Yet, it is widely believed across every Protestant denomination that after Mary gave birth to Jesus, she was free to give herself fully to her husband Joseph, and thus ceased to be “the virgin” Mary.

For Catholics, it’s a different story.  We hold that Mary was Ever Virgin, which means even after she bore the Son of Man, she remained a virgin for the rest of her life.  This belief is significantly crucial to our understanding and veneration of the Mother of God.

The Traditional belief that Mary was Ever-Virgin is as old as the Church itself, and held by those who were closest to Mary and her family.  In other words, those who could’ve pointed fingers and said “nuh-uh” but instead attested to the belief that she lived her life as a virgin.

Tradition is an important word because you won’t find any specific reference to Mary’s perpetual virginity in the Bible. As we’ve discussed before, Catholics rely on more than just Sacred Scripture.  In fact, our Tradition precedes the scripture by many decades.  So technically speaking, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is actually older than the New Testament itself.

The earliest writings we do have of this belief are once again found in the Protoevangelium of James, which if we recall, is not considered inspired scripture by the Church, but does contain true Tradition.

However, much in the same way we approached her immaculate conception, we can understand the Tradition of Mary as ever-virgin through reason alone.

So ultimately the question is, does it make sense that, after birthing the savior, Mary did not enter into a normal relationship with Joseph, her spouse, with whom she shared all the rights of the marriage bed?

To answer this, we must first recall that Mary was never “normal” to begin with. Remember that when we refer to Mary, we refer to her as holy, which means set apart.  She was brought into this world for a specific, divine purpose, one that would impede her from living a “normal” life all together.

Mary’s perpetual virginity was the mark of her complete and total purity. That’s how God made her to be. Were she to simply go about her business as any other woman, she would have ceased to be the perfect vessel that bore the Light of the World.

But what about Biblical references to siblings of Jesus? Many who wish to discredit Mary’s perpetual virginity will often cite verses in the Scriptures that refer to Jesus’ brethren.

It is suggested in the Protoevangelium of James that Joseph was a widower with his own children, which could make Christ’s “brethen” his step-siblings.

However, St. Jerome in the 4th century claimed such references to be cousins of Christ, born by a relative of Mary, who also happened to be named Mary. This is perhaps the most logical explanation.

Even more telling, are the actions of Christ right before his death. Before breathing his last, Jesus gave Mary to John, who was with Him at the cross, to care for as if she was John’s own mother.   Why would Jesus do that if Mary had other children — or even stepchildren?

When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. — John 19: 26-27

Whatever the explanation, the truth remains that Christ was the son of Mary, not a son of Mary. It’s important to understand that belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity dates back to the time of the apostles, and it wasn’t until after Martin Luther broke away from the Church that it was ever widely contested. In fact, Luther himself accepted the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Those who were closest to Mary — who knew her, walked with her, and took care of her — they knew that the Lord had made her holy. They knew of her perfection and unblemished purity, and Catholics across the world hold tight to that truth today.

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.154 In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.”155 And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church. 499

Pope Francis and Admonishing the Sinner. More on ‘Who Died and Made You Pope?”

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece dealing with the current trend of Catholic laity calling for certain politicians and public figures to be denied the Eucharist.

I took a stance against this action, citing that by doing so we encroach on the territory of Church authority. I received a great deal of supportive messages after publishing that blog. And I also heard from a few dissenters who felt it should be our Christian duty to deny the Eucharist to certain politicians.

They were quick to say that this would be “admonishing the sinner” which is something that Christ himself instructed us to do.

Let’s take a look at that Scripture:

If your brother sins, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. (Mt 18:15)

Calling someone out on the Internet does not fit that bill, does it?

While we may not realize it, there is a fine line between admonishment and judgment. Our actions have a way of showing which side of that line we are on.

So what should we do instead? What should we do when we TRULY care about the soul and well being of another person? What should we do when we TRULY want to help them?

If our hearts are truly burdened for our brothers and sisters, instead of chastising them publically, we could do something much more powerful We could appeal to God on their behalf.

We could pray.

Recently, in one of his most beautiful homilies, our Holy Father called for the faithful to imitate Christ as “intercessor, advocate, and lawyer.”

“Jesus, before the Father, never accuses! It’s the opposite: he defends! He’s the first Paraclete. Then, he sends the second, who is the (Holy) Spirit. He is the defender: he comes before the Father to defend us against the charges.”… more than accusers, we have to be defenders of others before the Father. I see a bad thing in someone – do I go defend him? No! But keep quiet! Go pray and defend him before the Father as Jesus does. Pray for him, but do not judge! Because if you do, when you do something bad, you will be judged.”

Let’s remember these words and take them to heart.

Know Mary, Know Jesus. No Mary, No Jesus.

During my days as a Southern Baptist, my opinion of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, was the same as every other Protestant.

I saw her as just another character in the Bible, one who was given a particular task, and when God was finished with her, she faded into the background with the rest of the crowd. She lived her life as a normal woman, giving herself fully to her husband Joseph, and birthing other, less divine, children.

And I also remember thinking that Catholics gave Mary way too much credit, putting her in a place that was a little too close to God’s throne. I can’t honestly recall if I ever actually believed that Catholics “worshipped” Mary — although I’m sure I’d been told at some point — but I certainly never understood why Catholics considered her to be a big deal.

Looking back on those ignorant times, I am filled with both shame and confusion. I often wonder why my past views on Mary never struck me as odd since Mary gave birth to God in the flesh. I never once stopped to think, “How could she go on to live life as a normal woman after that?”

Of course now I know that she didn’t.

Since establishing my Mackerel Snapper blogsite, I’ve held off writing about Mary. I wanted to make sure I gave her proper justice with my words, but at the same time, I needed to be in a place where I felt I understood more of the mystery surrounding the Blessed Mother.

One thing I’ve come to understand clearly — more clearly that I ever have — is that Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, was far from just another woman.

She was chosen by God almighty, long before He spoke this world into existence, long before the fall of Adam and Eve, long before she gave birth to Christ, to rise above all of humanity, to be the immaculate vessel through which God would enter our world. She dedicated, not just her womb, but her entire life and all that she was, to the glory of the Father.

And it all starts with her immaculate conception. Immaculate literally meaning “without stain.” In other words, perfect.

Many of us hear the words “immaculate conception” and think of the circumstances surrounding the conception of Jesus. But actually, the term applies to Mary, and the circumstances surrounding HER conception in the womb of her mother, who we Catholics know as Anne. Her father we know as Joachim.

What we know about Mary’s early life, including the names of her parents and her immaculate birth, we get from handed-down Tradition and the Protoevangelium of James, or the Gospel of James, which is dated to roughly the 2nd Century.

This book is not included in the canonical gospels and is widely considered to be apocryphal, meaning that its writings are of uncertain origin. This, however, doesn’t discredit the work.

Apologist Mark Shea puts it perfectly:

The source of the doctrine is the fact that Mary was perpetually a virgin and the whole Church remembered this fact, beginning with the apostles. The Protoevangelium of James reflects the existence of this tradition and incorporates it into a legend about Mary, but it does not originate the tradition. You might as well say that “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is the source of our belief that Abraham Lincoln existed and was President. No. “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is, like the Protoevangelium, a fictional tale which refers to a tradition which precedes it. –Clear Thinking About the Protoevangelium of James

Of course, if we truly think about the task that God chose Mary to do, we do not need meticulously documented evidence that she was without sin. Simple reason can lead us to that conclusion.

When we Catholics say the Hail Mary, we refer to her as “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”

You can’t be in any Catholic Church for long without hearing or seeing the word “holy.” It is used so much that we may take it for granted, forgetting what the word implies. It has a deeply significant meaning, especially in the Rosary prayer.

Holy literally means “set apart.” Something that is holy has been dedicated or consecrated to God for a purpose. It is sacred.

In the days of the Old Testament, the temple housed certain items that were considered holy because of their specific purpose.

In his book Reasons to Believe, Dr. Scott Hahn writes about this in correlation to Mary saying:

The golden vessels of the Jerusalem Temple were set apart for use in worship. You could not take home the holy lamp stands, for example, and use them to light your dining room…These things were set apart for a divine purpose. That is the meaning of their holiness.

Reasons to Believe. Ch 7. “Saints Alive”

Much in the way that holy objects were set apart, so was Mary. She was not called to be a prophet, nor a priest, or a teacher. She was born immaculate, without sin, so that she could house God in her womb and bring our Savior into this world.

And she remained Holy — “set apart” — for all time.

That is why Catholics hold to the truth that Mary was not only immaculately conceived, but was Ever-Virgin for the rest of her life.

Hell: Vacancy or No Vacancy?

“I am and always will be the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”—The Eleventh Doctor

The above passage is one of my favorite quotes from Doctor Who.  There’s nothing exactly profound about it, but that’s often what’s so genius about The Doctor.

In the past, I struggled with being an optimist. I always preferred to see myself as a realist. Life is what it is, and it’s best to accept it and deal with it.

However, since I became Catholic, and thus began to see everything (not just my faith) in an entirely different way, I’ve found myself filled with hope for not just my own life, but the lives of everyone in our world, as well as the souls that have departed to the next. And since I have found that hope, I’ve begun to look at the concept of Hell, and it’s occupancy, in a much different light.

Some may believe that Hell is not a reality, that all people, no matter the conditions, will be saved. This view is called apocatastasis, and it is rejected by the Catholic Church.

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. CCC 1035

Perhaps Hell is not a spatial place as depicted in cartoons with flames ablaze and tortured people toiling away to demon slavemaster, but the Church assures us that it does exist, at least as a state of condition and, more importantly, as a consequence of our free-will actions.

We can be sure of the existence of Hell since Christ himself spoke about it often throughout his ministry. Throughout the scriptures, Jesus speaks of being thrown into Gehenna, he speaks of angels casting evildoers into eternal flames, and he says that the road to Hell is wide and many will follow it.

But there is something interesting to note in the scriptures. Christ doesn’t speak of who has gone to hell, but who can go to Hell. He is warning us

You see, God does not intend for his creation to be eternally separated from Him. God does not “send” anyone to Hell. We send ourselves. We must accept that as an indisputable fact.

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. CCC 1037

We don’t know who is or who isn’t in Hell, and The Church has never declared such.  In fact, not a single person on Earth can say who is in Heaven and who is in Hell.  We cannot peer into either place and take a head count.  Even for those who immersed themselves in evil and went to the grave defiant, we simply cannot know — with one-hundred percent certainty —where they are now.

Therefore, we can optimistically hope that Hell is empty — or at least scarcely populated. It is what Father Robert Barron calls a theologically grounded and reasonable hope. And shouldn’t that be our prayer?  Shouldn’t we want everyone to make it to Heaven?

We can’t deny the fact that Hell is a reality and a very real danger to all of us. But that’s all the Church requires us to believe about it. As long as we are allowed to hope, I will continue to pray that all people find salvation in the end.

Call it a far flung hope. Call it an improbable dream, but I am — as The Doctor says —“always the optimist.“

Who Died And Made You Pope?

I hear a lot of talk these days from laymen and women in the Catholic blogosphere who would like to see the Eucharist withheld from certain politicians because of their stance on certain social issues.

I won’t disagree that many politicians who claim to follow the Catholic faith are guilty of promoting ideas and actions that are expressly contrary to Church teaching. However, as lay Catholics, we have zero authority on who should and should not receive. That power lies with the Bishops, and ultimately the Vatican.

Those who call for others to be denied the Eucharist may often cite Canon Law 915 which states: Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest graves sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

The first part of the law, dealing with excommunicated persons, is a given. They are not a part of the Church, so they are unable to receive on that merit alone. However, it’s the last bit, “others obstinately persevering in manifest graves sin” that I find is the foundation for this discussion, and the point I’d like to approach a few different ways.

I can understand how one can take the last part of 915 and use it to fuel the outcry for particular people to be banned from receiving, and honestly I think it begins in a good place. As Catholics, we recognize the Eucharist for what it is: The body and blood of Jesus Christ. We also know that the Church teaches that we cannot receive with the stain of mortal sin on our soul, it degrades the sacrifice. When we see any Catholic, public figure or not, commit a grave offense, our instincts flair up and say, “That person should go to confession.” It’s natural.

However, following those instincts to the point of publicly calling for those people to be refused the Eucharist is a dangerous road to travel. Regardless of how we may perceive any situation, and regardless of what all reasonable deductions may tell us, we have no possible way of knowing what is truly in a person’s heart. We have absolutely no knowledge of whether or not a person has gone to confession before receiving. Therefore, when we call for politicians, public figures, or anyone else to be refused the Eucharist, we are putting ourselves between a person and the saving grace of Christ based on what are ultimately just assumptions.

In fact, the only way that we can know for sure that a person is “persevering in manifest grave sin” and must be withheld from receiving is when they are divorced and remarried without an annulment. As we have discussed before, this puts an individual in a permanent state of adultery. Other than that, however, we don’t know. No one does, and until the Vatican officially declares otherwise, the burden to receive the Eucharist in a state of grace relies on the individual or at the discretion of the Church authority.

Let us recall what Paul said in 1st Corinthians:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself,* and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 

We have the ability to recognize right from wrong, and that’s good. However, when we sin and our instincts flair up, we should turn our feelings inward instead of outward, and ask ourselves, “Am I coming to the table justly?”

I think one of the biggest problems is that we get too wrapped up in hot-button issues like abortion. A grave evil, yes, but where is the outcry for those who send troops to fight unjust war? Or those who advocate for “enhanced interrogation techniques” aka torture? Or those who ignore the needs of families stricken with poverty in our country, a sin that scripture clearly states cries out to God for vengeance?

Better yet, how many of us lie, covet, take the Lord’s name in vain, or allow something else to come before God in our lives? These are all grave sins, and the most dangerous thing we can do to ourselves is allow the sins of others to blind us to our own shortcomings. That creates in us the gravest of all offenses: pride.

When we call for the Eucharist to be withheld from someone, we attempt to act as a barrier between God and a person WE have decided is unworthy. That is not our place.  The Vatican makes that decision. The Bishops discern who receives. Not us. We are not the authority of this Church, and it is important we remember that.

 

 

Become Like Children

Since becoming mobile, my one-year-old son has developed a rather terrifying habit of climbing up and diving off anything he can get a leg up on. Of course, I’m always right there to catch him before he face-plants in to the carpet, in which he repays me with heart melting laughter and a goofy smile.

My son is pure boy, so we’ve done this song and dance multiple times. Recently, however, as he and I were playing in the living room, I was stuck with a thought that had never occurred to me.

When he goes to dive head first off the couch, he doesn’t think, “What if Dad drops me?” When he makes a beeline for the stairs, he’s not considering whether or not I’ll be there to scoop him up. He trusts me, unconditionally, to catch him. Every single time.

As I marveled at the amount of trust one being can have for another, a piece of scripture came to mind to which, in all my years of being a Christian, I’d never paid any attention.

At that time the disciples* approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst,and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,* you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Mt 18:1-3

I had heard those verses a million times, and every time they went in one ear and out the other. However, in that little moment with my son, those words took on a whole new meaning for me.

And let me stress the words “new meaning.”

My son always trusts me to catch him, but when he’s afraid, when he thinks he’s in danger, or when he’s unhappy, the first thing he does is wrap himself around my leg, or stand pleading at my feet for me to pick him up, and if I’m not in the room, if he can’t sense me there, he cries until I return. When he’s anxious, he needs more than just trust. He needs to cling to me, to hold on tight to my shirt, and to feel me there, physically.

As Christians, we need to cling to Christ in the same way. We were created with mind, soul, and body.  While prayer and reflection satisfy the spiritual and mental parts of ourselves, we still need something for the body, something on Earth to which we can physically cling. That’s exactly what God gives us in the Catholic Church.

During mass I can physically receive Christ through the Eucharist. When sins weigh heavily on my heart, I can physically meet with Him in the confessional — but most importantly, when I am troubled or afraid, I can physically cling to Him through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Here are the words of Saint John Paul II as he contemplated the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament:

It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer,” how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support.

When I am in His Church, whether alone or with others, I can sit before the tabernacle and pray, meditate, reflect or simply let my mind go blank.  With the faith of a child, I know Christ is present, spiritually and physically, and He is inviting me to cling to him.

Classic Infidelity

With my recent pieces on divorce, I’ve used the word “adultery” a great bit. Within the context, however, I discussed the adultery that comes after a divorce when either party attempts to start a new relationship. I’d like now to discuss adultery in the way that we normally see it–as infidelity in a marriage, or cheating. 

Adultery is everywhere and is seemingly always on our minds. Scour the magazine racks at the grocery store and there’s guaranteed to be a Cosmo or Glamour with a headline that reads, “Why Men Cheat,” or “6 Signs that He’s Cheating.” At the same time, there are articles upon articles on every website from Yahoo to WebMD that attempt to break down why someone would be driven to commit such a terrible act against someone they claim to love. 

The reasons put forth are countless, all of them streaming from this or that psychological or biological theory. And while every excuse, justification, or rationalization presented is different, they’re all rooted in one particular flaw of our human nature: selfishness.

It is an unfortunate, grave error and the very essence of pride. When you’re down to the wire, a spouse who commits adultery against the other does so because they have put the desires of the flesh above the sanctity of the marriage. 

Admittedly, I sometimes find it difficult to understand how one can fall into infidelity, given the fact that there are many steps from initial contact to sexual intercourse and therefore a plethora of chances to turn and run.

However, I understand we are all faced with different struggles. Some people are more susceptible to certain temptations than others, and those temptations can be crippling, especially if one is already in a state of weakness. If we look at the testimonies from those who have cheated on their spouses, far and wide the road to infidelity seems to begin with some level of breakdown in the marriage. 

Perhaps the spark has fizzled out after so many years together. Perhaps the relationship is lacking in intimacy. Perhaps one spouse doesn’t feel appreciated. These hiccups in a marriage are natural, but when they occur, we have to cling to our spouse and recall the covenant we made before God, because it’s during these times, these moments of weakness, that the Devil goes to work.

He turns our attention inwards, caters us a pity party, and begins to play on our imperfect nature. He presents us with opportunities to escape our dreary marriages so that we can seek in another person what we think we’re lacking. He convinces us that we can find happiness that way. Worst of all, he makes us feel justified in our actions — even to the point of blaming the betrayed spouse for not being a better mate.

However, God, in all His mercy, has provided us with the grace of the Sacraments to aide us in times of temptation. When lustful thoughts fill our minds, we can exhume them through Confession and then strengthen our spirit through the Eucharist. We have to lean on God rather than allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that we can handle these temptations on our own.

Of course, we should also be weary of the many forms infidelity can take. Often, when we think of adultery, many of us probably imagine a strictly physical affair, but as Christ himself said, 

“You have heard that it was said,r ‘You shall not commit adultery.’But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Infidelity can happen in the heart or mind just as much as it can with the body. The Catechism states that Christ condemns even adultery of mere desire. It doesn’t have to reach the point of physical intimacy for us to break our marital commitment. We can turn our hearts over to someone other than our spouse and bring damage to the marriage without so much as holding hands with another person. In some cases, even something as seemingly harmless as a text message or a flirtatious comment can have devastating repercussions.

We should also consider the damage and far reaching consequences that adultery can have on a person and their relationship. The betrayed spouses must cope with two separate, yet equally painful, injuries.  First, recovering from a broken heart while coping with the knowledge that their mate established a relationship with another person.  And second, the shattering of trust that occurs as a result of those actions.  

At the same time, if one spouse seeks a divorce in order to marry the person with whom they developed a relationship, they’re kidding themselves if they think God will bless a union that was built on such deceit. The new relationship is stained from the start, which is bound to cause only more pain and turmoil down the road. 

God gave us a conscious and an inept sense of morality for a reason.  He sanctified the marriage bond for a reason. He gave us the grace of the Sacraments for a reason, and he forbade adultery in the Ten Commandments for a very good reason. Infidelity is a sin of human construction that destroys love, trust, and family — and nowhere is God present in such things.  

God is, however, ready and willing to forgive us at all times. In the same way He provides us with the Sacraments to resist temptation, we can use them when we fall to temptation as well. Though adultery can cause egregious amounts of pain and suffering, it doesn’t necessarily have to spell the end of a marriage. The offender must come forth with true contrition and repentance, the offended must be willing to forgive, and both must be willing to seek God in repairing what was broken. 

 

But What About Paul?

In my last essay, I discussed how divorce is pretty much never okay. Since then, some questions have been raised to me about Paul’s teachings on divorce, and I’d like to address them now.

Before I dig into the scripture, however, I’d like to express my bewilderment at how many Christians are so quick to come to the defense of divorce.

Take for example this article. The author, although condemning divorce to some degree,  comments that people use divorce as a “smokescreen” in the same-sex marriage debate. He goes on to mention that same-sex marriage is always wrong, while divorce isn’t. He’s careful, however, to use the term “illegitimate” divorce, to draw a difference between when it is and isn’t a sin.

The author overlooks the fact that once two people are married under God, they remain that way until death. The only thing that can separate spouses is an annulment, and again, we can recall that in the instance of an annulment, there was no valid marriage to begin with.

Even in cases where a civil separation or divorce is necessary for the safety and well being of a spouse or the children, the covenant remains.

Even if your spouse cheats on you, the covenant remains.

So now lets move into Paul’s teachings and discuss this a little further.

The questions that arose after my last blog deal mostly with Pauline privilege — 1st Corinthians.  It seems Paul allows for divorce in the instance when one spouse is a believer and the other is not.

However, lets look at the entirety of the scripture:

To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord):* A wife should not separate from her husband and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband—and a husband should not divorce his wife.To the rest* I say (not the Lord): if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband.

Here we see Paul expressly forbidding divorce, so long as the non-believing spouse is willing to remain with the believing spouse.

If the unbeliever separates,* however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband; or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

It is this piece that is brought up, out of context, to defend divorce is such cases. But here, Paul says nothing that is agains Church teaching or in favor of divorce.

Let’s recall what the Catechism says about abandonment of a spouse from another:

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. 

During the time that Paul wrote this, the world was undergoing a huge conversion. Many people were being baptized, joining the Christian faith, and receiving a new life. This would very obviously cause problems in marital relations, and this was Paul’s answer. Don’t divorce, but if they leave, let them.

Now, to be fair, most of the people who defend divorce do so in only certain situations like infidelity and in the case of a non-believing spouse. But never do these people even hint at the idea that a marriage bond may still remain, even if the two are separated. Nor do they mention leading a chaste life.

The implication is that in these two situations, it’s acceptable to find another spouse, preferably Christian, who will stay true to the marriage and not lead the other astray from the faith.

But this is false, because as I’ve stated over and over, the marriage bond still remains. Therefore it is still adultery. The only way for two spouses to separate and remarry is through the annulment process.

Catholic views on divorce don’t hold much water with the Protestant churches. Those denominations do not fall under Catholic authority, and thus we are presented with a grave issue. Protestants do not have the annulment process available to them — and that is another crucial reason for Catholics should pray for our fellow Christians and continue to do so until we are reunited as one body, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.

Is Divorce Ever Okay?

I recently delivered an emotional, first hand appeal to Christian parents and couples to avoid divorce — no matter what.  

Now, I’d like to take a look at divorce from a more objective, theological view.

The big question is this: Is it ever okay for Christians to get a divorce?

Short, safe answer? No, it isn’t. It’s expressly forbidden by Christ in Matthew 19:

…they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

And it is deemed wholly immoral by the Catechism:

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death CC 2384

Long answer? Still no, but it requires some explanation.

Before we can dive any further into this question, we have to understand marriage and divorce from the Church’s perspective.

When God brings a man and woman together in holy matrimony, they form a bond, a covenant, with the Father. Marriage is a way for God’s love to manifest itself between two people, and together they share that love — but God should always be at the center of it.  When we divorce, we’re not just breaking that bond with each other, we attempt to break the bond with God as well.

However, divorce, unlike marriage, is of human construction, and we would be foolish to think that we can do anything to destroy something that God created. Therefore, divorce cannot truly break the marriage bond; it only opens the doorway to adultery.

I say to you,* whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”

No matter what a piece of state-issued paper might say, once two Christians are married, they remain married in the eyes of God forever. That’s how it was meant to be. 

Between the baptized, “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.” CC 2382

But are there ever any exceptions? What about in situations of domestic violence, abuse, or the safety of the children?

In these cases, the Church does allow for civil divorce, which applies solely to the legal and physical separation of spouses. Citing legitimate, safety concerns, this is permissible and not intrinsically sinful.

At the same time, it can happen that one spouse is a victim of divorce as decreed by civil law, meaning that they were abandoned by their husband or wife through no fault of their own. Therefore, there is no sin on the part of the abandoned party.

Neither of these present a contradiction of Church teaching, however, because even if a physical or legal separation is justified, the two are still bound by the marriage bond. Therefore, were either spouse to begin another relationship or marriage, they would still be committing adultery. The only options are to reconcile the marriage, live a chaste life, or for Catholics, seek an annulment.

And despite what you may have heard, an annulment is not a “Catholic loophole” for a divorce.  To believe such is nothing more than simple ignorance of Catholic doctrine. 

An annulment of a marriage is not a divorce. An annulment is a statement by the Church that the marriage was never valid to begin with. 

Marrying outside of the Church, marrying someone who has been married before, marrying because the woman is pregnant, or marrying someone of a different faith (or no faith) are examples where an annulment may be granted. 

The annulment process is a long and excruciating journey, and far more complex than any legal dispute.

The Church must launch a full investigation into the marriage, and this has been know to take years to complete. Those who have been through the process cite it as one of the most emotionally debilitating times of their lives.

Even then, the Church will not always grant an annulment. In situations where the couple are just tired of one another or feel that they have fallen out of love, the Church will find the marriage valid and encourage the two to work together and reconcile with one another. 

Unlike divorce, annulments don’t exist to provide a way out of a failing marriage. They aren’t a back up plan, and the Church doesn’t hand them out too easily or too often. 

The divorce rate in our country is heartbreaking, and it continues to rise. We can find stats, studies, and reports that all try to pinpoint why, but I believe the true reason is the fact that we have simply forgotten about God. We have forgotten about the dignity and sanctity he placed on matrimony. We have forgotten to seek His will before our own. We have taken God out of marriage.

I pray for all those Christians struggling in their relationships, that they will remember God’s place, seek his council, and turn away from the pain and destruction of divorce.  

In Defense of the Family

Divorce is an unnatural occurrence.

At least, it should be.

Unfortunately, we don’t all view marriage through the lens of the Church. We don’t all see marriage as an unbreakable commitment, a Sacrament, or a holy union created by God.

Instead, in these modern times, many of us see it as a contract, an agreement, or a legal partnership — and divorce is viewed as a safety clause in case things just get too difficult.  Even Christians, when “defending” marriage, tend to push the issue aside and focus all their attention on same-sex marriage.

But it shouldn’t be like that. One of the things that drew me to the Roman Catholic Church was its focus on family as the centerpiece to society.  I love the importance, even the burden, the Church rests on the shoulders of a mother and father, and I especially love the theological defenses of the family.

So please, Catholics and Protestant Christians alike, and especially parents, understand this: divorce is THE greatest threat to the structure of the family in our society. It destroys a bond that God himself crafted, but worst of all is the emotional, spiritual, and mental affect it has on your children.

I know this, because four years ago I watched the family I’d known my entire life come crashing down around me.

Growing up, if anyone had asked me if I thought I’d ever find myself part of a broken family, I would have very confidently said “no,” and I would have believed it with every bit of my being.

Yet, at the age of 21, I sat on the couch with my sister, and heard words that should have never been spoken: “We’re getting a divorce.”

That broke something inside of me, something that can’t be repaired, something that keeps that moment fresh on my mind and makes me relive it every. single. day.

I was completely and utterly devastated.

The family that I knew was gone.

My family.

And it’s still gone.

People say time heals all wounds, but not this one. This one remains open and fresh and it can’t be healed because it’s an unnatural wound.

In the time that has passed, I, myself, got married, started my own family and came into the Catholic Church.  And while the pain remains, through God’s grace, I have learned how to deal with it.

I’ve also had plenty of time to pray and think carefully about what I want to say to other parents when it comes to divorce.

As Christians, the fact that God blatantly says, “Do not get a divorce” should be enough: Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

However, many will find a way to tiptoe around that command and justify a divorce on whatever grounds. So to all those married with children: if your life isn’t in immediate physical danger — stay together.

Stay together for the sake of the kids.

Those children give you a reason to stay together.  Those children give you a reason to work it out. Don’t force them to watch their family crumble.  That is a pain in which no descriptive words can do justice.

God didn’t create us with the ability to love and make life so that our children could split their time between two homes. That’s not natural. It’s not right.

Marriage isn’t easy, it isn’t supposed to be. But when you stood on that altar, you made a promise, not just to your spouse, but to God. You made a promise to protect the bond that He created. You acknowledged and accepted God’s place in your marriage.

So, if your marriage gets to the point to where a divorce seems like the only option, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate where God is in your relationship.

Pope John Paul II once said”  “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.”

Your marriage is more than just an expression of love and commitment to your children. It is a witness to the saving grace of Christ. Together, you and your spouse bring the reality of God’s love and salvation into your family.

When my parents divorced, I immediately began to doubt everything I’d ever believed about love, the family, and even God.  A divorce doesn’t just affect your children emotionally; it can shake the very foundation of their spirituality. That thought should be devastating to any parent.

And when I say “stay together,” that doesn’t mean faking it, letting your marriage die, or allowing your house to become a war zone, because that can be just as damaging.

You and your spouse once loved each other.  Your children were created out of that love.

Let that be your motivation.

Let that be your determination.

And in the process, you will show your friends, your family, and especially your children, what it means to keep a promise.