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.