Catholic marriage vs. secular culture

| March 21, 2017 | 16 Comments

How Pope Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is shaping the work of the local Church

It’s a nearly one-year-old document that continues to make headlines.

“Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ “love letter to families,” as it has been described, is the product of two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015. The post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which translates to “The Joy of Love,” was published in April 2016 as an address to the entire Church. Prior to its release, Pope Francis said the document was to “summarize all that the synod said,” including topics of broken families, the importance of serious marriage preparation programs, raising and educating children, and “integrating” divorced and civilly remarried Catholics into active parish life, even if they cannot receive Communion, Catholic News Service reported in December 2016. A footnote in the 165-page text about Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics has stirred controversy, from the Church hierarchy to the people in the pews.

“Because of that, it has generated a lot of press and discussion, more so than any other post-synodal exhortation ever has,” said Father Michael Johnson, judicial vicar for the Metropolitan Tribunal in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, whose role includes overseeing annulments.

Despite the muddle, local Catholics are trying to unpack the many facets of the document, which clergy and the laity alike have recommended that the faithful read in its entirety.

“The Holy Father has seen exactly what we as priests are seeing in the parishes,” Father Johnson said, “which is actually reassuring to us as priests. He gets it.”

The culture of marriage

Father Johnson came to the tribunal in 2015 after studying canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Before that, he worked in parish ministry. In reading marriage cases and talking to people as they go through the annulment process, he sees how secular culture has influenced people’s marriages. And in the Church, he said, “We’re left to sift through the aftermath of what our culture has wrought on the family. And it’s very sad.”

One of the key topics that kept emerging during the synod on the family was how the Church, particularly clergy, guides people who are divorced and civilly remarried. Pope Francis revised the code of canon law in December 2015, streamlining the annulment process for timeliness and costs.

“This last year, we’ve seen the effects of that document in the changes to canon law in the tribunal. It’s been a huge impact … for the better,” Father Johnson said.

Largely because of the changes to the canonical process for annulments, the number of annulments that the tribunal processed nearly doubled in one year; in 2015, the number was 140, followed by 270 in 2016.

“It’s a fantastic thing, because then these people are going through the annulment process, getting clarity about their state in life, and then they can go and get married in the Catholic Church,” he said. “Some people do get negative [rulings], but regardless, they have clarity about what happened.”

Most people apply for an annulment because they have plans to get remarried, Father Johnson explained. Others want closure. And some contact the tribunal to get their marriages “corrected.”

Since “Amoris Laetitia” was released, and the issue of divorce and Communion has been in the news, other Catholics have also been informed and motivated to go through the proper channels to have their marriage recognized by the Church. Father Johnson noted the “surprising” number of people who side-stepped

Catholic wedding vows, getting married outside of the Church.

“They came at it with an idea of what the culture proposes marriage to be,” he said. “And what the culture proposes marriage to be is not Christian marriage.”

Father Johnson said Pope Francis continues to keep “Amoris Laetitia” in the forefront of people’s minds.

“Aside from one footnote in a 350-paragraph or more document, [Pope Francis] is beautifully expounding upon what Christian marriage ought to be — the troubles, the joys, the fruits, the pitfalls, pointing them out and presenting the Catholic Church’s teaching in all its beauty.”

Clarification, accompaniment needed

Jill Murray can’t help but focus on that footnote. The parishioner of All Saints in Minneapolis and mother of three is separated from her husband. She’s been discouraged with the general lack of support and understanding from fellow Catholics, some who’ve suggested she “just get a divorce.” Non-Catholics wonder why she chooses to be “shackled” to the Church’s teachings.

But she’s more concerned about how the separation — and what could come in the future — affects her children, ages 15, 12 and 5, and especially their faith lives.

“I think the children then see that the Church, what they’ve been taught about marriage, is not true,” said Murray, 49. “So when we teach them marriage is not dissoluble, they would look at [a particular] situation and say, ‘Yes it is.’”

Murray points to children being influenced by secular society and also what their friends experience when it comes to separation and divorce.

And based on her own experience, Murray acknowledges a lack of education that has put some people in these situations. As a self-described “revert,” she was married outside the Church, and when she discovered the “wisdom of the Church” and returned, she didn’t know specific rules about receiving Communion.

She’d like to see the Church focus on educating and providing spiritual guidance to get people “to the right place with God.”

“Our culture is so much about what’s easy now,” Murray said. “It shows a lack of faith. I wish the Church was working as hard on keeping families together.”

Murray has found consolation in the group Faithful Spouses, sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life. She described its members as Catholics who are separated and divorced — “abandoned by their spouses” — trying to remain faithful to their vows and to Church teaching. But the group has been struggling with the footnote in “Amoris Laetitia,” trying to comprehend what it means for them. She described it as the “elephant in the room,” which hasn’t been addressed in the formal group setting, but in sharing articles about the text among individual members.

“We’re standing for the Church on marriage, and we are obeying the teachings of Christ and two of the commandments,” Murray said. “And we want the Church to stand with us.”

Last September, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke and three other cardinals wrote a formal request to Pope Francis — called a “dubia”— to clarify “Amoris Laetitia,” particularly its call for the pastoral accompaniment of people who are divorced and civilly remarried, or who are living together without marriage. The cardinals published the letter in November 2016 after Pope Francis did not respond to it. CNS reported Jan. 9 that Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the pope doesn’t need “fraternal correction” because he hasn’t put the faith and Church teaching in danger.

“I do not see any opposition: On one side, we have the clear doctrine on matrimony, and on the other the obligation of the Church to care for these people in difficulty,” Cardinal Muller had said.

Although Lyle Bowe doesn’t share the experiences of those in the Faithful Spouses group, he attends some of their meetings to support them.

“I really see the power of this group, where they’re remaining faithful to their covenant until the Church says otherwise,” said Bowe, 56, a parishioner of St. Joseph in West St. Paul. “I think it really speaks to the building of a culture of life that leads to a permanence of marriage.”

The stay-at-home father of three adopted sons is using his master’s degree in counseling from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio to minister to families. He’s using Pope Francis’ points on the importance of fathers to bolster his evangelization efforts with men.

As for the Faithful Spouses group, he’d like members to get the support they seek from Church leadership, calling them “heroic” but a “forgotten bunch.”

“If you look at the intentions at Mass, it’s always for the families, but there are never any prayers for these spouses who’ve been abandoned that are courageously staying true to their covenant. Yet, they feel like they don’t have a home anymore,” Bowe said. “They’re shunned, almost.”

Marriage preparation

Carol Arend is a pastoral minister and the wedding director at St. Thomas More in St. Paul. She said “Amoris Laetitia” has reinforced her work with couples preparing for marriage and those newly married, and it has provided “marching orders” for the parish’s continued work.

“The document really emphasizes the parish community or the Christian community as the support of people in marriage,” she said, “and so that is something also in the last year or so that we’ve tried to emphasize.”

Sometimes couples can view marriage preparation requirements, which come from the archdiocese, as hoops to jump through, Arend said, but most couples are willing and excited to learn.

“It’s not just about them and their marriage,” said Arend, 51. “This is a public sacrament. It affects the whole community, and in turn, we want to affect them with our prayer and our support.”

She said the challenge of mentoring couples is identifying their relationship struggles, whether they be with family or with the Church. Meeting people where they are and trying to be a positive part of their connection to the Church is important, Arend said, because “if this is the first time they’ve really been connected to a church in a while, we want it to be a merciful experience.”

Arend thinks that although “Amoris Laetitia” talks about the challenges of family life, overall, it’s a positive depiction of what the Church is trying to accomplish. She said many Catholics don’t know “the whole story.”

“The Church wants people to be happy, the Church wants people to live the life God wants them to live, and the Church wants to help. And the Church is merciful,” she said. “But I think we don’t get that message, especially when it comes to relationships and marriage and sexuality. The message on the street is not the real message, and so I think to read this document really shows that this is where the heart is. And this is what the Church wants versus, we’re not just telling [people] not to do things.”

She’s collaborating with the parish’s faith formation director on more relationship enrichment programs. And the parish plans to host a group reading of the document. “It’s readable,” she said. “It’s not going to make your head spin.”

Christian vocation

It’s this kind of boots on the ground work that the Church needs to do, Father Johnson said. He noted that the pope’s annual January address to the Roman Rota, the highest court of appeal for marriage annulment cases, deviated from the usual topic of jurisprudence and instead focused on how the Church can prevent marriages from ending in divorce. Pope Francis talked about the need for a new catechumenate for married couples and the need to work on evangelizing couples coming to the Church for marriage preparation.

And in February, Pope Francis told an audience of priests who were at the Vatican for a marriage preparation course that it’s their responsibility to concretely apply the Church’s teachings on marriage in their daily contact with families, CNS reported. He said in ministering to people in “irregular unions,” priests will have to do so not as “experts in bureaucratic proceedings or judicial norms, but as brothers who take on an attitude of listening and understanding.”

Overall, it’s marriage preparation that needs to improve, Father Johnson said, because the Church inaccurately presumes couples have a faith life.

“Pope Francis, in ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ talks about a lack of faith … giving rise to an invalid marriage,” Father Johnson explained. “And what we’re seeing is because they’re not converts to Christ, because they’re not enmeshed in a Christian worldview, they then bring all these ideas from the culture into marriage. All of that beauty [and] all of that theology is lost. And that’s what Pope Francis is trying to address.”

Father Johnson said that because parish priests typically don’t know what comes from the pope’s annual address, communication needs to come from tribunals to diocesan family life offices, for instance. And there are necessary changes for the Church.

“We need to take a sober look at the state of the sacrament of marriage within our Church, and how we’re living that, how we’re preparing people for that [and] how we’re helping people through difficulties,” he said.

“It needs to start from birth,” he continued. “We need to witness good, Christian marriages, good Christian families that are able to reconcile their differences to show mercy and unconditional love [and] forgiveness — the virtues that are going to be essential for them to form that relationship later in life. That’s the remote preparation for marriage.”

He said the Church also needs to talk about the Christian vocation of marriage during confirmation and through high school, explaining how it’s not the next step from dating, but a sacramental union, and what it means to say vows and how they’re lived.

“Those vows aren’t there for the better times, the happy times, the good times,” Father Johnson said. “They’re for the hard times — when we’re poor, when we’re sick. The vows are meant to keep people in it during those times. And that’s actually when the power of the sacrament is so beautiful, because they begin imaging Christ on the cross. They begin imaging Christ’s forgiveness, Christ’s mercy, unconditional love, sacrifice [and] faith.”

Jean Stolpestad, director of the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life, said the office is working with other archdiocesan offices and organizations to develop an intentional approach to helping young people, as well as those who prepare couples for marriage, understand and convey the sacredness of the sacrament. It also plans to use “Amoris Laetitia” in conjunction with St. John Paul II’s 1981 “Familiaris Consortio” (“On the role of the Christian family in the modern world”) as a blueprint for ongoing ministry to parishes and family life.

“‘Amoris Laetitia’ helps us to better appreciate what it is to accompany a person, to be aware of the reality of situations and environments in which people live and in which they develop their conscience,” Stolpestad said. “The heart or context of what is marriage and who may marry has not changed; however, the starting point of the conversation about marriage and our part in it has.”

Resource meant to strengthen

Ultimately, Father Johnson said, “Amoris Laetitia” is a document meant to strengthen marriage. He encourages Catholics to read the text, describing it as “complex,” but “accessible, practical and beautiful.”

“[Pope Francis] fundamentally realizes that the human experience is a messy experience. Yet, through the light of faith, through the light of Christ, through the Gospel, through the vows that husbands and wives have made, there’s actually redemption in that,” he said. “There’s actually beauty in that, and there’s fulfillment in that. And he wants people to experience that to its fullest.”

As a way to strengthen marriages, Stolpestad recommends chapter 4, which is a reflection on St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians about the meaning
of love.

“While this document has been the center of much controversy, the truly beautiful and rich elements cannot be overlooked,” she said. “Since families spend less time together, many of the foundational elements of marriage and family life have been lost. Pope Francis challenges us to commit to building deeper relationships within our families, parishes and communities.”

Art, iStock/yaruta


True love and the cross

Bishop Andrew Cozzens recommended that a group of newly married couples read “Amoris Laetitia,” especially chapter 4, Pope Francis’ meditation on 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, which includes the oft-quoted verses, “Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

“This love is going to allow me to live this on the cross,” he said, referring to the trials and suffering inherent in marriage.

Bishop Cozzens shared his advice with couples attending the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ annual Newly Married Retreat Feb. 4 at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony.

He told them that the chapter from Corinthians — which is commonly read at weddings — can be a useful tool for an examination of conscience if one replaces “love” with his or her name. Then someone can reflect on if he or she really is living as love requires.

True love “wills the good of the other,” Bishop Cozzens said, and it’s in coming to know God — the source of love — that one learns to love others.

The bishop encouraged the couples to develop a relationship with God through consistent prayer, resisting materialism, and setting aside time regularly to focus on each other and to work through struggles.

He said that when someone struggles with his or her spouse — he gave the example of impatience — the person should recognize it, pray about it, receive God’s love and grace, and then respond to the trial with that peace.

“It’s through this experience of the cross that we come to true life,” he said.

— Maria Wiering

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  • Paula Ruddy

    If a divorced and civilly remarried person receives communion, does it hurt the separated or divorced person who is honoring his/her first vows by not remarrying? Does it feel like the Church is not supportive of the person who is true to his/her first vows? I am trying to understand this situation.

    • Michelle N

      Hi Paula,

      I am also also a faithful spouse. To me, this has bigger implications than just for the faithful spouse. I think it hurts more than just the faithful spouse – it hurts the entire church. When any member of the church sins, the entire church is hurt because we are one body in Christ.

      I am adding a link to an article that is so well written by children of civilly divorced and remarried parents and the reasons why they strongly opposed their civilly remarried parents receiving communion – it undermines the credibility of our church and her teachings and does not follow the Catholic understanding of mercy. http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/remember-our-children

      The reason a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic cannot receive communion is because the church recognizes that as a form of adultery due to the covenantal sacrament remaining in tact. Our church also teaches that adultery is a mortal sin. We also believe that anyone who is in a state of mortal sin should not receive communion. A change to allow those who are civilly divorced and remarried has larger implications because one of those teachings would need to be changed to allow for it. Would this change mean that adultery is no longer a mortal sin? Would this change mean that civil divorces are recognized by the church and therefore a civilly remarried Catholic is not committing adultery? Would this change mean that you are not required to be a in a state of grace to receive communion? For me, if the answer to any of those questions is yes, this would then have a huge impact on the entire Catholic church and would really call into question other teachings in the church as well.

      • Paula Ruddy

        You are probably right, Michelle. If sacraments were understood to have efficacy within people’s consciousness, many teachings would be called into question. I guess marriage would be understood to be terminable then, as Carol suggests. I have to think and pray about it.

      • Mark johnson

        Just for discussion sake, let’s ignore the so-called “re-married” issue and supplement this conversation with some facts about divorce from official documents of the church . . .

        In many cases we can not say to a person “that is a mortal sin”. We can say they committed a “grave” sin (the word used by the Catechism to indicate sin of sufficient nature to be mortal)–but that only satisfies one of the three criteria for a “mortal” sin. The other two are “full knowledge” and “deliberate consent” (CCC 1857).

        Certainly, in this day and age, a person has the ability to determine whether divorce is “grave” (CCC 2384) because the Catechism is online and it takes about 15 minutes to find this using the wonderful search tool on the Vatican’s web site. So even if a person does not already know divorce is a grave sin, they have the ability to easily find out and a person is guilty if they don’t put forth an effort to know the churches doctrine (CCC 1790-1791). So I think it is simple to say divorce meets the first two criteria.

        The difficult part is determining deliberate consent. There are oodles of reasons why a person would commit a grave sin such as divorce (or masturbation [CCC 2352] or abortion [CCC 2271], etc.). I have not found an official definition of “deliberate consent” in the Catechism and I would love someone to send me a reference to one of the doctors of the church or encyclical or other official church document that have a good definition. It might be that a person has been seriously abused or the spouse is a habitual adulterer or there is physical danger or some other very serious matter. So, they really do not WANT to get a divorce but feel it is the only way to solve the problem. Does this mean they did not have deliberate consent? I don’t know for sure. What I DO know is they may not have a solid understanding of the BEAUTY of the Cross of Christ and how we are sanctified by staying in a so-called “bad” marriage (CCC 1642 & 1661) (whatever THAT means) as an act of love to our spouse and to God. By the way, Canon Law does allow for separation in dangerous cases (Can. 1153) as long as there is intent to restore “conjugal living” when the danger ceases (unless they get their bishop’s permission otherwise).

        With that said, MY PERSONAL FEELING (which isn’t worth a thing) is that no person can complete a divorce in civil court without being guilty of all three criteria for mortal sin. It is simply not possible for an act that takes months (typically) and at least a few hours to draw up the legal documents (very rare) not to be deliberate.

        So I always warn people who participated in a civil divorce that their eternal soul is in danger (CCC 1035) and the only way to resolve that is through a valid sacrament of reconciliation. Valid means there is contrition (CCC 1451) and you are required to do what you can to repair (CCC 1459). This really boils down to reconciliation with your spouse. That is EXTREMELY difficult if you have so-called “re-married” and have children with your so-called “new-spouse” because that spouse and those children may be innocent and now we have a terrible mess!

        You can call me scrupulous but I prefer the term “thorough” 🙂

        P.S. Don’t even get me started on the canon law abuses perpetrated on innocent spouses in many tribunals. St. Paul/Mpls is one of the best but even they still trampled my Canon Law rights on at least three occasions as I defended my valid marriage from a tribunal that obviously is slanted toward declaring marriages null. Sorry, Father Johnson (if you ever read this) but it is true.

        Just think . . . if I didn’t defend my marriage, the tribunal would have undoubtedly declared my (totally valid) marriage null and my wife would be remarried and living in a state of perpetual adultery WITH PERMISSION FROM THE CHURCH!!!

        Most priests do an abysmal job of educating the faithful on this topic. I hope some day this gets more attention. In the meantime, we’ll have to rely on the perfect mercy of our Dear Redeemer to forgive folks wrapped up in this mess.

    • Marcia A.

      Paula and Carol,

      God bless both of you!

      I am also a faithful spouse.
      I believe I have insight into this situation sufficient to respond to
      both of your thought provoking questions.

      Carol –

      Referencing the Catechism (CCC 1640):

      1640 Thus the marriage
      bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage
      concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This
      bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their
      consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives
      rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the
      power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

      The truth is that in the Covenant – God is the third person
      that entered that covenant with us on the day we received the Sacrament of
      Matrimony. God is still faithful. I am still faithful, as I feel that I am
      called by God and directed by my faith to be.
      The covenant is still valid.

      How I feel about giving someone my word is also a big issue
      for me. Referencing one of my other
      favorite authors:

      When Lazy Mayzie tricks him to sit on her nest while she
      takes a vacation to Palm Beach and does not return…Horton honors his promise to
      sit on the nest, until the egg hatches.

      “I meant what I said
      and I said what I meant. This elephant’s
      faithful 100%”.

      While I can’t choose how someone else holds to their word,
      the character I try to sustain in myself is my example to my “domestic church,”
      is my legacy that I will leave to my children and grandchildren, and is a
      strong element on the path to my personal salvation. And through fidelity and prayer and
      forgiveness perhaps sufficient grace for salvation for my spouse and children
      also. (The Gift of Self – Maria Pia
      Campanella)

      Paula –

      The layperson who is divorced, has not had their marriage
      declared null through the Tribunal of the Church, then remarries outside the
      church and then chooses to receive the body and blood of Christ against the
      teachings of the church has to account to themselves and our God the same as
      all of us do who are human and therefore, sin.

      The Church does not allow a person in that situation to
      receive communion according to current church teachings. But, I do not feel “hurt” by a person in that
      situation choosing to continue to receive the body and blood of Christ except
      as we are all hurt by the sins of others on our communal journey and our
      solidarity as Catholics calls us to encourage each other to live holy lives. In that spirit, I would personally encourage a
      person in that situation to pursue an annulment and refrain from participating
      in the sacraments as directed by the church until the covenant in which they
      entered is declared null.

      I feel that the footnote, which is addressed in the article,
      is the source of what hurts me. The
      hurt, I think, would come from the church asking all of us married in a
      sacramental marriage to accept the indissolubility of the sacrament we received,
      and yet then remove the church imposed consequences for a person who does not. It feels like it makes a mockery of the
      Sacrament of Matrimony. Since I am
      choosing to remain faithful to what the church teaches, which is a difficult
      road to walk, that appearance of duplicity would be what I would say hurt me.

      I ask you both for your prayers for me and for all
      Catholic spouses who have been abandoned by their spouse and are choosing to
      continue to live out the vow they took –

      “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness
      and in health.

      I will love you
      and honor you all the days of my life.”

      • Paula Ruddy

        Thanks, Marcia. Your faithfulness is an inspiration. I honor you for it. I still have a problem with thinking of Eucharist in a reward and punishment way. If a person really believed she/he was sinning against God by going to communion, why would they do it? I think there are divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who believe they are in union with God and that is why they go to Mass and communion. Maybe all of us being merciful is the answer. I know that is easier said than done.

        • Roses24

          Perhaps withholding Holy Communion is merciful, lest the adulterous spouse (divorced and civilly remarried) eat and drink judgment upon themselves 1 Corinthians 11:26-29 or make a sacrilegious confession (i.e. confession without sorrow or firm purpose of amendment).

  • carolq

    I have always thought of marriage as a covenant, which requires the commitment of both persons. Marriage, both in the Church and in civil society, requires the freely given consent of both parties. Later on, if one party is abandoned by the other, I would think that the covenant has been irretrievably broken. How can one party continue to believe that he or she is still in a covenant relationship in that situation? What is this person being faithful to?

    • Michelle N

      Hi Carolq,

      I am a faithful spouse. To share my experience and what I have learned through this walk:

      Catholic marriage is a sacrament. The beautiful thing about sacraments in our church is that they CANNOT fail. Regardless of the state of the people in them, the person who administered the sacrament, etc, a sacrament cannot fail. Just as the sacrament of reconciliation still takes place and is valid, even if the priest is in a state of sin, so too does the sacrament of marriage remain valid even if there is sin, separation, civil divorce, etc in the marriage, because the sacrament itself cannot fail. If the marriage was valid from the start, it always remains valid. Annulments are not simply a “Catholic divorce.” Annulments are a statement from the church that the sacrament never took place at all.

      What matters in the Church’s eyes is that the free consent was given at the time that the sacrament was administered. What happens after that moment is where the for better or worse comes in to play. When we take our vows, we essentially vow to love, honor, and be faithful to our spouse – for better or worse, no matter what. Marriage is a vocation and therefore both spouses path to holiness.

      Marriage is a gift of self to the Father, through the Son, with the Holy Spirit for the salvation of one’s spouse. That is what the spouse is being faithful to – to God’s will. We often think of marriage as giving to our spouse, but marriage has a third person in it – God. We are called to give ourselves to God for the purpose of the salvation of our spouse. That giving of oneself to God for the good of the other spouses soul can continue to be done regardless of what the other spouse says, thinks, or does. In fact, it is precisely when a spouse’s soul is being tempted by Satan that the power of the sacrament is so strong and so essential that it be lived out.

      Our marriages are meant to model Christ’s unconditional love for us. Christ continues to give of himself and remains faithful to us regardless of how many times we hurt, deny, abandon, etc him. It is such a beautiful teaching full of love, mercy, and compassion.

  • Marcia A.

    Paula and Carol,
    God bless both of you!

    I am also a faithful spouse.
    I believe I have insight into this situation sufficient to respond to both of your thought provoking questions.

    Carol –

    Referencing the Catechism (CCC 1640):

    1640 Thus the marriagebond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. Thisbond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their
    consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

    The truth is that in the Covenant – God is the third person that entered that covenant with us on the day we received the Sacrament of Matrimony. God is still faithful. I am still faithful, as I feel that I am called by God and directed by my faith to be.
    The covenant is still valid.

    How I feel about giving someone my word is also a big issue for me. Referencing one of my other favorite authors:

    When Lazy Mayzie tricks him to sit on her nest while she takes a vacation to Palm Beach and does not return…Horton honors his promise to sit on the nest, until the egg hatches.

    “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. This elephant’s faithful 100%”.

    While I can’t choose how someone else holds to their word, the character I try to sustain in myself is my example to my “domestic church,” is my legacy that I will leave to my children and grandchildren, and is a strong element on the path to my personal salvation. And through fidelity and prayer and forgiveness perhaps sufficient grace for salvation for my spouse and children also. (The Gift of Self – Maria Pia Campanella)

    Paula –

    The layperson who is divorced, has not had their marriage declared null through the Tribunal of the Church, then remarries outside the church and then chooses to receive the body and blood of Christ against the teachings of the church has to account to themselves and our God the same as all of us do who are human and therefore, sin.

    The Church does not allow a person in that situation to receive communion according to current church teachings. But, I do not feel “hurt” by a person in that situation choosing to continue to receive the body and blood of Christ except as we are all hurt by the sins of others on our communal journey, and our solidarity as Catholics calls us to encourage each other to live holy lives. In that spirit, I would personally encourage a
    person in that situation to pursue an annulment and refrain from participating in the sacraments as directed by the church until the covenant in which they entered is declared null.

    I feel that the footnote, which is addressed in the article, is the source of what hurts me. The hurt, I think, would come from the church asking all of us married in a
    sacramental marriage to accept the indissolubility of the sacrament we received,
    and yet then remove the church imposed consequences for a person who does not. It feels like it makes a mockery of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Since I am
    choosing to remain faithful to what the church teaches in conjunction with that sacrament, which is a difficult road to walk, that appearance of duplicity would be what I would say hurt me.

    I ask you both for your prayers for me and for all Catholic spouses who have been abandoned by their spouse and are choosing to continue to live out the vow they took:
    “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
    I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

  • Michelle N

    I am also also a faithful spouse. To me, this has bigger implications than just for the faithful spouse. I think it hurts more than just the faithful spouse – it hurts the entire church. When any member of the church sins, the entire church is hurt because we are one body in Christ.

    I am adding a link to an article that is so well written by children of civilly divorced and remarried parents and the reasons why they strongly opposed their civilly remarried parents receiving communion – it undermines the credibility of our church and her teachings and does not follow the Catholic understanding of mercy. (http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/remember-our-children)

    Catholic marriage is a sacrament. The beautiful thing about sacraments in our church is that they CANNOT fail. Regardless of the state of the people in them, the person who administered the sacrament, etc, a sacrament cannot fail. Just as the sacrament of reconciliation still takes place and is valid, even if the priest is in a state of sin, so too does the sacrament of marriage remain valid even if there is sin, separation, civil divorce, etc in the marriage, because the sacrament itself cannot fail. If the marriage was valid from the start, it always remains valid. Annulments are not simply a “Catholic divorce.” Annulments are a statement from the church that the sacrament never took place at all.

    What matters in the Church’s eyes is that the free consent was given at the time that the sacrament was administered. What happens after that moment is where the for better or worse comes in to play. When we take our vows, we essentially vow to love, honor, and be faithful to our spouse – for better or worse, no matter what. Marriage is a vocation and therefore both spouses path to holiness.

    Marriage is a gift of self to the Father, through the Son, with the Holy Spirit for the salvation of one’s spouse. That is what the spouse is being faithful to – to God’s will. We often think of marriage as giving to our spouse, but marriage has a third person in it – God. We are called to give ourselves to God for the purpose of the salvation of our spouse. That giving of oneself to God for the good of the other spouses soul can continue to be done regardless of what the other spouse says, thinks, or does. In fact, it is precisely when a spouse’s soul is being tempted by Satan that the power of the sacrament is so strong and so essential that it be lived out.

    Our marriages are meant to model Christ’s unconditional love for us. Christ continues to give of himself and remains faithful to us regardless of how many times we hurt, deny, abandon, etc him. It is such a beautiful teaching full of love, mercy, and compassion.

    The reason a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic cannot receive communion is because the church recognizes that as a form of adultery due to the covenantal sacrament remaining in tact. Our church also teaches that adultery is a mortal sin. We also believe that anyone who is in a state of mortal sin should not receive communion. A change to allow those who are civilly divorced and remarried has larger implications because one of those teachings would need to be changed to allow for it. Would this change mean that adultery is no longer a mortal sin? Would this change mean that civil divorces are recognized by the church and therefore a civilly remarried Catholic is not committing adultery? Would this change mean that you are not required to be a in a state of grace to receive communion? For me, if the answer to any of those questions is yes, this would then have a huge impact on the entire Catholic church and would really call into question other teachings in the church as well.

    I disagree that the goal of the Church as stated above is for its members to be happy. The goal of our Catholic Church is for its members to be holy and to be led to heaven with God through the truth of the Church’s teachings. When we pursue earthly happiness it can often come at the price of holiness and following God’s will in our lives. God calls us to joy and that joy comes from Him and following His will in our lives.

  • Marcia A.

    Paula and Carol,

    God bless both of you!

    I am also a faithful spouse.
    I believe I have insight into this situation sufficient to respond to both of your thought provoking questions.

    Carol –

    Referencing the Catechism (CCC 1640):

    1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their
    consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

    The truth is that in the Covenant – God is the third person that entered that covenant with us on the day we received the Sacrament of Matrimony. God is still faithful. I am still faithful, as I feel that I am called by God and directed by my faith to be. The covenant is still valid.

    How I feel about giving someone my word is also a big issue for me. Referencing one of my other favorite authors:

    When Lazy Mayzie tricks him to sit on her nest while she takes a vacation to Palm Beach and does not return…Horton honors his promise to sit on the nest, until the egg hatches.

    “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. This elephant’s faithful 100%”.

    While I can’t choose how someone else holds to their word, the character I try to sustain in myself is my example to my “domestic church,” is my legacy that I will leave to my children and grandchildren, and is a strong element on the path to my personal salvation. And through fidelity and prayer and forgiveness perhaps sufficient grace for salvation for my spouse and children also. (The Gift of Self – Maria Pia Campanella)

    Paula –

    The layperson who is divorced, has not had their marriage declared null through the Tribunal of the Church, then remarries outside the church and then chooses to receive the body and blood of Christ against the teachings of the church has to account to themselves and our God the same as all of us do who are human and therefore, sin.

    The Church does not allow a person in that situation to receive communion according to current church teachings. But, I do not feel “hurt” by a person in that situation except as we are all hurt by the sins of others on our communal journey and our
    solidarity as Catholics calls us to encourage each other to live holy lives. In that spirit, I would personally encourage a person in that situation to pursue an annulment and refrain from participating in the sacraments as directed by the church until the covenant in which they entered is declared null.

    I feel that the footnote, which is addressed in the article, is the source of what hurts me. The hurt, I think, would come from the church asking all of us married in a
    sacramental marriage to accept the indissolubility of the sacrament we received,
    and yet then remove the church imposed consequences for a person who does not. It feels like it makes a mockery of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Since I am
    choosing to remain faithful to what the church teaches, which is a difficult
    road to walk, that appearance of duplicity would be what I would say hurt me.

    I ask you both for your prayers for me and for all Catholic spouses who have been abandoned by their spouse and are choosing to continue to live out the vow they took “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness
    a and honor you all the days of my life.”

  • Roses24

    Carolq: read the words of Christ in Gospels of Luke 16: 17-18 and Matthew 5: 27-37 for the answers to “why be faithful?” question and then end your reading with Matthew 5:17-20

    • carolq

      Michelle N, Marcia A., Roses24, Perhaps one of you would have a comment on something that has puzzled me recently. I have noted that members of the Catholic hierarchy treat and honor Donald Trump and Melania as a legitimately married couple. For example, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, probably the highest-ranking U.S. prelate, hosted them as a couple at the Al Smith Charity Dinner in New York. According to Catholic teaching, isn’t Donald married to Ivana Trump, so that he and Melania are in an adulterous relationship? Or was the Donald-Ivana marriage dissoluble since it was probably not a sacramental marriage? However, I don’t see anything in the Gospels that present Christ’s words on divorce that restrict his teaching to the sacrament of matrimony, which is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. Christ’s words seem to apply to any marriage and divorce. I realize that all of you are much more familiar with teachings on marriage than I am (I am 83 and have never been married), so I would appreciate your comments.

      • Roses24

        Carol, good question. It is my understanding that Ivana was divorced before she married Donald Trump, his first attempt at marriage. So, she was not free to marry. Which, if any of his attempts at marriage , are valid is a question for canon lawyers

      • Roses24

        So, if Donald Trump’s first attempt at marriage is null due to Ivana’s divorce and prior martial bond, his second attempt to Marla Maples in a hotel due to her pregnancy/birth from an affair miggt be declared null due to pressures to legitimize the child. Trump’s attempt at marriage to Melania in an Episcopal Church, where she carried an heirloom rosary down the aisle may in fact be his most probable attempt at sacramental marriage. God has a sense of humor.