Saturday, February 12, 2011

"I fulfill" the law: some disappointed in love and marriage blame the Church when in fact it is the law of Christ with which they disagree

As Saint Valentine's Day approaches those with significant others are sometimes shrilly reminded, not necessarily by their "Valentine", that they had better send chocolates, flowers or a card to the object of their love if they want such person to remain that way. The commercialization of love around this time of year is amusing to many and perhaps some are grateful for the reminder to send a sign of their affection to a loved one.

But there others who, during these days of celebration of the affairs of the heart, are reminded of Valentines loved and lost, perhaps even finding themselves bitter in a state of disappointment and disillusionment. These include the not insignificant numbers of those with failed marriages which we are told increases with time. Divorce is always a tragedy and those who suffer it must be approached with pastoral solicitude and lovingly supported in every way possible in the Christian community. The truth, however, must also be spoken with regard to the difficulty of their situation, for this too is the ministry of the love of Christ.

"Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ - "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence." (CCC 1650)

The numbers also of those who seek declarations of nullity in the United States are many. This acknowledgment of the laws of Christ with regard to marriage is a positive indicator. But not every marriage that ends in divorce is for that reason also necessarily invalid. That remains to be proven in each case.

The Church always presumes in favor of the marriage. The process of submitting a marriage to a church tribunal is thus for the purpose of proving that a marriage never existed from the moment that the couple exchanged vows, ideally in church and before priest and people. This process is not assured. Evidence is sometimes lacking. In such a case the couple remain married, the legal declaration of divorce having no standing in a sacramental sense. This means that such a couple cannot marry anew, because the two remain married to each other. And, because they are married, neither can they "date" anyone else. Such persons sometimes react with anger, blaming the Church for their state of affairs. But actions have consequences, including the decision to marry. The laws which Christ came to fulfill include the laws of marriage, about which He was most clear. One man can only be married to one woman at a time and vice versa.

Marriage is "indissoluble", that is, it cannot be broken once joined as Christ taught: "What God has joined let no man put assunder".

"This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy - heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ's cross, the source of all Christian life."(CCC 1615)

God's laws, including those regarding marriage, presume our freedom and responsibility, holding us to the consequences of our actions:

"The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; 'to be free' means:

"- not being under constraint;

"- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law."
-- CCC 1625
Husbands and wives must have the highest reverence for the sacrament of marriage, shunning any persons, places or things that may tempt them to be unfaithful to their vows, as much as any Christian in any vocation.

"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. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:

"If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another's husband to herself." (CCC 2384)

How wonderful is the love of marriage pursued as a positive good, when any anything potentially contrary to the love of the spouses is far from thought or view and all efforts are spent with the desire of growing in the graced communion of Holy Matrimony.

Jesus Christ is the "fulfillment of the law" so that God's love might open the freedom of every human person to the fullness of Life!


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