Let’s say John and Sue walk down the aisle to be married. They are both unmarried and there are no impediments to their marrying each other (such as being closely related, too young, etc.) They freely vow to each other the three essential aspects of marriage: unity, indissolubility, and openness to children.
At this exchange of consent, God forms between the two a spiritual bond. If we were guests at the wedding and were able to see as God sees, we would see John and Sue walk back down the aisle different from the way they walked in. We could imagine it looking like a powerful tether joined the two… no matter where they are on the globe, that tether stretches from one to the other.
This bond is the marital bond, and it is only broken by death. As Jesus said in the Gospels, speaking of marriage, “They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (Mark 10:9) Since marriage is a total, unconditional gift of self between husband and wife, it follows that marriage would not have an expiration date or escape clauses. It cannot be broken by a judge’s decree; it does not end by the desires of one spouse or the other; it is not broken by adultery or other grave offenses. This marital bond can only be broken by the death of John or Sue.
Sometimes there are serious reasons for a married couple to live separately, such as domestic violence. There may even be situations where the couple divorces civilly. In such cases of separation or divorce, John and Sue are still married in God’s eyes, even though they now have separate households. The state would declare that the couple is no longer civilly married, but this doesn’t affect their spiritual bond. After all, the State of South Carolina can change legal realities, but not spiritual ones: it can’t break what God has joined.
John and Sue would still be called to be faithful for life to one another, until their marital bond is dissolved by death. They would not be free to date or pursue another marriage. If they are Catholic, John and Sue would be free to participate normally at Mass, since they are still being faithful to their marriage vows.
Some thoughts for prayer and discussion:
- Have you ever thought about the fact that there is a difference between being married in the eyes of God and being married in the eyes of the State?
- For decades, laws have made it increasingly easy for couples to end their civil marriages. How has this affected our cultural ability to see marriage as a lifelong commitment?
- If you are married, are there conditions that you have consciously or unconsciously placed on your marriage? (For example, “I can only be married as long as this or that is the case!” or “If this or that happens, it’s over!”) If so, why not bring this to the Lord in prayer and talk to him about it?
— Father Andrew