I just learned that a Catholic couple I have known for years have divorced. I know nothing of the case, and if I did, I wouldn't rehearse it here anyhow. But I have to say how deeply shocked I am at this news.
Oh, I know that makes me soft and out of date. But on this topic I retain the instincts of the close family in which I was blessed enough to be raised. I know it is a part of our every day life nowadays. Even monarchs in waiting divorce!
And of course there are times when divorce might be the only option for an irreparably broken situation that needs legal closure for the benefit of all concerned. I'm not talking about the farcical concept of the 'death of a marriage' which one Anglican theologian recently cited to me in conversation. I'm talking about the practicalities of life which result from marital breakdown.
But I am, and hopefully will remain, dumbfounded at the spectacle of Catholics who divorce. I know we can all wander into dark places. I also know how paralysing such places can be, how they can sap our resources and undermine even our basic aptitude for good will. We are all victims of our fallen human nature. And in a marriage it requires not one but two people to cooperate. But still, the end of a marriage, or the end of a commitment to live out the marital vows together, seems to fill me with dread.
I don't think I feel this way only because I'm now seventeen days from my own wedding! I think it is because Christian marriage is sacramental before it is functional. At least it is thus from a theoretical point of view. In the concrete it is surely the living out of that functionality which the sacrament makes possible. But marriage is like a living icon, not only of the mystery of Christ and the Church but also of the possiblity of human solidarity. It is so deeply embedded in the psyches of those involved that its destruction leaves a legacy that can last a lifetime and pass from one generation to the next. Divorce among Catholics (and not only them) is as shocking as seeing a church gutted by fire or a favourite statue smashed by hooligans. Somehow what it represents or symbolises is also degraded by the destruction of the symbol.
Obviously nobody can take the security of such a human endeavour for granted. I know the theory and I have yet to live out the reality. Every marriage surely has its dark times and its pains. Many are unknown to anybody outside the relationship.
But isn't that the point? If we cannot take pain - and who among us lives it well with ease? - are we not going back on those baptismal promises we made at baptism? If we agreed to be conformed to Christ, how did we ever acquire a taste for the roses rather than the thorns? Well, of course we all want to be happy, but even if a philosophy of happiness could stop us getting into the dark places, but it is hard to practice once we are in them. There, we are in need of some stronger medicine or some brighter light. When I reflect on those who have divorced, I can only wonder at their confusion and pain and at the difficulty they encountered in finding some solution.
Please pray for this couple and for some miracle of grace to repair what is otherwise beyond repair. And God preserve us all from the blasphemies we commit when our choices sever us from the divine wisdom.