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What’s Happening to Indissolubility of Marriage?

The speed with which our society is devaluing the notion of the indissolubility of marriage is something I have been observing with increasing alarm. On the one hand, we have the figures: in 1993 there were 23,000 divorces in Poland; in 2004–51,000; in 2006–76,000. In addition to these firm figures, announcements such as “Haven’t you heard? They’re no longer together,” “He’s left her,” and “They’re already divorced” reach our ears almost without cease.

There is so much of this going on now that we are slowly being anesthetized to it–to the tragedy accompanying it. At the same time, we can see elements of a rapidly spreading divorce mentality in such novelties as “divorce fairs.” The mass-communications media are also instrumental in spreading the divorce mentality; the fact of divorce, of having a divorce, of changing partners is something they actually promote. The devaluation of the doctrine of marital indissolubility among Catholics is the most painful manifestation of this mentality. It is no longer uncommon even for married couples living in a sacramental union to have anticipated, indeed “planned” for a divorce in case of marital failure. Nor is it uncommon for Catholic parents to suggest such a solution to their married children in crisis.

What is happening?

Three and a half months before his death, John Paul II stated: “Alas, with each passing day the attacks on marriage and the family are growing stronger and more radical, both at the ideological and legislative level” (Address to the Forum of Family Associations, December 18, 2004). With perfect precision, this great prophet was able to identify the nature of the reality impinging on us. In the above-cited address, he warned us that the high incidence of marital breakdowns and the devaluation of the family have not come about by accident. This is not “the effect of natural civilizational and cultural changes,” as we often hear from the modern creators of today’s reality, who claim that, “Family policy should be consistent with the aims and aspirations of diverse family models within any given society and encompass transformations of a modern family of different partner relationships” (from the agenda of the Family Policy in Europe Conference, held in Warsaw on September 27, 2007: An Efficient Tool of Gender Equality or Rescue from Demographic Crisis?). It would appear that the dramatic increase in divorces in Europe is not a spontaneous phenomenon. Someone stands to gain from it. Someone is pushing the process forward, and very effectively at that.

How to fight it?

We must proclaim from the rooftops the value of the indissolubility of marriage, which comes from God’s injunction that, “what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Matthew 19: 6). Since the indissolubility of marriage is the object of specific attacks, it must be safeguarded and defended with the utmost vigor. But we must first recall it and bring it to our attention. So let us once again listen to John Paul II’s most important pronouncements:

“It is the fundamental duty of the church to reaffirm strongly, as the Synod Fathers did, the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. To all those who, in our times, consider it too difficult, or indeed impossible, to be bound up with one person for the whole of life, and to those caught up in a culture that rejects the indissolubility of marriage and openly mocks the commitment of spouses to fidelity, it is necessary to reconfirm the good news of the definitive nature of that conjugal love that has in Christ its foundation and strength” (Familiaris consortio, 20).

“One flesh! How can we not see the power of this expression? The biblical term ‘flesh’ calls to mind not only man’s bodily nature, but his overall identity as body and spirit. What the spouses achieve is not only a joining of bodies, but a true union of their persons. A union which is so deep that it in some way makes them a reflection of the ‘We’ of the three divine Persons in history” (Homily given on the Jubilee of Families, October 15, 2000).

“Marriage ‘is’ indissoluble: this property expresses a dimension of its objective being, it is not a mere subjective fact. Consequently, the good of indissolubility is the good of marriage itself; and the lack of understanding of its indissoluble character constitutes the lack of understanding of the essence of marriage. It follows that the ‘burden’ of indissolubility and the limits it entails for human freedom are no other than the reverse side of the coin with regard to the good and the potential inherent in the marital institution as such. In this perspective, it is meaningless to speak of an ‘imposition’ by human law, because human law should reflect and safeguard the natural and divine law, that is always a freeing truth” (Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, January 28, 2002, 4).

“One cannot give in to the divorce mentality: confidence in the natural and supernatural gifts of God to man prevents that. Pastoral activity must support and promote indissolubility. The doctrinal aspects should be transmitted, clarified and defended, but even more important are consistent actions. Whenever a couple is going through difficulties, the sympathy of Pastors, and of the other faithful must be combined with clarity and fortitude in remembering that conjugal love is the way to work out a positive solution to their crisis. Given that God has united them by means of an indissoluble bond, the husband and wife by utilizing all their human resources, together with good will, and by, above all, confiding in the assistance of divine grace, can and should emerge from their moments of crisis renewed and strengthened” (Ibid, 5).

Many couples view the future with fear. The number of couples breaking up after twenty or more years of married life is increasing. But what is the cause of such divorces? One increasingly hears in this context the cynical expression “to trade her in for a newer model,” as if the wife (or husband) were consumer goods–as though their value were determined in terms of years and depreciation rate. Are human beings in this “new culture” on a par with the model of a car, or a watch, or a TV set?

For many, divorce results from a need to prove something to oneself when going through a mid-life crisis. For others, it might be the combination of a spell of moral laxity and an overindulgent office party. Whatever the reason, the increasing number of marital dramas resulting from acts of infidelity is causing many couples to entertain fears and apprehensions about the prospect of marriage. Will we manage to remain faithful? Will my spouse give in to such trends? Or are we, who wish to live a faithful married life, abnormal?

The only sure way of conquering such fears and remaining faithful is to take full advantage of the graces flowing from the sacrament of marriage. This is not difficult. It is enough to pray together every day, make a regular confession, go to Holy Mass every Sunday, wear a wedding band, celebrate our wedding anniversaries, and consciously foster our love for our spouse. The power of the sacrament of marriage is rooted in the infinite love of Christ, who conquers all evil. Only we must believe in it and take full advantage of it. The source of this power is the constant presence of Jesus, whom we invite into our marriage once at our wedding and then again and again in daily prayer and the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. Will Jesus, who loved us to the point of dying on the cross, not defend our love and marital union before the attacks of the Evil One? Of course He will (Luke 18: 7-8). But we must entrust to Him all our marital problems and take up and bear the cross of suffering with Him, for this is the only sure way of overcoming a marital crisis–even of the most serious kind.

Keeping our marriage indissoluble is not easy. But I have no doubt it is the most beautiful and important task of married couples, and our Creator desires very much to help us. Ultimately, it will lead us to that perfect happiness, which God intends for those who love Him and walk in His ways. Couples, who have succeeded in overcoming numerous crises, who have found strength in Jesus, who have found in Holy Scripture pointers to building lasting marital happiness, constantly testify to this joy. In the current situation, in the face of the Adversary’s large-scale campaign against the family, we must not keep this happiness to ourselves. As married couples, we have the irreplaceable task of announcing the Good News to the modern world, the most important part of which must surely be our children. Let us once again listen to the words of John Paul II:

1. “When Christ sent out his disciples for the first time to announce the Good News, he sent them in pairs (cf. Mark 6: 7). You are also being sent out in pairs–through this great sacrament, which, while, making you husband and wife, also makes you witnesses of the Crucified and Risen One….You are to carry out this mission all your lives. You are to give witness in a special way. ‘Authentic marital love will be more highly regarded and public opinion will begin to shape itself upon it, when Christian couples distinguish themselves in this love with proofs of fidelity and harmony’” (Second Vatican Council) (Address to the Focolari Movement, May 3, 1981, 3).

2. “Christian couples, in your communion of life and love, in your mutual self-giving, and in your generous openness to children, become, in Christ, the light of the world. The Lord asks you daily to be like a lamp which does not remain hidden, but is put ‘on a stand, and ... gives light to all in the house’ (Matthew 5:15)….Above all, be ‘good news’ for the third millennium by remaining faithful to your vocation” (Address to the Fourth World Meeting of Families, 2-3).

Mieczysław Guzewicz

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The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in June 2016.

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