Last week at the end of my weekly Adoration Letter article, I asked a question: “So what can Catholic couples do to stay happily married while the world around them is falling apart?” Before I answer the question, we need to take a look at the Catholic Church’s definition of marriage.
The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines marriage as follows:
As a natural institution, the lasting union of a man and a woman who agree to give and receive rights over each other for the performance of the act of generation and for the fostering of their mutual love.
The state of marriage implies four chief conditions: (1) there must be a union of opposite sexes; it is therefore opposed to all forms of unnatural, homosexual behavior; (2) it is a permanent union until the death of either spouse; (3) it is an exclusive union, so that extramarital acts are a violation of justice; and (4) its permanence and exclusiveness are guaranteed by contract; mere living together, without mutually binding themselves to do so, is concubinage and not marriage.
Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament of the New Law. Christian spouses signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and his Church, helping each other to attain holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children.
The Son of God declared that there is no power on Earth that can dissolve a valid marriage. It is only His church — the Catholic Church — that has continued to abide by His declaration. Except for Catholicism, there has never been a religion that has believed and taught that marriage is indissoluble.
One of the primary conflicts that arose between Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church, which eventually resulted in the Eastern Orthodox Church’s separation from Rome, was the practice among the Eastern bishops of repeatedly granting “annulments” without justification.
One of the issues that contributed to Martin Luther’s break from Rome in 1517 was the Catholic Church’s continued insistence that no one had the power to dissolve a valid marriage. By 1521, divorces were rampant among Luther’s followers.
The teaching of Christ that marriage is an indissoluble union between a man and a woman can be found in multiple places in the Bible: Matthew 5, Matthew 10, Matthew 19, Luke 16, and several of the writings of St. Paul. Because Christ recognized the difficulty of a man and a woman remaining in a monogamous relationship, He elevated marriage to a Sacrament.
The verse that is always used by non-Catholics to justify divorce is Matthew 19:9, which states, “And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.”
The position of the Catholic Church has always been that infidelity (e.g., adultery) can never be used as a justification for dissolution of marriage; however, when infidelity occurs, the innocent spouse in the marriage is justified in separating from the offending spouse, even if the separation is permanent. This position was confirmed as an Article of Faith by the Council of Trent.
Because of our fallen human nature, combined with the pressures and temptations that exist all around us, left to our own devices it is impossible to stay happily married for a lifetime. A husband and wife are simply incapable of maintaining a faithful, healthy, rewarding, and happy marriage without outside help.
The outside help that is needed was outlined by a mentor of mine in the 1990s, Fr. John A. Hardon (1914-2000). Fr. Hardon was a Catholic theologian, marriage counselor, and author of more than 40 books on the Catholic faith. Here’s what he had to say about the need for outside help in a marriage:
Nineteen plus centuries of Catholic-Christianity proves that the Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for married Christians to remain faithful to each other, and selfless in their mutual love. The Holy Eucharist is absolutely necessary for Catholic families to remain united in a world of selfish instability.
Jesus proved that he has the power to alter nature by simply “saying the word.” He commanded the rotting body of Lazarus to come back to life, turned water into wine, restored sight to the blind, healed incurable diseases such as Leprosy, and ascended into Heaven 40 days after He rose from the dead.
But these miracles only showed that our Lord has the power to alter the laws of nature. The more significant miracles that were performed by Christ involved His power to change the hearts and minds of people like you and me.
Jesus Christ became man for two primary reasons: (1) so He could die for us on Calvary; and (2) so He could live among us in the Holy Eucharist. His divine power is accessible to anyone who has the humility to accept and believe that He is truly present in the Eucharist.
Do you want to have a faithful, healthy, rewarding, and happy marriage? If your answer is yes, then I have two words for you: Prove it! Make a commitment to attend Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist several times during the week (every day, if possible). If you’re not willing to rearrange your life so you can frequently attend Mass, then you have no right to be angry or upset when your relationship with your spouse is not what you think it should be.