Social Justice: Divorce strikes at the intimacy of love

 

I have been writing about the harm done by divorce in terms of the two ends of marriage: procreation and education of children and the intimacy of love.

Last week, I wrote about the harm that divorce does to children. Now it is time to write something about how divorce strikes at the intimacy of love promised by husband and wife on their wedding day.

In Paris, France, there used to be a bridge to which couples from all over the world would come in order to fasten a lock to the bridge, as a symbol of their undying love; often the couple would even throw the key into the river Seine. Regardless of the actual reality and solidity of the love professed by these couples, their action bears witness to the universality and depth of desire for a marital union built upon an unbreakable love.

I would say that usually, unless there are ulterior motives (like money, fear, or appearance), when a young man and young woman get married they desire to unite their whole lives in an unbreakable bond of love. Even when they are hedging their bets they do so because they are afraid the actual marital life will not work out, even though deep down they long for the unbreakable bond. If they do not give themselves to each other completely, it is not that they lack the desire for such a totality of love, but because they are afraid of being hurt.

Further, there is something truly remarkable, eminently human, and authentically noble in the way that a marriage is established. The man and woman give their word to each other in the presence of witnesses, divine and human. The man and woman give themselves to each other through their pledged word. Properly and humanly a man and woman should give themselves to each other through their word, before they give their bodies to each other. Properly and humanly the bodily union of the marital act should be an expression of the pledged word given at the wedding. The undying love that is sought in marriage is a love that is rooted in a pledged word and in the mutual trust in the pledge that was given.

While simple separation holds on to the hope of reconciliation, which keeps the undying love alive, if only by the thinnest thread, divorce, involves the definitive rejection of the pledge. Adultery betrays the pledge in act but does not deny the pledge in principle. Divorce is the ultimate infidelity to the irrevocable pledge that was once given, pretending to render it void altogether.

This is what divorce does, of itself. What we have now is not just the possibility of divorce under very strict conditions, but a divorce culture rooted in the legal concept of ‘no-fault divorce’, which makes it very easy for one party to the marriage to exit unilaterally. It has been said that marriage is now the only contract for which there is no legal obligation; either party to the contract can violate or render the contract void at will.

Yet, if we speak of marriage as a contract, it is the most fundamental contract of all. If the marriage contract has been rendered meaningless, what is the binding force behind any other contract? If a man and woman are not bound to their word in marriage, how can they be bound to their word in any other circumstance? If the pledged word of the marriage bond is empty, what becomes of truth telling in general? Words no longer have any meaning except to construct fantasy worlds in which we may live as we please and destroy as we please. Life becomes like a virtual reality game. If it doesn’t work out, we can exit and start another game.

This culture of falsehood and unreality produced by the divorce culture attacks and undermines all marriages. Those preparing for marriage, with hopes and desires for an unbreakable bond of love, have their hopes undermined from the beginning because they grew up with experience of divorce and because their desire, planted in their hearts by God, seems unrealistic. Those trying to live a true and faithful marriage instead of finding the support they need to persevere, to meet the challenges, and overcome the difficulties, find themselves abandoned by the larger society that makes it easy for them and in various ways encourages them to exit and move on.

Since marriage is the first and most fundamental human society, the first society in which a man or woman cease to be a mere individuals and become part of a greater unity, the weakening and dissolution of marriage tends to reduce all of society to an assembly of individuals perpetually trying to negotiate relationships to fulfill personal need and convenience, but without any real bond between them – certainly no lasting bond. The divorce culture has opened wide the door to radical individualism and the isolation and loneliness that entails.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.