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So, You Married The Wrong Person?

Typical mismatched couple.
Typical mismatched couple.

1) Introduction

What happens if you marry the "wrong" person? Why does the Catholic Church forbid divorce? And especially, why does the Catholic Church refuse Eucharistic Communion to people who had the "bad luck" of marrying the "wrong" person, and are just guilty of trying to "rebuild their life" with a new "relationship"?

All these questions are important, and I'm far from an expert. Let's see if we can shed some light.

2) Eucharistic Communion as an official seal of approval on your moral life

There are many religions, and each religion normally has many religious ceremonies. We can like or dislike those ceremonies, but we don't have the authority to change the meanings of those ceremonies. It's a lot like other social "ceremonies". For example, if you pass your driver's test, the Transportation Authority will grant you a driver's License. The meaning of that "ceremony" is: "You're a good driver; we approve your driving skills". In the same way, if a policeman stops you and gives you a ticket for speeding, that "social ceremony" means: "You have been misbehaving as a driver".

The reception of the Eucharistic Host (or "Communion") during a Catholic Mass is a very complex event. One of the many meanings of that ceremony is: "The Church considers that your moral life is apparently OK". You can agree or disagree with such a ceremony, but you cannot deny the fact that such a ceremony exists, and that such a ceremony has (among others) such a meaning.

Here are a few proofs of that fact:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.
[1Co 11:27]

Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion.
[CCC, #1385]

Those [...] obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.
[Code of Canon Law, #915]

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.
[Familiaris consortio, #84]

3) Should the Catholic Church have a ceremony that excludes people?

So we've established that the Church teaches that you cannot go to Communion if you are in a state of mortal sin, and that a good Catholic Priest must refuse to give you the Eucharistic Host if that sin is "manifest and obstinate". But should the Church pass judgment on people, especially in such a public way? In other words, should the Church have any kind of ceremony that can potentially exclude people?

As usual, nobody really disagrees with the Church. To see this, all you have to do is perform a simple "prejudice swap". If the person you are talking with thinks being divorced and remarried is OK, then choose another example. Take rape, or "gay-bashing", or exterminating Jews in concentration camps, etc. Given that permitting access to Communion means the Church doesn't consider you to be in a manifest mortal sin, then giving Communion to a Nazi would mean: "Everything is fine, Mister Nazi, and by the way, you have such a pretty concentration camp!"

A church, any church, that publicly and officially approves something horribly wrong, is a bad church. This is not something related to such-and-such a Pope, but something fundamental about sociology and religion. If a religion has a ceremony that means: "You are not doing something obviously very wrong in your life", then automatically that religion will, sooner or later, have to decide what to do about people who try to access that ceremony to whitewash their reputation.

4) Isn't divorce sometimes a good thing?


So far, we've established that people don't have an automatic right to go to Communion. We've also established that a good religion must not publicly approve things that are very bad. But is divorce really that bad? How can we compare a bloodthirsty Nazi who exterminates Jews with, for example, a poor woman who ran away from a violent husband, and finally found true love with a caring and respectful heman?

Before we can even start answering that question, we have to dispel many errors. The anti-Catholic media incessantly repeats a whole series of lies about marriage, divorce, and the teachings of the Church:

4.1) "The Church teaches that an abused woman must always remain with her husband". False. The Church condemns divorce, not physical separation. When a spouse endangers the soul or the body of the other spouse or the children, physical separation is legitimate [Canon 1153].

4.2) "The Church punishes poor women who have been abandoned by a husband who imposed a divorce". False. You can't commit a sin if you are not responsible. If a divorce was imposed on you, and knowing that the valid marriage bond is indissoluble, you refrain from becoming involved in a new union, nothing prevents you from going to Communion [Familiaris consortio, #83]

4.3) "The Church is against true friendship after a failed marriage". False. The Church has nothing against being friends. The problem is that the expression "true friendship" is often verbal manipulation that really means "sexual copulation with a new partner".

4.4) "The Church refuses to see that sometimes we marry a stranger, a person very different from the one we fell in love with". False. If there is one institution on the face of the Earth that is in favor of helping you carefully examine who you really "fell in love" with, it's the Catholic Church. One of the reasons why the Church condemns pre-marital sex, is so you can better find out what are the real intentions of this stranger, and so you can dump him or her more easily if something is wrong. It is not a coincidence that the popularity of the expression "long and chaste betrothal" is inversely proportional to the rate of divorce.

4.5) "The Church is too arrogant to see that love is something free that cannot be controlled". False. Erotic desire is beyond complete control, but love strictly speaking is something intensely human, i.e. subject to our free will. See Vive La Différence Between Charity And Emotions Of Love!

Etc., etc...

5) How could divorce be so bad?

How could divorce be so bad? Short answer: Because marriage is so good.

Somehow, there is a connection between marriage, and the infinite goodness of God. As you know, there is only one God, one Divine Nature, yet there is a mystery of communion of Persons "inside" God, since the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit love each other:

God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image [...] God inscribed in the humanity of heman and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.
[CCC, #2331]

Holy Scripture affirms that heman and woman were created for one another: "It is not good that the heman should be alone" [Gn 2:18]. The woman, "flesh of his flesh" [Gn 2:23], i.e., his counterpart, his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate" [Gn 2:18], she thus represents God from whom comes our help. "Therefore a heman leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" [Gn 2:24]. The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning": "So they are no longer two, but one flesh" [Mt 19:4].
[CCC, #1605]

In order to fully understand just how bad divorce is, I would need to fully understand many more things than I currently understand. It's the same as if I wanted to understand just how bad it is to put sand in the oil intake of a car engine. Because the lubrification system has an influence on just about every part of the engine, we cannot understand all the damage sand can do, unless we learn about pistons travelling inside cylinders, crankshafts turning inside main bearings, intake and exhaust valves sliding inside valve guides, etc.

Because marriage is so fundamental, understanding the harmful effects of divorce requires expertise in many domains:

5.1) Child psychology. The mental development of a child is directly influenced by the love (or absence of love) that the parents have for each other. I hope someday to find a good book explaining all the damage that a divorce does to a child's development.

5.2) Adult psychology. The mental health of an adult strongly depends on how sincere that adult is with himself or herself. Once you disconnect yourself from reality, there is no limit to the psychological damage you can inflict on yourself and others. At at the root of every divorce, there is usually a lie. Also running away from your problems instead of solving them is of course not the best way of building character. Another problem is "infantilization": only adults can sign contracts and keep their word (and marriage is such a serious committment).

5.3) Economics. Marriage is the basis of the family, and the family is the fundamental cell of society. This is not only true politically, but also economically. Because divorce reduces the attractiveness of marriage for young persons and encourages hedonism, there is a corresponding shift in the economy. Young persons will tend to waste their money more, like traveling to foreign countries with their concubine, or spending their two incomes on luxury goods, instead of investing in the procreation and the education of a family (which tends to encourage the local economy while preparing the next generation of workers).

5.4) Political Science. By attacking Natural Law (which requires the indissolubility of marriage), divorce encourages all citizens to believe that good and evil are just a matter of voting. This in turn weakens the very foundations of civilization.

5.5) Sociology. A society that tolerates and even encourages divorce soon breeds a whole series of other social pathologies, like unmarried cohabitation, insufficient fertility rates, higher numbers of single men and women who never settle down and get married, etc. (See among others Thonnard, Précis de philosophie, §1333)

5.6) Criminology. There is no substitute for children raised in a stable, loving family. Divorce certainly doesn't automatically cause children to become criminals, but criminals are disproportionately often the products of broken homes.

5.7) Moral Theology. Attacking a valid marriage bond causes the loss of sanctifying grace, which means eternal Hellfire (unless one repents). Not a minor detail!

Etc., etc...

Someday I hope to become less ignorant, so I can make that list longer and add many bibliographical references. In the meantime, you can take the Church's word for it:

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.
[CCC, #2384]

Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.
[CCC, #2385]

6) Conclusion

So, you married the "wrong" person? Then become the right person!

This is not harsh advice. It's common sense, and Christian doctrine. In a way, we are all "prisoners of a bad marriage", since we are all stuck with a person who is too often stupid, lazy, vain and hedonistic: ourself! Nobody can be happy with such a person, whether our spouse, our children, or ourself. (A fancy way of saying the same thing is "Amicitia inter malos esse non potest", i.e. friendship between vicious persons is impossible.) Divorce won't solve that problem. We need to repent for our sins and be redeemed by Christ. Every day.

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