Closing the Loophole
Divorce really is the problem behind remarriage
When Christ gave to His followers freedom from the law, He was, in essence, promising them freedom from reliance on loopholes. No longer bound toes to a line, our feet were unshackled to roam the fields of freedom. The problem is that reliance on loopholes has a certain appeal to it, a certain gravity, if you will, that draws us back to that line. This gravity, of course, is from the Fall, and if we are not careful, the hardness of our hearts can shackle us once more. All of this is said by way of introduction to a critique on the way in which the Church currently presents her teaching on marriage and divorce.
Any number of times I have heard someone within the Church say something like this: “It isn’t really divorce that is the problem, but remarriage.” They then cite Our Lord’s words in response to the loophole-seeking Pharisees, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk 10:11-12). The ecclesial elocutionist would be entirely right if that is all Our Lord said about the issue. They would be right if all Our Lord wanted to do was to help us avoid crossing the adulterous line. It is only a modern day legalism when mixed with a serving of no-fault divorce that causes us to highlight what was really only mentioned by Jesus as an aside. The context suggests that what Christ was really concerned with was eliminating divorce. The Church does and should have a problem with her children not merely avoiding adultery but avoiding divorce.
Our Lord tells the Pharisees that divorce was never a part of God’s plan; that is, it is wrong and was only granted as a concession through Moses because of man’s hardness of heart. Christ in his great act of softening hearts now empowers man and woman to do what was hitherto impossible—remain faithful to their marital covenant. This ought to give us pause because Our Lord is saying two things. First, that marriage as a merely human venture is a practical impossibility. For two people to live together faithfully until death parts them is nearly impossible. But this is not the last word. Secondly, Jesus is promising the grace to make it possible. This is the Good News. For Our Lord never issues a command without empowering His children to uphold it. And in this marriage is no different. Through the Sacrament of Marriage the couple is able to gain access to the power of the Cross so as to live out the command of indissolubility. This is why the Church is so liberal in declaring when a valid sacramental marriage has occurred. The ministers (spouses) need only be validly baptized to have received the Sacrament of Matrimony.
We now begin to glimpse why the Church thinks and should profess that divorce is wrong. Permanent marriage is a fruit of the Cross. To turn a blind eye to divorce is to rob the Cross of its power. The bad news of divorce can only be countered by the Good News of the Gospel. The Church betrays her mission by not insisting upon the permanence of marriage in everything she says and does. In a world where divorce is too easily obtained, permanent marriage is a testimony to the Gospel. The enemies of the Church have sought to change the culture. Faithful Christian marriage is like a counter-punch by protecting the foundation of the culture, the family. It becomes a true grassroots movement through which the culture is permanently changed.
Another effect of loophole lifestyle is that, rather than proving the rule, the exception becomes the rule. Our Lord’s prohibition was not absolute. With the proliferation of no-fault divorce, we have no idea how many cases there are of abuse but we can assume that they are a relative minority. So, there are times when divorce must be tolerated even if it is never accepted. A spouse may be in danger and needs to be physically separated. But this physical separation can never sever the one-flesh union that was created when they exchanged vows. In other words, it is not really an exception at all but instead a mode of living apart, even if permanently. One of the spouses may have betrayed the vows, but this can never end up in re-marriage. The initial victim eventually may also betray vows.
The amount of energy being expended to find loopholes to allow “remarried” couples back to Communion only serves to rob the Cross of its power. Instead the Church should devote her energies to strengthening marriage and proclaiming her teachings to the rooftops.