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Till Death Do Them Part?

Those who are opposed to Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal that some divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed to receive the Eucharist might want to reconsider whether the Church has been wise in allowing the widowed to remarry.

In their critique of Kasper's proposal, a group of American Dominicans points out that there was much disagreement in the early Church about whether widows and widowers should be allowed to remarry. Even many of those who believed they should be allowed to do so thought remarriage should at least be discouraged. But the case for not allowing an abandoned spouse to remarry is very similar to the case for not allowing the widow or widower to remarry—namely, that marriage is indissoluble, a sacramental figuration of Christ's covenant with his Church, a covenant not even death can dissolve. Can one think of another sacrament whose effects are supposed to be nullified by death? [For an obvious answer to this, see Fritz Bauerschmidt's comment below.]

Defenders of the Church's current practice demand that the abandoned spouse persevere in chastity. Why should the Church not demand the same of the widowed? Both are victims of a circumstance beyond their control. One possible response is that the dead never come back to life (or never come back to this life), whereas it is never impossible that someone who abandons his or her wife or husband may repent of it and seek reconciliation. This sort of thing has been known to happen, after all, and when it does, it's can be a profound evidence of grace. It's also exceedingly rare, especially when the unfaithful spouse goes on to have children with another partner.

Practically, then, the abandoned spouse is in the same position as the widow or widower: in both cases, chastity would seem to require heroic virtue. From very early in its history, the church decided not to demand such virtue of widows and widowers, despite its original preference that they not remarry. The question now is why it should demand such virtue of those whose first spouse is "dead to them," often through no fault of their own.

In a certain sense, of course, no one is ever dead to a spouse. A real relationship of some kind persists after estrangement, even after death. Catholics believe in a communion of the living and the dead, which is why a widower, remarried or not, may pray for the soul of his deceased wife. In just the same way, an abandoned wife may pray for a husband who has broken his marriage vows and started a family with someone else. The question is why the church should treat these two people—the widower and the abandoned spouse—so differently. If the early Church's rationale for (grudgingly) permitting widows and widowers to remarry is, in the words of a fourth-century canon quoted by the Dominicans, to make some allowance for "the arising of the fleshly spirit," then why shouldn't the Church be willing, for the same reason, to extend some kind of accommodation to the civilly remarried Catholic whose first spouse abandoned her long ago and is now no more a part of her earthly life than he would be if he were dead?

Did the early Church, in deciding to allow the widowed to remarry, "despair of chastity"? That is the charge that Kasper's Dominican critics level against his proposal. It is a serious one. I wish they would have taken its implications more seriously.




Commenting Guidelines

Isn't Jesus pretty clear that the marriage bond doesn't endure beyond death (Mark 12:18-27)? So clearly the widoweds and not in the same situation as the divorced.


You really should know better.  These Dominicans are among the most conservative Dominicans in the country so we shoud expect that they would adopt the position they do.  If you are sympatheric to their view say so openly.  If not why is this post worthy of dot.Commonweal? Of course the  early Church did not despair of chasity in allowing those widowed to remarry.  It actually found a pastoreal souliton that put chastity on the back burner.  

These Dominicans do not represent the tradition of the Church and I wonder why you are pressing their point here.,

I was thinking the same thing ... "When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven."

Interesting how vowed religious have such strong opinins about a relationship  they have no experience of.

Fritz (and Crystal), 

You make a good point, one that occurred to me while I was writing this post. Perhaps I should have mentioned it. That famous passage in Mark certainly seems to answer the rhetorical question I put in my post: "Can one think of another sacrament whose effects are supposed to be nullified by death?" Maybe not, but no matter: marriage ends with death. It's right there in the red text; end of discussion. Christ's words are arguably clearer on this point than they are about the general indissolubility of marriage—or its sacramentality.

But that leaves us with a another question: Why did the early Church seem to disapprove of second marriages more than first ones? Maybe it was just a matter of a disdain for sex; maybe early Christians thought one marriage was bad enough and two were twice as bad. You were pushing your luck, as it were. But then again, if Paul's "better to marry than to burn" is a good enough reason for a first marriage, why woudn't it be a good enough reason for a second one?

Or possibly the Church's early ambivalence about the widowed remarrying had something to do with the idea that the only good reason for marriage was procreation and old widows could not bear children. Yet many, if not most, widows at the time would still have been young enough to bear children. In any case, I am not aware of any distinction being made between widows before and after menopause.

But if the early church really did understand matrimony as a sacrament (which is far from obvious), it seems at least conceivable that they thought it left a permanent mark on the soul, as other sacraments do. No one would be married in heaven, but one was bound in some way by the sacrament until one's own death. If this was the intuition, it obviously never developed into doctrine, or the church would have ended up forbidding the widowed to remarry. But, as the Dominicans point out, this question was debated for many years.

Apart from this interesting historical question, about which I have no expertise, my main point remains: To demand of a young wife abandoned by her husband that she not have sex for the rest of her life is to require the same kind of heroic virtue that the early Church decided not to require of young (or old) widows. And the Dominicans' intervention fails to distinguish properly between the moral situation of someone who abandons a spouse and someone who is abandoned. Moral realism requires attention to that distinction.


Alan Mitchell,

The reason I did not openly agree with the Dominicans is that I don't agree with them. You should know better than to assume I do, or to assume it's beneath Commonweal's dignity to engage with conservative Dominicans (some of whom happen to be old friends of mine). I do not share your confidence that these Dominicans "do not represent the tradition of the Church," but even if they didn't, why should that be a bar to conversation with them? In case you haven't noticed, dotCommonweal often engages with people who do not represent the tradition of the Church. We've even been known to mix it up with non-Catholics.

Clearly, Pope Benedict encouraged the divorced and remarried to desire the Eucharist


Encouraged to desire it, but forbidden from receiving it. Required to live like brothers and sisters, something that is not required of widows and widowers, for whom it is acknowledged unpractical. Offered spiritual communion as a substitute for the sacrament, as if the real, physical aspect of the Eucharist was not all that important.


In short, twisting themselves into knots rather than acknowledging that they are faced with a contradictory set of requirements that has no satsifactory solution. A courageous move would be to instead choose what is primary in that set and to do away with what is secondary.


As the Eucharist, I think, is more important than marriage, it may be prudent to avoid the sacrament of marriage and substitute a "spiritual marriage" instead, to avoid the risk of being some day trapped and barred from the Eucharist. That could be my advice to young, unmarried people: to avoid the risk of being some day separated from Christ, they should avoid getting married and just make a personal private commitment to their significnt other. It's not as satisfying as a marriage, but if they are serious about protecting their relationship to Christ, in the present state of affairs it seems to me to be the lesser of two evils.


I read the article but could not finish it. I just get to irritated at the anti-sex attitudes inherent in these arguments. I think the entire teaching around erotic love needs to be seriously re-examined. Benedict did this in his encyclical and this is the line we should look at again exploring. Affirm that sexuality is not a necessarily evil but a celebration. The whole ideas of making couples live as "brothers and sisters" as if this is somehow more pure than sex is just off putting. The preening about grace being required to suppress these desires is just irritating. What about the grace required to provide a wonderful orgasm to one's spouse and facilitate a unified experience as one. I know we might recoil at this sentence, and I do writing it (almost 50 years a Catholic and guilt around sex is hard to shake!), but it is true is it not. Do we not share in the creative, unitive aspect of God in the sexual act. Of course it can be distorted like everything else but we should affirm the goodness of sexual desire.

 I see no need to recycle Greek ascetisim, duality, and quasi-Manicheanism. Weren't the Dominicans historically opposed to the Albigensese? Now they sound like them!!

The Song of Songs is clearly an erotic hymn that invariably get "spiritualized" in order to somehow make the clear "fleshly" celebration that pervades that poem palatable. The negativity about the flesh is not the tradition we should be drawing on from the Fathers. We have managed to suppress their anti-Jewish tracts, surely we can somehow sideline these views as they are not part of the deposit of faith.

If we started from that place, we would end up in a different paradigm I am sure.

I did not read the Dominican's critique of Kasper's proposal so I cannot say anything about it.  However, I do not think that the interpretation of Jesus' words that at the Resurrection they will neither marry nor be given in marriage is as univocal as one would think.  John Meyendorff offers an interpretation that does not preclude an eternal marriage bond.  The gist of Meyendorff's interpretation is that in the kingdom the obligation to ensure posterity for one's brother will no longer exist.  For this reason there is no longer any need for the utilty of marriage, but this is not the same thing as rejecting the possibility that something perdures death for those who are married.  Ultimately, Meyendorff interpreted Jesus's statement to be directed towards the Sadducees misunderstandings of the Resurrection, rather than as a statement meaning that marriage is merely earthly.  Meyendorff's position on marriage, more common in Eastern Orthodoxy than in Roman Catholicism, was that marriage is an eternal bond "between two unique and eternal personalities," but that indissolubility of the bond is not "legally absolute."

It is interesting that in Catholicism indissolubility is a property of all valid marriages, even those that are not sacramental (such as a valid marriage between a baptized Christian and a nonbaptized person). However, valid but non-sacramental marriages can be dissolved by the pope.  Only a sacramental marriage is absolutely indissoluble apart from death in the RC Church.  This does raise the question about what exactly the sacrament adds to the marriage.

Theodore Mackin has a section in his book Divorce and Remarriage about Augustine's distinction between the vinculum and the sacramentum of marriage.  In his analysis, he claimed that for Augustine it is not the vinculum itself that is indissoluble, but the sacramentum as a quality of the bond that makes the bond indissoluble.  The sacramentum is what relates the spouses either individually or together to God, rather than to each other, and so "it is something in the soul of each spouse having the same indestructibility as the sacramentum of orders in the soul of an ordained man."

As far as I can tell, very little is clear cut when it comes to marriage. If the author (Matthew Boudway) is asking the question "If remarriage is allowed in the case of death, then why can't remarriage be allowed in other cases?" I think it is a fair question, especially when looked at in the broader tradtion.


"That could be my advice to young, unmarried people: to avoid the risk of being some day separated from Christ, they should avoid getting married"


mmh, if you really want to be legalistic, that means no communion for life, since having sex wih somebody you are not married to is just as much an obstacle to the life of grace if  you have never been married or if you are divorced.

But really, I reject the legalistic spirit of this discussion. The question of marriage is: are we required (and do we need)  to make a complete gift of ourself or not? If yes, can we take it back and give it to somebody else? If not, can situations of grave sacrifice arise? These are substantial human questions. The Church discipline about marriage is just a consequence of the Christian answer to these three questions (yes, no and yes)

" the risk of being some day separated from Christ ... protecting their relationship to Christ"

The idea that one's whole relationship with Jesus is dependent on communion seems very wrong to me.

Carlo L., Your second question -- can we take it back and give it to someone else? -- does not cover all of the possibilities, and it is not the question M.B. and Cardinal K. raised. If one gives her  or his love as an extension of the love of God within, and it is given back, does one have to put it out with the trash as no longer of use to him/herself nor to anybody else? If so, why? One has a pearl of considerable price and because of one mistake, or someone else's mistake, has to (to mix the metaphor) hide it under a bushel?

I am uncomfortable with both the legalsitic spirit and the romantic metaphysics of this discussion.

Tom B.

our vocation is not just to give our "love". When I got married I understood I was giving all of myself TO GOD through my wife. If that is done with full awareness, I don't see how it can be undone. I will grant that many people may not have that awareness. It just means that a large number of marriages are actually null and void.


Carlo L., Well, it has been reported that Pope Francis himself thinks a large number of marriages are actually null and void, and he has heard more confessions than you and I together. Guys who work with the current crop of newlyweds -- almost all of whom give the same home address when they arrive for pre-Cana -- say their primary concerns are the reception hall, dresses for the bridesmaids and the wedding photographer. Some ask for changes in the liturgy to make it more photogenic, and the real, underlying motivation seems to be that grandma doesn't want to die without attending her granddaughter/grandson/'s church wedding. (If I exaggerate, it's only by a little.)

What are we going to do with those youngsters when and if they ever wake up? Tell them to take a vow of celibacy? That's sure to put them right back in Cuckooland.


But Carlo, God, to whom you say one is giving oneself through one's spouse, will survive the death of one's spouse. So why is that gift undone by the spouse's death? And how is it that one is able to give oneself to God again through another spouse after the first one dies? And if a widower can give himself to God through a second spouse, why can't someone who's been deserted by their first spouse do the same? 


...When I got married I understood I was giving all of myself TO GOD through my wife. If that is done with full awareness, I don't see how it can be undone. I will grant that many people may not have that awareness. It just means that a large number of marriages are actually null and void.

Ah, new grounds for annulment: not sharing Carlo's understanding of marriage.

death = the end of the life of a person or organism

abandon = discontinue before completion


since they are not the same situation, there is no reason to treat them the same.  Focusing on the similarities and ignoring the differences doesnt lead to a just conclusion but rather confuses everyone. 


I am not arguing that death and abandonment are the same phenomenon. I am arguing only that the situation of the widow and that of the abandoned spouse are similar in important respects. Both are deprived of a natural good by circumstances beyond their control.

I don't know why people are picking on Carlo.

I didn't get married with the idea that I was going to love God THROUGH Raber, but even though I was an Anglican at the time, I did have an idea that marriage would be my "monastery"--a place where both of us would become better and more connected to Christ. And also a place where the perpetual sameness would often be a big drag, where living with someone else's qurks would grate sometimes, and a place where constant compromise would create tensions. I assumed that common decency, trust, welcoming of children, the ability to keep my trap shut, and a mutual affinity for Coen brothers movies would smooth the way.

Every couple has to work out the "rule" of their "monastery," it's so much more than about sex and the Big O, or even reproduction and, by extension, sexual congress and whether it's being performed correctly, with sufficient openness to life. Many marriages last long after sex is no longer possible due to illness and age has made openness to life completely irrelevant.

I think focusing more on the corporal acts of mercy might be a better way to look at marriage. I wonder if young couples are asked to imagine themselves performing these for their spouses?

Can they feed the hungry and thirsty, clothe the naked, and house the homeless by contributing to a livable wage and living within their means?

Can they tend to a sick spouse by changing dressings, keeping a thousand meds straight, give up time to go to doctor appointments, clean up bodily fluids?

Can they visit their spouse when imprisoned, whether it's in jail or the hospital or trapped in a condition such as mental illness, addiction, or a final illness?

Can they soothe a dying spouse and provide a decent burial?

After death, when you can no longer perform these acts for your spouse, how does the relationship, as a marriage, anyway, continue? And why, if you are called to the vocation of marriage again, would it be good to deny yourself and the other person the grace of these acts?

Tom Blackburn,

As someone who has been involved in our marriage preparation program for several years, you exaggerate not much at all.  I don't mean to suggest that when we got married  so many years ago now those weren't concerns, but I have a sense that something is missing in terms of the role of the sacrement.  To some extent, I think it is fair to say that at least in the west, the Church has lost a generation.  I have opinions on why, and a huge one is the John Paul II priests and bishops, but there are many other factors.  the idea that a married couple live as "brother & sister" for example, demonstrates an complete and utter misunderstanding of the role of sex in a healthy marriage, and frankly a healthy life.  It is this thing to be "conquored" and used only to reproduce rather than a gift to be cherished and yesw, enjoyed for its own value.

The Church (or Aquinas, at least) claims that grace builds upon nature and allows scientific inquiry into the physical creation of the universe, the development of the Bible, and the historical Jesus, etc. This increase in knowledge is supposed to enhance our understanding of our faith.

If a group of scientists concluded that the universe wasn't created in the Big Bang but is eternal, I doubt the Church would call them out and state that those scientists are in error. The creation myth in Genesis would be interpreted, as it is today, as not a scientific record. It remains a source of spiritual insight.

However, when the same modern science reveals that marriage has evolved in concert with our modes of material reproduction in order for us to flourish and thrive -

Hunter/Gatherer: group marriage, Pastoralism: patriarchal polygamy, Agrarianism: brideprice/dowry, Labor Age: partnerships between workers (e.g., the modern "job" often makes or breaks this type of marriage) - 

 - the Church claims that a scientific error has been made. How can scientific inquiry into marriage and sexuality be more threatening to the Church that an inquiry into the historical Jesus?


I've noticed in old censuses on that women who had been abandoned or whose husbands maintained a second family (as was common in the good old days), or who were separated, or who were divorced (uncommon), sometimes gave "Widowed" as their marital status to the enumerators.



Agree, Brian.  Marriage has evolved like everything else.  (Including life expectancy.)


I probably missed all this stuff in my RCIA classes, but from where comes the ideas of what God thinks marriage should be like?  Aside from what Jesus said about divorce, I'm not aware of any advice from Jesus/God on marriage.  Adam and Eve don't appear to have been married.  "Biblical marriage"  was certainly not ideal.  How did it get to thought of as a sacrament when it wasn't instituted by Jesus?  It seems odd that Augustine, whose own personal life was a train wreck in that area  ;)  should be the expert on marraige.  Sorry - lots of questions.

Tom B.

"What are we going to do with those youngsters when and if they ever wake up?"

That's an easy one. Recognize the nullity of the first "wedding" and tell them to REALLY get married.



"So why is that gift undone by the spouse's death?"

I am not sure I understand your point. Why should be undone?  It can either be renewed in a second marriage, or continued in spiritual communion with the dead spouse, or even take a new form as consecrated virginity.

Perhaps I misunderstood your question?

Matthew, many thanks for that link to the critique from the American Dominicans.  For what it's worth, I don't expect Cardinal Kasper's proposal to be adopted by the upcoming synods.  (I should qualify that by noting that Pope Francis certainly is full of surprises!)  Perhaps, somehow, some day, in some way, what Cardinal Kasper desires may come to pass, but I'd think that the arguments presented by the Dominicans need to be taken into account and responded to if that is ever to happen.  

Jean Hughes Raber,

As so often, you make great sense and offer critical insights from the essence of Christian ethics.  Thank you very much.

Young people, especally young people in love, are pobably not that keen on such topics.   But they are not so keen, in my experience, on irregular verbs, the calculus of variations, or the bones of the human hand, but we find it well that, if committed to such areas for their future, they deal with some of the hard bits, even back at the beginning.

Mark L.

John Prior:

"Ah, new grounds for annulment: not sharing Carlo's understanding of marriage"

Unfortunately, I cannot make any claim of originality. It's all in the Church Fathers, the Cathechism etc.

Jean:   Thank you for those wonderful questions for a couple thinking of marriage.  I'm going to make use of them in the future.

I was at a wedding yesterday, a civil ceremony, with the remarks of the officiant a series of clichés and banalities.  They reminded me of another I attended back in the early 1970's at which the couple were told to compose their own vows. Hers to him went: "I choose you to be the window through which I will look out at the universe."  Eight or nine months later, she left him, and the common remark was, "I guess the window got fogged up."

Someone yesterday asked me who wrote the traditional vow--"for better, for worse," etc., and I said I didn't know. The authorship of such texts is often lost in the mists of the past.  Does anyone know how far back it goes?

As for the Dominicans' text:  If anyone thinks such arguments are not going to be posed at the upcoming Synod or that they don't have to be responded to, I think he's dreaming.

Perhaps I misunderstood your question?

Yes, Carlo, I think maybe you do. I understand how a marriage could be "continued in spiritual communion with the dead spouse, or even take a new form as consecrated virginity," but I don't know what it means for it to be "continued" in a second marriage. If, in marriage, you give yourself totally and irrevocably to one person, how could you ever do this a second time? And if you can do it a second time, why is it necessary that the first person to whom you gave yourself be dead? Is the original gift undone by the death of the recipient—the gift restored to the giver, as it were—and if so, why? Because the recipient can no longer make use of it? In that case, it does not make much sense to speak of continuing the gift by means of spiritual communion with the dead spouse, except insofar as one is in communion with all the faithful who have died. 

Fr. K,

The Dominicans' text might be brought up at the synod, but all this will do (it seems to me) is highlight even more the extreme chasm between how Catholics live their lives and the way the leaders of the church think they should.  The majority of the respondents to the Vatican survey, from Asia to the UK,  showed Catholics mostly do not accept or follow the church's teachings on marriage, divorce, sex, etc.  At some point doesn't the church have to take seriously the V2 idea that it can learn from both the faithful and the world?


I take it that in your last sentence, the word "church" means the hierarchy.  If so, yes, the hierarchy can learn both from the lay faithful and from the world.  It also has to learn, as you know, from the Scriptures and tradition and from Christ himself whose words about divorce are among the best-attested in the New Testament and were met with astonishment by his hearers then, too, which didn't lead him to retract or soften them.

Ever since I read those surveys of Catholic opinion on racial matters back in the 1950s, I've been hesitant about identifying opinion-polls with the sense of the faithful or about making direct inferences from them to theological conclusions or ethical imperatives.


Sorry, I meant to add this to my previous comment: the Dominican authors call for retaining the mandatory appeal of annulment cases.  I'd like to see the mandatory appeal become optional, just as appeals are optional in civil legal cases.  The authors argue that the mandatory appeal serves a sort of quality-control function, as the tribunals of first instance are more likely to be sticklers for correctness if they know that the case will be reviewed.  Perhaps, but an optional appeal may serve the same someone-may-look-over-my-shoulder-someday function, and I suspect that majority of annulment cases will be greatly expedited.

I'd like to see three reforms of the annulment process:

  • Make it quicker - the authors rightly call for more resources at the diocesan level; I would argue that discontinuing the mandatory appeal also would help in this respect
  • Make it cheaper - dioceses should bear the costs of annulment proceedings.  Annulments can cost $1,000 or more.  That is a lot of money for most people.  Most/all dioceses will waive some or all of the fee, but that is still an extra hoop to jump through.  I am convinced that the need to spend money and/or to apply for a waiver scares off applicants
  • Make it predictable - if an applicant knows that her case will be resolved in no more than six months (three months would be even better), she can plan her life after the annulment.  It is difficult to do that if it is not known when the decision will be made, and if the time horizon might stretch for a year or more.  Here would be a practical consideration: an annulment that is applied for at the time of Easter Vigil should be resolved by the time the next cycle of RCIA is ready to begin.


JP - if the process is not pastoral and focused more on supporting individuals thru small groups, individual counseling, classes on setting up their lives again, etc.; would suggest that annulments serve no purpose.  (all it does is kill trees with its endless paper trails, etc.)

Have two good friends on the Dallas diocese tribunal (more than 25 years each) and they hope that the system is not only simplified but eliminated in some cases.

Fr. K,

Yes, the scripture bit about divorce is hard to get around.  It haunted me for years after I first became a Catholic, because I was divorced.  I finally decided to believe in what I thought was the spirit of what Jesus said rather than the letter, but that may be kind of self-serving.

Bruce July 28, 2014 - 12:02pm

death = the end of the life of a person or organism


OR the marriage itself.


"So why is that gift undone by the spouse's death?"


The Mormons don't think it is ... marriage seals for time and eternity.  I don't know what they do about marriages after one spouse dies and the other remarries, but that's their problem, not mine.

Jim, the vow is 'till death do us part" so its doesnt end until death, despite whatever the participants or civil courts claim.


They may be similar in important respects, but they are not identical.  For example, in virtually all cases of death, the surviving spouse can say they had no responsibility for the death; but how many abandoned spouses can make the same claim?  Not many, because the relationship involves both spouses, neither can claim absolutely no responsibility IMHO

Bruce ... but "death" of whom or what?  A dead marriage is a dead marriage, whether the spouses are still around or not, and in spite of which one (or both) caused the death.

We have all known bitter, nastry, self-destructive relationships that continue to define themselves as marriages in spite of a lack of love, repecting the other, fidelity, ad nauseum.  Would someone care to tell me what those relationships are considered to still be a marriage? 

Maybe it is time to admit that God has NOT joined all couples together in matrimony, irrespective of whether the joining was witnessed by a priest or not.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is not a swan.

Jean Raber Hughes,

Your description of the "monestary" and viewin gmarriage in the context of the works of mercy is wonderful.  A concept that I have witnessed and have been trying to put words to for some time.  Yours is far better than anything I've come up with.  I hope you have no objection if I steal it when we next have a marriage prep session.  Interesting to that you rightly point out that marriage is a vocation.  Something that is often lost.  Thanks for the reminder.

I think there are many Catholics, including ordained men, whose grasp of marriage in general and the sacrament of matrimony in particular is very weak.   

Perhaps because the marrying couple are the ministers of the sacrament, it is regarded as less important than those reserved to ordained men.  Instruction about the matter, form, theology, history, etc., of the sacrament seems to be neglected in schools, including seminaries.

Perhaps the liberation of women has made some priests reluctant to emphasize certain teachings.

Reading the article on the Sacrament of Marriage in the venerable Catholic Encyclopedia might clear up or add to some of the confusion.



I'd like to echo gratitude for Jean's remarks. My wife and I have been married for 38 years, and we don't take tomorrow for granted.

Brian Doyle sometimes writes for Commonweal. I enjoyed his little essay, "Irreconcilable Dissonance":

Anybody's welcome to take my thoughts on the corporal acts of mercy and marriage, but, Catholics, you need to start thinking this stuff up on your own and stop relying on apostates like me to articulate it for you. 

Moreover, these are ideals, and I'd hate to think of anyone telling Our Young People they're going to perform these acts perfectly. And sometimes in marriage there are periods in which it takes all the mercy you can muster not to mash your husband's tiny head with a brick. 

"The window through which I choose to view life"? My Lord, I'd have run away from anybody who said that slop to me. 


Unfortunately, I cannot make any claim of originality. It's all in the Church Fathers, the Cathechism etc.


If you had cited the Church Fathers in your comment at 8:07 am, the claim would have been equally dubious, but not so bumptiously ipse dico.

But can a couple, in fact, obtain an annulment simply by claiming that at the time of the wedding they were unaware that they were giving themselves to God through the other party? Even I, with ideas far less rigorous than the Church's, find that a little too facile.

Carlo L., Well, I have to say that when it comes to the romantic metaphysics of marriage Bruce seems to have you beat. But:

"What are we going to do with those youngsters when and if they ever wake up?"

That's an easy one. Recognize the nullity of the first "wedding" and tell them to REALLY get married.

Role play for a moment. You are a pastor, and a couple whose wedding you presided at 15 years ago comes in and says, "Hey, we just made a retreat, and we both get it now. Holy cow, were we ever out of it. We want to get married seriously this time, so just recognize the nullity of the sacrament you performed 15 years ago, and when can we book the church to do it right?" Do you go along with that? Does your peer group? Does the Vatican when their story goes viral?


Occasionally I see a marriage that makes me envious. Each of the spouses seems to be a better person   than they were individually when they were single. Their spouse gives them support and makes them less fearful, more open to life, that is, less likely to be stuck in reactions or attitudes that would prevent them from having lives that shine. They are not focused solely on themselves and on their children but are turned outwards, and the world around them benefits from their presence. They do things that neither of them would have been capable of alone. When I think of them individually, I am puzzled by their success as human beings given their limitations, and I have to acknowledge that there is something in their union that transcends both of them, that is bigger than themselves, and it is a little bit mysterious.

Case in point: I have heard about people, during WWII, hiding some Jewish youth in their homes. About one couple, one might say: "On their own, they might have taken the risk, but it was too risky: they were married with children and had to think of the still young children and of their responsibility as parents, and so, naturally, it was not possible for them to provide a hiding place. It would have been irresponsible." - for those, marriage is turned inwards, their family is, at best, like a little shelter that they feel protects them from the vast and frightening world, but it primarily limits them, puts further obstacles in their way in their lives. About another couple, one might say: "Each of them on their own might not have taken the risk, but together, they felt stronger and more able to look beyond their fears. Their relationship and relationship with their children made them more sensitive to what they have in common with the rest of humanity, so that they could not ignore the plight of the Jewish people and were compelled to act in spite of the risks." For those, marriage is turned outwards. It brings forth the best in each of the spouses, and they shine.

I am not sure how marriage accomplishes that, but I imagine that it has to do with being present to one another, day in and day out. I look down on marriages where one spouse acts or talks as though they have figured the other one out, declaring: "He/she is doing x because he always [...]" or otherwise indicating that long habit has made them so used to the other person that they have a fixed image of him or her and interact according to their interpretation of their spouse's behavior, an interpretation borne from experiences from the past. A glance is enough to inform them of what they think is the other person's state, and they feel no need to look further. They don't really look or listen to the other person any more, they are not really attentive to them, and an outside observer can easily see little signs of alienation, when each person, in reality, is alone, isolated from their spouse by their loss of interest, by the force of habit, and by the weight of expectations coming from their years living side by side since marriage. It is extremely common. Often, marriage still brings them something, say, some basic company, physical contact, and the financial security that comes from being able to rely on one another and mutual trust that they will provide for one another, and that is no little commitment; but I feel that something is missing. They have lost the freedom to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives, and they have not gained the energy that arises from the deep connection with another human being. They don't "shine", and I have not the least  desire to follow into their footsteps.


marriage --a place where both of us would become better and more connected to Christ.

That's a wonderful summary.


"for better, for worse,"

One thing that young couples are not always aware of is that "for worse" does not necessarily mean external factors such as disease or unemployment, but, in reality, primarily refers to internal factors. What does one do when one's spouse is so focused on their children or on their work that they ignore their spouse, when they are happier away from their spouse than in his or her presence, when they are always negative or angry or constantly belittle their spouse, or when they recede into silence and behave as though their spouse did not exist, when they seem very unhappy but refuse to share their worries, when, perhaps, they are tempted by suicide, when their contact seems repulsive, when the bond of marriage is like a chain that brings people down and there is no issue in sight? Even if there is no abuse nor adultery, the marriage is not well. Most marriages go through such times, but hopefully not for extended periods. What is the engaged couple's idea of what they will do when their spouse behaves like an enemy? Are they committed to a lifelong marriage even if the relationship is dead and a source of misery? That's what "for worse" means.


Tom B.

well, are we seaking in principle or in practice? Not having the correct intention IS ground for annullment, as far as I recall. How that should be decided in practice, is a different question. SOme people say the current canonical process is too cumbersome, there may be way to simplify it. This topic is tangentially touched in a new interview with Card. Muller that came out today, see



John Prior:

"But can a couple, in fact, obtain an annulment simply by claiming that at the time of the wedding they were unaware that they were giving themselves to God through the other party?"

Well, in the wording I used that would be open to discussion. But in substance it is very much a possibility, see again the Muller interview I mentioned to Tom B., especially where he talks about Corecco's suggestion.