National marriage week is winding down. Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day already. So, I thought today would be good time to look at a unique aspect of Catholic marriage: the prohibition on divorce.
Rather than throw a bunch of stats at you or review the four goods of marriage (which includes indissolubility), I wanted to go a different route.
Let’s look at how exactly St. Joseph helped to usher in respect for the permanence of marriage.
ST. JOSEPH AND THE NEW MARRIAGE ORDER (NO TO DIVORCE)
Too often we think that those in heaven are not too much like ourselves. They are the holy souls who persevered to the end and we’re the poor slobs still making a mess of things down here. But the saints we venerate and request intercession from had many of the same struggles we face in our everyday life.
Take for instance St. Joseph. Have you ever thought much about how he nearly divorced his wife, the Blessed Virgin Mary?
His wife had become pregnant with someone else’s baby (Matthew 1:18). (Yes, Mary and Joseph were married.) Before St. Joseph could decide what to do, he was visited by an angel in a dream.
DIVORCE WAS ALLOWED PRIOR TO THE COMING OF CHRIST
We read in Matthew’s gospel, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (1:18-19).
Out of his humility, feeling unworthy, St. Joseph resolved to leave his pregnant wife.
St. Joseph, a devout Jew, planned to divorce his wife quietly, as allowed in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24:1).
CHRIST’S COMING ESTABLISHED NOT ONLY A NEW COVENANT BUT A NEW MARRIAGE ORDER
Knowing Joseph’s intentions, God sent an angel to St. Joseph. In St. Joseph’s dream, the angel reassured him he was fit for the job of caring for his wife and the preborn Savior of the world.
We read, “But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Jesus’ coming prevented the Holy Family from breaking apart.
Jesus would go on to say, some thirty or so years later in his public ministry that marriage is to be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, not allowing for divorce.
After being asked why Moses allowed for divorce, St. Matthew records Jesus replying the following: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:7-9).
Therefore, in Christ’s own words, this New Covenant He came to establish requires marriage to be a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. Jesus even points out that for one man and one woman to become united for life was the original design of marriage by God from the beginning (Matt 19:4-6).
Christ came to restore the marriage order, renewing it as a lifelong commitment.
This only makes sense. A man-woman marriage here on earth is meant to signify the covenant between God and mankind.
God is forever faithful to us. Married couples are supposed to exhibit this indissolubility in their marriage.
CHRIST UPS THE ANTE, AS HE OFTEN DOES
Once Christ Jesus entered the picture, the stakes were raised.
A rather humorous scene immediately follows in St. Matthew’s gospel:
Upon hearing Christ affirm this teaching on marriage as a lifelong commitment, His apostles grumble, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matthew 19:10).
I guess not much has changed in almost 2,000 years.
Jesus has more to teach us about marriage. Going back to His first public miracle, Christ performed a Eucharistic miracle at the Wedding at Cana. His transforming the water to wine serves as a nod to the connection between wedding vows and His sacrifice on the Cross.
How is that? Let me explain.
Christ poured out His blood, giving His very life for His bride, the Church. In response to His life-giving sacrifice to us, each member of His Church are to give our lives to Him.
Likewise, marriage works the same way, as St. Paul teaches. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Similarly, he implores wives to “be subject to” their husbands, who each serve as the head of the wife and family, as Christ is the head of the Body of Christ (Ephesians 5:22,24).
In another place, St. Paul affirms that this marriage bond in the New Covenant is for life, saying divorce ought not to occur (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
HOW DOES ANY OF THIS APPLY TO US?
St. Joseph would go on to be an exemplary husband for all to imitate. While Mary’s fiat exemplified faith, St. Joseph’s obedience kept the Holy Family together and protected from danger (Matthew 2:13-23).
St. Joseph’s piety, devotion to his bride, and care for his Son earned him the esteem of becoming the Patron Saint for the Universal Church.
We too can grow in sanctity by imitating St. Joseph’s obedience. He trusted in the Lord when his marriage looked bleak, and it paid off for him. In fact, tradition has it that St Joseph holds a special seat to the left of Christ in heaven (Mark 10:40).
We too ought to trust in the Lord in the trials of our married life. If we each practice obedience to love toward our spouse, especially in difficult times, we will be blessed. By doing so, we will gain us many graces to make us saints.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Here in National Marriage Week, I hope this reflection proved helpful to you.
Please share any thoughts you have on Catholic marriages having no room for divorce.
If you disagree with the Church on allowing divorce, then how do make sense of Christ’s words in Matthew 19:7-9 or St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11?
Have you thought much about St. Joseph keeping the Holy Family together, rather than let divorce break it apart?