My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not Ours to Change

Lately, I have been reflecting a lot on marriage and divorce; so I turned to my beloved Fulton Sheen to see what timeless Truth he spoke about marriage.

In his 1936 book The Moral Universe, Sheen speaks of the permance of marriage, and why the Catholic Church emphasizes this so strongly:

In the eyes of the Church, therefore, marriage is a permanent union patterned upon the abiding love of Christ for His Church, and not a terminable pact of selfish passion which endures only as long as the passion endures. By upholding such an ideal, by asking such a guarantee, and by teaching the sacredness of a vow, the Church makes marriage serious. It practically tells the young couple the same thing the sign over the cashier's desk tells the customer: "Count your change. No mistakes rectified after leaving the window." ... Hence, the Church refuses to permit anyone to loosen the bond which has kept millions normal, and therefore will not allow any man or woman, who gets himself or herself into a hole, to burrow like a mole and undermine the whole mountain of society.  She believes that if people cannot mind their own business, which is the business of loyalty, then she will not free them to mind someone else's business, or someone else's babies. To her, the hilarity associated with divorce is like the hilarity of grave diggers in a city swept by pestilence; she is opposed to divorce not because she is unmodern, but because marriage makes people two in one flesh, and they can no more be severed during the incarnate life of their mutual love than a head can be severed from a body.
The first point Sheen makes here is that marriage is a sacred union. It is not something invented by the whim of a man or a woman; it is an image of Christ and His Church, as Paul says in Eph. 5:31-32: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church."

Christ loves His Church--so much that He laid down His Life for Her, as Paul says a few verses earlier (25, 26): "Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life." He loves His spotless Bride, and it is impossible for Him to stop loving Her.

"Well, that's all well and good," you may say, "but He was God, so He can love forever. I'm not God. What happens when I stop loving my wife? Because it's going to happen."

Yes, dear reader, you have a point: those feelings won't last.  Sheen himself refers to those who think of marriage as "a terminable pact of selfish passion which endures only as long as the passion endures." The passion will fade. The gooey, warm feelings of "love" will not last.

And it is at that point that you have to remember that marriage is something God created, and, as such, it transcends our fickle and malleable feelings. If marriage were only about the feelings, if the Sacraments were based only on our feelings, then Christ might have given up on His spotless Bride when He felt abandoned on the Cross. He might have taken that feeling of abandonment as the end, and just given up...and then where would we be?

However, He did not give up; He held to the Truth; and so, His Church clings to the Truth which is His Cross, as Sheen writes in The Divine Romance:

The divinely supreme miracle of Christ's whole life and the whole life of the Church is that she does not come down. The miracle of the crucifixion is the fact that Christ still hangs there.  ...  The miracle is to be able to come down, and yet not to come down. It is human to come down, but it is divine to hang there. It would be easy for the Church to come down; to have been Gnostic in the first century; to have been Arian in the fourth, and to be pagan in the twentieth. It is always easy to let the age have its head, but it is difficult to keep one's own. It is always easy to fall; there are a thousand angles at which a thing will fall but only one at which it stands, and that is the angle at which the Church is poised between Heaven and earth. From that angle she o'erlooks the passing fads and fancies of the ages, and sings over them in deep and sonorous tones a requiem in the language of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, awaiting the day when she shall come down to walk in the glory of her new Easter morn.
The Church's teaching on marriage cannot change; Christ cannot give her her head, as it were, and let her do whatever she wishes. Marriage was God's idea, not man's; therefore it is subject to His rules--the rules enacted by His Church, under His guidance--not man's rules, which change even more quickly than one century changes to another, as Sheen notes in his 1943 Philosophies at War:
The superstition of Relativism tells us there is no distinction between truth and error, right and wrong; everything depends upon one's point of view. All values are relative and depend entirely upon the way people live in any generation. If in the twentieth-century they live monogamously, then monogamy is right; if in the future, they live polygamously, then polygamy is right.
All of these arguments are good and sound; but logic is not going to change our nation. Sheen continues in Philosophies at War:
We as Christians have argued with those who believe in divorce...but our arguments convinced no one. Not because the arguments were not sound. That is the trouble. They are too good! Good reasons are powerless against emotions. Like two women arguing over back fences, we are arguing from different premises. The majority of people who are opposed to the stability and continuity of family life, for the most part do not believe in the moral law of God. They may say they believe in God, but it is not the God of Justice. Few believe in a future life, entailing Divine Judgment, with the possible sanction of eternal punishment. Even professed Christians among them when confronted with the text: "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mark 10:9), will retort that God never intended that it should be so. 
They argue from the need of pleasure, the necessity of avoiding sacrifice, and the primacy of the economic. We argue from the Eternal Reason of God rooted in nature, the teachings of His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the world.

What is going to convince our fellow-men that marriage is a permanent union between one man and one woman, that marriage is a bond that lasts until death, that no man or human institution can redefine marriage, is one thing: our example. Not just the example of faithfully married couples, but the example of single people, how we women let men treat us, and how men treat women.

Women: stand up for yourselves. Even if your father walked away, don't let that make you think that all men can walk away from you or can walk all over you. Even if your mother came up with a flimsy excuse to leave your father...stay committed to your husband and to those vows you made before God and His Church.

Men: treat every woman you meet like a princess. You don't know how she's been wounded. And if you do recognize it, if you do see her brokenness, don't take advantage of it. Your example of respect and gentleness is what she needs to admit that she's been wounded and that she needs to heal.

Married couples: as a child of divorce, I am begging you: remain faithful to your marriage vows! "Stay together for the kids!" Your children need you, not singly, not separately, but as a whole, married couple. Even if they see you fight, they will be more impacted by you staying together for their sake, then if you split up so they won't have to see you fight. Give your kids that witness. Love even if the feelings are gone. Lay down your life for your spouse.

Because selfless love...not based on feelings, not proven only by words and never by what will change our country.

God Love Y'All!

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