This afternoon I con-validated a marriage for the first time. It was very short and sweet, but it reminded me of all the glory of marriage and horror of divorce.
Some time ago a friend of mine was contemplating divorce. He and his wife were having a hard time and he wanted out. So I asked him, “Jimmy, who benefits from this divorce?”
“I do.” he said.
“No Jimmy, the kids do not benefit. All the research shows that the kids never benefit from divorce. Divorce always divides them in two. Who else benefits.”
He was silent.
The fact of the matter is, nobody benefits. What Jimmy didn’t understand was that his marriage breakdown not only affected him, his wife and his kids, but it also affected everyone else they know. This is because marriage is a public act. It is a public sacrament. When a couple divorces the whole world knows. Jimmy was a high school teacher. All the kids in his high school would be badly affected, at least a little, by his divorce. The other married people he knew would be negatively affected by his bad example. The people in his parish would be affected. The young people and young married couples and children would be scandalized.
Divorce is ugly and selfish and sinful. It hurts people. It rarely solves problems. It usually creates more. It rarely helps people face reality. It is more often a run from reality.
Most of all, I had to tell Jimmy that as a Catholic he was sinning against a sacrament designed and provided by God. Divorce is therefore also a sacrilege. It’s spitting on something sacred. Jimmy took sacred vows before God to love and honor his wife for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Selfish Divorce denies all that and therefore denies God’s grace, and we know what happens to people who deny God’s grace: they go to the place where there is no grace of God.
Jimmy changed his mind.
In the midst of this debacle with Iowa and gay marriage, I found this excerpt from this link particularly chilling:Homophobia drives fearful gay men and women into fraudulent marriages. The pressure to conform, the weight of discrimination, the potential loss of cherished dreams (serving in the military, worshiping in church, getting job promotions, raising kids) propels many into marriages they otherwise wouldn’t commit to. Like my friend Cooper.Cooper is 64 and recently divorced. He was married for 38 years before he came out. He left behind him a woman whose life was shattered by a truth that tunneled its way out of the mounds of shame, hostility and hatred that society heaped on it. The woman is 62. What is she supposed to with her life now that he’s found his?and then:Homophobia has a way of wounding gay and straight alike. It creates two classes of victims: People who are forced to lie and the people they lie to. As homophobia decreases, so will the pressure for gays and lesbians to enter into fig leaf marriages. Which in turn, prevents children from being hurt by divorce and helps heterosexuals, like Cooper’s wife, create authentic, stable marriages.So, let me get this straight. This gentlemen married a lady, and remained married to her for 38 years. What exactly they did during that time (had children? Built a household together? Got timeshare in Florida or took vacations in the mountains together?) we don’t know. All we know is that after 38 years — 38 years – Cooper made up his mind to tell people that, actually, he was gay, and had to abandon his wife of nearly four decades. And this was the right thing to do because, owing to his gayness, it was a fraudulent marriage. Did you get that? Entering into a legal union with someone, making vows before God and man, and spending half a lifetime with them, isn’t enough to make a marriage authentic. Only erotic attraction can do that.Cooper is supposed to be a victim here, of a cruel society that wouldn’t let him express himself. But really, how much sympathy can we be expected to have for a man who, apparently, stole 38 years away from a woman he didn’t care about just because it was necessary for advancing some personal ambition of his own? It’s no wonder we get scant details on this man, because that story can’t be pretty. “Realizing that a wife was necessary for the advancement of his military career, Cooper entered into a fraudulent marriage with a woman for whom he had no feelings. Thirty-eight years later, when those dreams had been either realized or abandoned, he ‘found the courage’ to admit that he’d never really wanted to be with her in the first place, and to move on to somebody else who might satisfy him more.”Where I come from, we call that “using people”, and vague references to general societal bigotry aren’t enough to justify it.The article, for those who didn’t click on the link, is supposedly an argument for why allowing gay marriage will strengthen heterosexual marriage. Andrew Sullivan has been beating this drum for a long time: by letting more people get married, society will show how pro-marriage it is! We’re making a big statement in favor of loving commitment!I understand how hard it can be for people with modern sensibilities, who have absorbed liberal pieties from a thousand different sources, to see what is wrong with homoerotic relationships. Overcoming that requires a deep and subtle understanding of the goods of love, sex and marriage that is frankly hard to develop in this stony soil. But the sort of thing I’ve excerpted above should be a bright, flashing sign for anyone to read that marriage is a mere plaything for such liberals. There are plenty of people, no doubt, who don’t find their sex lives too scintillating after 38 years. Not every couple of four decades would agree that they are “soul mates” or “a match made in heaven”; birds don’t necessarily start chirping the moment their spouse walks in the door. If that were enough to make a marriage “fraudulent”, marriage certificates wouldn’t be worth the paper on which they’re printed.Fortunately, these kinds of experiences aren’t what makes a marriage. Marriage goes beyond the emotions that are subject to regular change even in the healthiest of relationships. It goes beyond shared plans for the future, or shared kitchenettes, or even shared children. All of these are, of course, good and appropriate parts of marriage, but the special (even if painful) privilege that spouses share is that of being bound together even if all these externals are stripped away. Erotic attraction is a nice element in a marriage, but ultimately, the commitment endures whether or not that lovin’ feeling remains. That is the burden, but also the blessing, of marriage.It’s a grave insult to homosexually inclined persons, and indeed to any rational adult, to suggest that, due to some kind of societal conditions, they can’t be expected to make and keep their vows to God and to other human beings. Effectively, this writer is indicating that in the present political climate, homosexuals can’t be regarded as rational adults, and their promises mean nothing. These people think they’re pro-commitment? Please. They haven’t the foggiest clue what commitment is.
I’m so glad Jimmy changed his mind!There was a marriage study which showed that couples who reported they were unhappy usually ended up happier after five years… if they stayed together.
Father,What I GREAT question to ask. It’s amazing how quickly a pithy, direct question can tear open the heart of the matter. If only I had such skill… Until then, I’ll just steal yours, if you don’t mind :)BJ
You speak the truth, Fr. My oldest brother went through divorce, and I witnessed close-up how utterly devastating it is, and the horrible damage done to everyone involved. Thank God Jimmy changed his mind, and I hope he and his wife got some help to rediscover their love for each other.
God loves marriage and the Devil loves divorce. Interesting that Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding! Maybe He was trying to bring attention to something of importance?
Father, I can tell a true story very different from the one told about “Cooper”. I once knew a man who married a woman, in spite of his attraction to other men. Later, he had a conversion experience and they both joined a Protestant church. He was faithful to his wife and worked hard to support his family. He was a good father to his kids. The relationship was never a passionate one, but they were true friends to each other. He died suddenly from an aneurysm. His wife and children had only good things to say about him. His coworkers praised him. I wonder what they’ll say about “Cooper” when he dies?
I have a question, and I don’t mean to challenge your post here at all.I have a friend whose spouse was incredibly verbally abusive, and after every attempt to reconcile their marriage and relationship, nothing worked. Mainly this verbal abuse stemmed from her husband’s mental health issues, which he refused to get help for.I know there were a few other issues involved here as well. She said she felt like she was given signs from God that it was okay to end her marriage, and she actually believes the situation here stands as grounds for an annulment, though her husband doesn’t necessarily believe so.What would you say in a situation like this?
I was thinking about marriage and divorce this morning from the child’s point of view. All they want is a stable home to come to, a mother and a father together – they are not interested in what is going on between the parents. They just want to come home to two parents, and do things normal kids do – watch tv, eat together, do family activities together and do their homework, play with their friends. Divorce affects the children’s emotional well being and sense of stability.
i too would like your opinion on Phillip’s question. I have a friend who was in a similar situation. She divorced her husband several years ago because he had become incredibly verbally abusive and possessive to her, putting her down constantly, refusing to even allow her to have her own spending money, etc. at the same time she discovered horrible pornography on his computer and other pornographic materials he had in the house (in full access to their small children.) She tried to make it work but finally sought a divorce because she developed a serious chronic illness and instead of receiving support from her husband as she sought treatment, he insisted the illness was her fault because of her own stupidity and bad choices she had made with her health for years. My friend finally left the marriage and took the children. She tried to make the marriage work but counseling didn’t help. the children still see their father frequently and my friend is now getting treated for her illness, has a good job, her own home and is rebuilding her spiritual and personal life after dealing with this abuse and no help from her spouse for all those years. I don’t like divorce either but in cases of abuse, mental illness, addiction (to drugs or something like pornography), I hate to say that in some cases it is the better choice, especially if one of the parents is presenting a danger to his spouse and children. What do you think?
Thank you Father for that post… right on… Glad to know the truth is being preached…
So true! I am a teacher and I see the sadness of teenage kids with regard to divorce all the time. In fact I was talking to a class of girls about a poem which involves a change recently and asked them what the biggest negative change has been in their life – a vast number of them replied ‘When my parents split up’. They are great girls but they are the first to admit that they are still in a lot of pain- some of them years later. Who says its good for the kids?
When I was in high school, at the beginning of the school year a teacher asked what we’d done on our summer break. Then she told us she got a divorce.
I am against divorce. But sometimes, these are purely subjective.Coming from an unstable family background, with my father being an alcoholic, I can probably comment on this based on my first hand experiences. When I was 8/9, initially mom separated for a couple of days. It was simply a devastating experience. But then, older we got , with the abuse increasing in proportion, I felt that it was better to be separated. This was because it was affecting all spheres of our development. Dad died a few days later. This probably sounds awful, but it was some what of a freeing for all; dad was released from whatever demons were troubling him; and we were free to do whatever wanted, and free from the dread of the drunken drama which unfolded every night.