Marriage: A State in Life that Points Beyond Itself to Heaven
Lots of people are angry with the Catholic Church. Sometimes it is because of inexcusable faults and sins of certain Catholic leaders – ordained and lay. But often it is the Church’s teaching that people find offensive, especially its moral teaching.
The Church’s prohibition of premarital and extramarital sex, it’s rejection of homosexual marriage, abortion, and contraception – these things makes the blood of many boil. In a society with a 50% divorce rate, the insistence that marriage is forever appears outdated, heartless, and judgmental. How different the Catholic Church is from Jesus, they say, who accepted everyone, even the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11).
In Mark 10:2-16, this gentle, accepting Jesus bluntly states that divorce was never part of God’s perfect plan. The man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.
But wait a minute, they say. Is not the Church hypocritical here? Does not its practice of granting “annulments” just a way of approving through fancy legal manoeuvring what it denies in its official teaching?
Let’s stop for a minute and ask what makes a marriage. Is it a legal ceremony and a marriage license? Is it a Church ceremony with organ, candles, and priests? Is it the bodily union of the partners?
The Catholic church teaches that while these are important, none is what cements the marriage bond. Marriage is a covenant, a relationship established through the free, informed consent of both parties. It happens when two people give themselves to each other. When that happens between two unbaptized people, a natural marriage bond is formed that is greatly respected by the Catholic Church. When it happens between two baptized persons, the Holy Spirit is poured out and the natural bond is elevated to a supernatural sacrament.
The natural blessings of marriage are the companionship, mutual support and intimacy of the spouses plus the possibility of sharing in God’s creative, life-giving work – the procreation and education of children. In a sacramental marriage … spouses are a visible sign of the unbreakable covenant between Christ and His Church.
In both these cases, God has joined the couple and the two have become one. The first on a natural level, the second on both natural and supernatural levels.
So how can the Church possibly allow for “annulments?” It determines that the marriage bond was never truly formed –that the couple never freely gave themselves to each other to establish the marriage covenant: the joining of their lives.
For those who are married or contemplating marriage, know that the Church’s teaching comes from the Lord Himself and that is a testimony not to some sort of old-fashioned prudishness, but rather to the power and beauty of a state of life that points beyond itself to heaven.
Image: Jean-Honoré Fragonard - Hermitage Torrent, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7928072