February 25, 2011 - Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

It is important to note two points about Jesus’ teaching today. First, his prohibition against divorce is based on remarriage. He is telling us that once a marriage has been created, only death will end it. “’Til death do us part” is not just romantic language but a reality. Even if, sometimes for very good reasons, two people stop living together, never see each other again, even get a judge to split up the property in a civil divorce, they are still married. Such a person may have done nothing wrong, particularly if they are seeing to the care of their children, but they are not able to marry another person. They are still married.

The second point Jesus mentions in another place: this does not apply to unlawful marriages. In other words, if a marriage never actually got started, then a person is not bound to what does not really exist.  The classic case of this is the shotgun marriage, where two people are forced into marriage against their will. No one can be forced to get married. They might say all the words and sign in all the right places, but marriage requires two people entering the life of their own free will. It is for such cases that the Church has annulments. In an annulment, the Church investigates the wedding and makes sure that nothing happened which prevented the marriage from ever existing. An annulment never dissolves a marriage that is a sacrament.

When two people are married, they make a decision, but how that decision is understood is at the heart of many difficulties in our modern age. Marriage is not a non-binding contract. Jesus says, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” When two people agree to be married, they are asking God to join them in an indissoluble contract. As part of the benefits of the union, God will give them the grace to live together, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, to live together and serve each other when a human agreement would not be enough. To give up one’s freedom and be bound to another, that is marriage. It is far more romantic. In the modern idea of marriage, nothing is sacrificed, nothing changes. In the true idea of marriage, the two become one flesh, the individuals no longer remain individual, a miracle only God can accomplish.