Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”
He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
Today we hear Jesus talking about the sanctity of marriage. It is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman and God. Divorce only came into the picture, Jesus says, “because of the hardness of your hearts….”
This is the background to the Church’s teaching on the sacredness of marriage. It is not something that we should take lightly. It is a commitment for life, as is priesthood and religious life. Lifetime commitments are very difficult for us to keep these days.
So why does the Church allow annulments and what is an annulment? An annulment is not a Catholic divorce. When a couple gets validly married in the Church, two things are happening simultaneously – there is a civil marriage and a Sacramental marriage. When a couple gets divorced, a civil divorce is meant to dissolve the civil marriage. But the Church does not recognize the civil divorce, because we believe that in the eyes of God, the couple is still bonded by the Sacrament of marriage.
This is where the annulment comes into play. The annulment process looks at the time of the marriage – did each person in this couple enter into this Sacramental marriage with their full will and intellect? In other words, did they freely choose this marriage without any impediments? If either person did not enter this lifetime covenant with their full consent, then the Church says that it was not a Sacramental marriage. The civil marriage did happen – which means that any children from the bond are legitimate (this is a common misunderstanding).
I am not a canon lawyer, nor do I want to answer every question there is on the annulment process. But I wanted to show that the Catholic Church takes marriage very seriously because Jesus does as well. I also realize that someone reading this may have gone through a difficult divorce and possibly an annulment. I understand that there are reasons (“unless the marriage is unlawful”) that would allow the marriage to be dissolved. We pray for healing and new life in these situations.
Do I take my marriage vows or priestly/religious vows seriously?
Do I recognize the commitment that I made to my spouse?
Do I see how seriously Jesus takes marriage?
These are challenging questions for all of us to ponder. Jesus never said it would be easy, but He did promise us the grace to get through anything.