The 2013 movie “Frozen” was a huge hit for Disney studios. About halfway through the film a character makes an extraordinary statement, “love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” It really is not more complicated than that.
I say it is an extraordinary statement because it conveys a transcendent truth. It echoes the words of Jesus, “no greater love has a man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.”
This is a true story: Barbara and Matt were popular, wealthy, and well-traveled. After they had been married for only one year, Matt was in a horrible car accident. When they got him to the hospital and stabilized his condition, they discovered that he was paralyzed from the neck down.
When the doctors told Barbara, she was devastated. All their wonderful plans were shattered in an instant. When Matt regained consciousness and the doctors told him what had happened, he asked to see his wife.
They each tried to smile through their tears. He told her that he knew she didn’t marry him in order to stay home and take care of a cripple, in order to spend her life celibate and childless. He told her that he knew she would be happier if she left him and found someone else. He told her he would understand.
Barbara went out of the hospital room, sat down, and cried.
A few minutes later, she came back in, knelt beside Matt’s bed, took his hand, and through her tear-stained faced she said: “I will never, never, leave your side.”
God gave us the institution of marriage; the lifelong irrevocable union of one man and one woman. This union was necessary not only so that children may be raised and cared for by a father and a mother, but also because we need each other, as helpmates. It is part of God’s design that we complete each other, draw strength from each other, and contribute to one another’s spiritual growth. From the very beginning, marriage was a sacred union.
But marriage is difficult. It is not easy for two people to live together, day in, day out, year after year, through good times and bad, living with each others faults and failings. It is not easy to help another person grow in holiness in spite of those flaws.
It is not easy to be a parent, suddenly faced with the responsibility of raising a child who depends on you for everything.
If there was ever a state in life that cried out for God’s grace, it is matrimony.
Holy Matrimony is a sacrament of the Church. As a sacrament it conveys God’s grace to those who receive it. As a newly wed couple turns away from the altar, they are spiritually stronger, spiritually more beautiful, than when they came to the altar just a few moments before.
It is God’s grace that strengthens our human weakness and allows us to overcome problems and respond to emergencies associated with marriage.
The unity of a sacramental marriage makes divorce impossible.
This is the fundamental reason why the Church defends marriage so vigorously. The bond created by the sacrament is a bond of great power and mystery that no earthly authority may dissolve. It is an institution, founded by God, between a man and a woman, that binds the three of them together.
But divorce pretends to dissolve that bond. In a divorce each person is no longer putting someone else’s needs before their own, they are putting their own needs first. Divorce is a betrayal of that bond of love.
Our Lord’s teachings on divorce are some of His hardest words; so hard in fact that the Church is often accused of being mean or insensitive when it promotes them.
The Church does not recognize civil divorce because it cannot.
But the Church recognizes that we make mistakes and sometimes enter into marriage for the wrong reasons or with the wrong intentions. In this case the Church investigates the circumstances surrounding a marriage and may grant a decree of annulment. Annulment is a determination that the sacramental bond was never established in the first place.
The Church upholds the teachings of Christ because that is its purpose, even when those teachings are difficult for us to accept. The intent is not to be mean-spirited, the intent is to bring all people back to God by reminding us of what God wants from us. The intent of the teachings of the Church, is love.