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what-god-has-joined-togetherLast week, we discussed Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, a beautiful and thought-provoking meditation on the state of the family and marriage in the modern world. Chapter 8, “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness,” has been the most discussed (and controversial) section of this exhortation. In it, the Pope discusses appropriate pastoral approaches to those who are divorced and remarried. It must be noted that this chapter does not change long-held Church teaching on the permanence of marriage but is meant to assist pastors and lay ministers in accompanying those in irregular marriages back into full communion with the Church.

Sadly, nowhere does this exhortation mention the faithful husbands and wives who are the innocent victims of divorce. Many spouses, although civilly divorced, honor their marriage vows until “death separates” (cf. Rom 7:2-3). These spouses are not interested in pursuing annulments; they pray that God in His mercy will heal their broken relationships.

I (Dennis) am one of those people. My late wife divorced me after 11 years of marriage. I honored my marriage vows, continuing to wear my wedding ring throughout our divorce. When I was faced with the prospect of divorce, I scheduled a meeting with my parish priest. What I needed was encouragement and support in the midst of the breakup of my marriage and family. What I got was a pamphlet on annulments. There were no prayers, no discussion of God’s plan for marriage, no encouragement that God could actually heal a broken marriage. I was devastated.

This began a long journey to seek God’s will for my marriage and family. I began to read Scripture and was encouraged by what I read. In the Gospels, I met Jesus Christ and He changed my life. He gave me renewed hope and strength to fight for my marriage. I learned that our God is a god of His word; He honors His covenants.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations… Deuteronomy 7:9

What is God’s view of covenant, specifically the marriage covenant? One only has to look to the Israelites, His chosen people, to understand God’s position regarding covenant. God remained faithful to Israel in spite of her unfaithfulness to Him. In the book of Hosea, God compares Israel to Hosea’s unfaithful wife, Gomer, living a life of prostitution.

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.” Hosea 1:2

After years of adultery and prostitution, Gomer rescues his wife Gomer from a slave market, taking her home to her rightful place.

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.” Hosea 3:1

God is forever faithful to Israel in spite of her unfaithfulness. What if God “divorced” the Israelites, as so many spouses do today when there is unfaithfulness in the marriage? What if God left Israel to her sinful ways? What if God stopped loving the sinner? God would never do such a thing. Yet many today say that He permits that very thing concerning their marriage. God cannot contradict Himself. God never gives up loving, even when He is not loved in return. He expects nothing less from you and me in our marriages. As God does, so should we. The covenant is in effect as long as both parties are still alive.

But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always. Hosea 12:6

God loved Israel, waiting for her return. God expects us to love our spouse always, even when they ignore the marital covenant. God will never stop loving wayward spouses, gently calling them to repentance, luring them home to His loving arms. We are to wait patiently for God to act, never giving up hope.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. 1 Corinthians 1:25

There is no higher wisdom than the wisdom of God. It is foolishness to think that man’s ways could exceed the glory of God. Submit to God’s commands as set forth in His Word. True happiness is only found in being obedient to God.

Like Hosea, I loved my wayward spouse even when she did not love me in return. I obeyed God in honoring my marriage vow “to have and to hold until death separates.” After eight years of divorce, and another civil marriage on the part of my wife, our marriage was healed!

I loved my wife when her health was failing; I gave my all to make her final days as comfortable as possible. One night after cleaning her bottom and dressing her bedsores, she said to me with tears in her eyes, “This is what love is!” Yes, love gives even when it hurts. We need look no further than Jesus, nailed to a cross, to see that love gives especially when it hurts.

God healed my marriage. In the last few weeks, we have witnessed the healing of three marriages that were on the brink of divorce. In this Year of Mercy, God wants to heal marriages!

Returning to Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, this is what he has to say about marriage:

Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society. (AL, 292)

It is through living our marriages according to God’s plan – holy, faithfully and joyfully – that the world will be changed. Pope Francis says, “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy” (AL, 322). Will you be the leaven that changes the world? May God give you the grace to live out your marriage according to the beauty, goodness and truth of His plan!

“Christian couples are, for each other, for their children and for their relatives, cooperators of grace and witnesses of the faith”.[1] God calls them to bestow life and to care for life. For this reason the family “has always been the nearest ‘hospital’”.[2] So let us care for one another, guide and encourage one another, and experience this as a part of our family spirituality. (AL, 321)

[1] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, §11.

[2] Catechesis (10 June 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 11 June 2015, p. 8.